Arrival at Dhaka, Bangladesh

First day in Dhaka!

We arrived late last night and it still hasn’t totally sunk in that I’m here for a mission and not for a holiday.


Sheylara and student volunteers at Changi Airport
This is Changi Airport, not Dhaka yet.


I wonder if these Singapore student volunteers feel the same way. Like me, they’re attending their very first Operation Smile mission.

I’ll introduce them in upcoming blogs. Just gonna do a quick update now.

None of my friends have been to Bangladesh, so I’m assuming most of you reading this hasn’t either, so maybe you’ll want to see what the airport looks like, for starters.

This is Zia International Airport in Dhaka, Dhaka being the capital city of Bangladesh.


Zia International Airport, Dhaka
Arrival hallway


Zia International Airport, Dhaka
Just after Immigration.


Zia International Airport, Dhaka
Mysterious packages crowded beside the baggage claim carousel, guarded by two men in uniform.


The airport is small but clean and functional. The airport staff are really nice and friendly.


Zia International Airport, Dhaka
Outside the airport.


It was about 10 pm by the time we emerged from the airport, only to be greeted by a hazey night sky. I was told that this is a permanent condition in Dhaka.

The haze here puts the haze-filled days in Singapore to shame.


Zia International Airport, Dhaka
The Operation Smile Singapore team, waiting for our hotel transfer.




Zia International Airport, Dhaka
Our bus arriving.


We’re staying at the Sheraton, which came as a huge surprise to everyone. We had been given the names of two local hotels that we’d be staying in (we have a team of 48 and there wasn’t enough room in one hotel).

During our one-hour ride in the hotel transfer, our co-ordinator didn’t tell us that the plan had changed.

It wasn’t until our bus pulled up at the Sheraton that we were told our original hotels had screwed up and couldn’t provide all the rooms we had booked.

Also, the small team that had arrived a day before and stayed in that original hotel experienced bedbug bites.

So there was a bit of a fluster and, at the last moment, Operation Smile Bangladesh stepped in and booked rooms at the Sheraton for the team.

This has never happened in Operation Smile history and will probably never happen again. We were told, “Don’t get used to this!”



Sheraton Dhaka


There are security checks at the hotel entrance and baggage scans just inside. First time I’ve seen this at a hotel!


Sheraton Dhaka


The next hour was spent sorting out room assignments and having a team meeting involving introductions and preliminary briefings.


Operation Smile team


By the time I settled into my room, it was past 12 am.


Sheraton Dhaka


Sheraton Dhaka


Nice room!

And that’s all I have time for today because I’m writing this at 2:30 in the morning and I have to be up at 6 am.

Check back tomorrow for updates on the actual mission!

Let me wash your car (charity event)

I was chatting with my friends in EverQuest II just the other day when the Goonfather said, “Hey, let’s go somewhere during the Vesak Day long weekend.”

Everyone got excited and starting talking at once, making plans. It’s very easy to get Club Morte excited, especially about long weekends.

EverQuest II

It was hard for me to get a word in and be heard, since we were virtual voice chatting, hence getting attention via waving of arms was an impossibility. The only recourse was to be a broken record.

I was, like, “Wait wait wait!”


There was finally a moment in which I could interject: “I’m not free on May 29!”

There was a shocked silence as if I had just told them that the server was going to come down in 10 minutes.

EverQuest II

I said, “I’m attending a charity event! Who wants to come?”

“What stupid event are you attending again?” said the Goonfather, half his bubble burst.

“It’s a carnival and car wash for Operation Smile,” I said. “You can come have your car washed.”

“Zzzz,” he said.

“Your car will be washed by JC girls,” I added innocently.


I know exactly how to pull his strings.

Anyway, this event is really happening and I am appealing for everyone to support it with your attendance!

Carnival and Car Wash @ Dempsey

Operation Smile is a charity dedicated to helping children and young adults born with deformed lips and palates in third world countries who otherwise have no resources for seeking treatment.

Read my blog about it here.

