Sunburnt & shivering in Shangri-la, & other stories

by Saturday, December 15, 2018

An interview with Yap Mun Ching, Executive Director of The AirAsia Foundation: “I love exploring the second and third tier cities of China. Some of my favourites are Chengdu, Xian and Lijiang, each within easy reach of jaw-dropping historical and natural sites. Unlike a decade ago, the infrastructure is good and there are plenty of decent guesthouses to stay in, making it very accessible to independent travellers.”

Yap Mun Ching.

“Venture out to the ancient towns. This is where you can still discover a part of old China, where elderly men in Mao suits gather every morning to drink tea and gossip.”

Every morning, pensioners socialise in the boat-shaped main street of the Luocheng Ancient Town, Sichuan Province.

Her top tip for holidaying in China

“Bring a friend. It helps to have someone watch over your bags when you have to go to the public loos or to flank you when you queue for tickets. The chances of encountering people who speak English outside the major cities also shrinks so a friend helps to keep things lively.”

The best buddy is one who also reads Chinese!

Something she always packs when she travels

“A book and my customised earplugs! I am a light sleeper so the earplugs are essential for a good night’s sleep. They are also great to block out noise on a long plane/bus/train ride so that I can enjoy my book.”

There are thousands of Buddhas in China but the Leshan Giant Buddha is my favourite. It is carved into the red cliffs of the Min River in Sichuan Province.

A destination on her bucket list, for future travels

“I’d love to do a train journey in style. I’m thinking the Trans-Siberian Express, Blue Train or Orient Express. The end destination is not so important. The main point is to slow down and appreciate travel as the privilege it once was.”

Taking the night train from Kunming to Dali, Yunnan Province.

A travel disaster – or near-miss – which stays in her mind

“I haven’t encountered anything that I would consider disastrous though some experiences are more memorable than others. Last year, I travelled up Nepal’s Gorkha mountains to make a short film about the schools that AirAsia Foundation helped rebuild after the 2015 earthquake. It was the toughest road journey I had ever made – the drive up the mountains was supposed to take a day but ended up taking two due to multiple road blocks (broken down trucks, intractable cows, village festivals, freezing rain) but these are the things that the film crew and I still laugh about when we reminisce about the trip.”

Coming from the tropics, I am always underdressed for cold weather. Posing here with baby yak while sunburnt and shivering in Shangri-la, Yunnan Province.

About Yap Mun Ching

Mun Ching is Executive Director of AirAsia Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the AirAsia Group whose mission is to support social enterprise growth in ASEAN. The foundation gives grants to social enterprises and mentors them. Before running the foundation, Mun Ching was the Head of Strategic Planning at AirAsia during the airline’s rapid growth into ASEAN and China. A former journalist, she enjoys travelling to lesser known towns and cities across the region to bring forth their stories.

Main photo: Sharing by Dr Munawwar Salim, Chief of Operations of IMARET, a medical response team that has been serving at Rohingya refugee camps. AirAsia Foundation, the philanthropic arm of AirAsia recently opened up its home, AirAsia RedQ, to the public and refugee community to showcase AirAsia’s inclusive workplace culture and highlight the innovative ways that the social enterprises have been able to help improve the livelihood of refugees in Malaysia. Yap Mun Ching said, “We wanted to introduce more people to social enterprises that AirAsia Foundation supports and at the same time draw attention to the challenges that refugees face. We wanted also to welcome the refugees to our own home in RedQ, in the spirit of our Allstar values of putting people first.” During the ‘In Search of Home’ – a community festival with refugees at RedQ, over 100 guests were given a tour of RedQ, viewed a photo exhibit called Pieces of Home by UNHCR and listened to sharings sessions by Nahid Kazemi, co-founder of social enterprise label Nazanin and Afghan refugee, as well as Dr Munawwar Salim, Chief of Operations of IMARET, a medical response team that has been serving at the Malaysian Field Hospital at the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh since Oct 2017. Nazanin currently retails its range of colourful bags at AirAsia Foundation’s social enterprise pop-up shop and collaborates with AirAsia Foundation to upcycle expired life jackets into lifestyle accessories while AirAsia is a flight sponsor for volunteer doctors travelling to Bangladesh under IMARET’s banner.