On May 29, 2010, the Hwa Chong Institution Operation Smile Student Chapter will be holding a fun fundraising event suitable for family and friends. All proceeds will go to Operation Smile!

Carnival and Car Wash @ Dempsey

I will be there to live blog and help with the car washing.

Besides the car wash, there will be food and drinks, games and rides, and performances by local artistes. There will also be a vintage car drive for cleft lip patients and a dunking machine (not to dunk patients but to dunk Hwa Chong luminaries).

Carnival and Car Wash @ Dempsey

Student volunteers will wash your car for $10, using US-imported materials sponsored by 3M. For $2 more, you can opt to receive an extra gloss enhancer.

In case you have disabled images and can’t see the posters, here are the details:

Family Carnival and Carwash @ Dempsey Hill
May 29, 2010
11 am till 6 pm
Demsey Hill Blocks 8 and 9 carpark

For more information, check out the website. And Facebook!

Hope to see you there cos it’s gonna be fun!

Club Morte will be there. On pain of death.

EverQuest II


I cried last Saturday.

It was at a meeting and it was rather unexpected.

The meeting was attended by a roomful of students from various schools.

It was held at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital and the purpose of the meeting was to discuss a common, uh, purpose.

We watched a video together.

And that was the culprit for my tears. I can’t show you the specific video I saw because it’s restricted access, but I can show you a similar one.

As I stood by the doorway watching the video, learning of how some families travel for two days on horseback while other families sell almost everything they own just to make the trip for the chance to give their children a normal life, I couldn’t stop the tears from welling up furiously around my eyes and rolling down my cheeks.

I try not to cry in public but sometimes it’s impossible.

We were at an Operation Smile Singapore meeting. Student volunteers from various schools had come together to learn how they can help cleft lip and palate victims from less affluent societies who may otherwise never have a chance at a normal life.

In many less developed countries, cleft victims suffer rejection and abuse for their facial deformities all their lives because they can’t afford treatment.

In Asia, 1 in 500 babies are born with cleft lips and/or palates.

Operation Smile, a global charity organisation, dispatches surgical volunteers to all parts of the world to treat these children. But even with Operation Smile missions operating on a regular basis, many more cleft babies are born every day.

Here’s another video that explains how bleak the situation can look for some victims unless more people around the world step in to help.

Operation Smile goes a long way in helping turn tears of sadness into tears of joy for many underprivileged familes around the world. But there are simply too many needing help and some families never receive the chance.

As a long-term project, the students I met last Saturday have volunteered their time and energy to work on raising awareness and raising funds for Operation Smile missions, so that more families can receive aid.

It was the first time we were meeting, so ice-breaking activities were conducted.

Afterwards, the students were split into groups to brainstorm ideas.

The Raffles Junior College contingent.

At the end of the sessions, the representatives from each contingent presented their ideas to the rest of the gathering.

Bella from Raffles Junior College.

Min Jia from Republic Polytechnic.

Ryan and Angela from Hwa Chong Junior College.

The girls from Raffles Girls School. Didn’t get a chance to speak to them so I don’t know their names.

The students are a delight! It’s so heart-warming to feel their enthusiasm and hear all their creative ideas.

Me with Angela and Bella who are, incidentally, cousins!

Me with Min Jia, who has actually already graduated from RP, therefore isn’t quite a student at this point of time.

In any case, you’ll be hearing more about Operation Smile from me in time to come. In the meantime, you can visit the Operation Smile Singapore website to learn more.

If you’re a student and want to help either as an individual or by getting your school involved, get in touch with me and I’ll help you get started. =)

Thank you for reading!

Signing off…


A guest blog by Jesta

My last post: I would like to say a huge “Thank you” to QY for hosting this guest blog. I know that it is something that she does very rarely, and I feel honoured that she allowed my writing to appear in her personal space.

I do hope that I haven’t managed to drive away any of her regular readers – light and breezy, the most entertaining blog around doesn’t always gel with the sort of things that I have been writing about.

That she was willing to take that chance is a credit to her as a person and to her readers for their kind comments.

To wrap up with a couple of pics:
Sanati before and after:


And remember this guy?
This is how he looks now:

Thank you QY, and thank you readers, remember Operation Smile and its work…

It’s a wrap – done and dusted!


A guest blog by Jesta

Urumuqi airport – where coffee costs more than wine

I write this sitting in the departure lounge of Urumuqi airport. We left the hotel at 6 am (well, the local equivalent which is 6.30am, or “Whenever the coach turns up”). We arrived at the airport to discover that despite being booked on our early flight Air China (official motto: “We don’t care”) had decided in all its wisdom to move us to a later flight. This was also delayed so it looks like we will miss out connecting flight to Singapore…

The check-in was… interesting… The previous day quite a few of our group had bought wine from the places that we had visited. Unfortunately, Air China had decided that wine was obviously incredibly dangerous in the check-in luggage so wouldn’t let anyone check it in. This meant that we all ended up at the Air China counter with a corkscrew and 6 bottles of wine. So, there was a good deal of raising bottles and drinking as much as possible before we had to go through security.

The second security screening also made some odd decisions. Apparently, if you were male then you could get by with lip balm and other cream products, but women couldn’t. Conspiracy theorists decided that it was because the security staff were all female and so were going to get the products that they confiscated.

The body search was also slightly more than intimate. Fortunately for me I had a female security running her hands all over my body, which was the best thing about the whole process. Other people were ticklish, which made for some amusing scenes of a security guard trying to thoroughly check a woman who was laughing and wriggling…

Once we got through I went to look for coffee. They promised us cappuccino, but then said that they couldn’t steam the milk – so would we like just milk coffee… It cost 120 Yuan for two coffees – S$12 per cup. The day before we had bought a bottle of wine for 55 Yuan. So coffee costs more than wine.



The end of the road, ’til next time, anyway

We made it onto our connecting flight, by running through Beijing airport so we have finished the mission – the team screened 110 patients of all ages from 3 day’s old to 51. In the end the surgical team performed 140 procedures on 88 patients. The last ones were discharged on the day that we left.

We had hoped for more, but it appears that the security situation had meant that we didn’t get to see all those who we were told were on their way. Some had come from as much as 1700km, but they had to have special papers from their local party officials and were repeatedly stopped along the way. It’s possible that some either gave up or decided that it was too dangerous to travel, we just don’t know.

Sanati and her grandfather have started their long return journey, but when I said goodbye to her she was starting to smile again and was more playful.

As a parent of a child with a cleft lip and palate joining an Operation Smile mission was a no-brainer. When my daughter was born my whole life became focused on repairing the damage and giving her a normal face again. When there are parents who do not have access to the same level of medical care that I do, parents who have to watch their children grow up without the chance to help them, then there is no way that I could stand aside from that.

I also asked some of the team why they do missions like this. They do this work for free. They are all highly skilled medical professionals: plastic surgeons, doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel, none of whom have any financial reason and most have no personal reason to be here either. Here’s what they said:
Dr Y: “Because there are people who need us. We bring top quality international plastic surgeons into areas that would ordinarily never have the opportunity to access this level of care.”

Nurse J: “We have the chance to help people who can’t afford it. It’s tremendously fulfilling work.”

“Because it’s meaningful.” Dr YC

Can’t say it any better than that.

Operation Smile is a wonderful charity. They don’t treat the patients as second-class simply because they are third-world. The charity screens all its volunteers – even top-class plastic surgeons like Dr Y and Dr YC have to apply for their places – they ship in the best medical equipment and take the time to train local medical staff, they make space for a Child Life Specialist (essentially a person who plays with the children to make them more comfortable in the hospital environment) and they change the lives of the people they work with.

There are many, many deserving causes around the world, and all of our pockets are constantly being asked for donations to help. Please don’t feel that Operation Smile is the only deserving cause, but if you want to make an immediate, tangible difference to a family, then Operation Smile is one of the best ways to do it.