The adventures of Neeraj & the GSE team in Australia!

20 05 2006

What? Group Study Exchange 2006, Where? The land down under Australia!, When? 11-8 April 2006.
Report by Neeraj Chhabra

“Congratulations Mr. Neeraj, you have been selected for the GSE program. When can you pass me a letter for leave during the period of 11th March to 8th April from your Employer”? Those were the words uttered to me by PP VG Chandran that set my heart pounding in disbelief and left me in a dazed state for a few seconds before I finally answered – “give me a few days”. As soon as I put down the phone, I screamed and punched the air (thank GOD no one was next to me) shouting YES ! YES ! I immediately called my Mom and gave her the good news and then told my boss to give her a head start to prepare the letter.

The GSE team

Never did I imagine that one phone call was going to affect my life in so many positive ways. We began our preparation at the Rotary Resource Centre in Damansara Intan on 23rd October 2005 where I was introduced to my Team Leader PP Bindi Rajasegaran from the Rotary Club of Greentown and the rest of my team members. I noticed a familiar face in my team – Rotaractor Amanda Lam from the Rotaract Club of Gombak. The other two members were Ms. Gothanayagi Tharmalingham from Penang who works with Bosch & En. Wan Bakthiar from Temerloh, Pahang who is a lawyer.

The next few months leading up to our departure (11th March 2006) went by quickly meeting up in PP Bindi’s house Ipoh perfecting our presentation, taking group pictures for our brochures, attending the 1st Joint Rotary-Rotaract Conference in Shangri-la from 30th December 2005 – 1st January 2006, hosting the inbound GSE Team from District 9450, Western Australia and having morning tea with the High Commissioner of Australia at the Australian High Commission on 26th January 2006.

It was finally here, 11th March 2006 ! I didn’t sleep a wink the night before as it was a hectic week trying to clear up my work load and meeting all my friends and savouring Malaysian cuisine like Char Kueh Teow, Teh Tarik, Nasi Lemak, Thosai and many others as I was told by my friends that have studied in Australia that such food is scarce and very expensive there.

As I arrived at KLIA at 7.30am, VG Chandran & PP Bindi were already there and the rest of my team members arrived shortly. We checked in together and were about 9 kgs overweight as we were carrying brochures of Tourism Malaysia but we managed to speak to the Airport Manager and were on our way. PP Bindi was first to head towards to the Immigration Counter while the rest of us were busy saying our goodbyes. As I walked to the Immigration Counter just 5 minutes later, there were about 15 people already lining up behind PP Bindi.

Looking at the crowd, PP Bindi waved at me and I moved forward gallantly walking through 15 people who were giving me the evil eye. I calmly looked at one of the guys that stopped me and pointing at PP Bindi I said “That’s my Mom”. He took one look at her and just moved his luggage out of my way to let me through. PP Bindi was surprised that these people let me through until I told her why and she responded with a smile while shaking her head. I guess it pays to be Punjabi sometimes

Goodbye Malaysia ! G’day Australia ! We arrived just after 3.30 pm and were greeted by Rtn. Peter Mckenzie (District 9450 GSE Chairman) with another Rotarian who works at the airport right at the exit of the plane. We were whisked through the Immigration Counters and were given the VIP treatment as we claimed our luggage and were escorted into the VIP lounge within minutes of our arrival. That was the FASTEST I’ve ever checked out of any airport in my life (counting the fact that I was stopped and the Customs Officer looked through my luggage to find 2 packets of Maggi Mee – don’t ask!)

At the VIP room, we were greeted by Team Leader PP Peter Durrant, Daniel & Angela of the GSE Team to Malaysia and two other Rotarians. We were taken to The Emerald Hotel and got a day’s rest before the program took off. It was indeed an intensive program and we were kept on our toes as we were ambassadors of not just the District & Rotary International but also Malaysia. It would take you ages to read all up on all my escapades so I’ll just highlight the few:-
We were the first GSE Team to have the privilege to meet the Governor of Western Australia, His Excellency Dr. Ken Michaels and have tea with him at Government House on 3rd April 2006. He was not only humble & soft spoken, he had a good sense of humour too. I recall him jokingly saying that they should allow future GSE Teams to visit Government House and charge them a dollar for each photo taken looking at how the Malaysian GSE Team was clicking away at our cameras. Our group picture was even featured on their website :

On the sets of Channel 7 news

My vocational visits were very beneficial as I visited Professional Public Relations, Tourism of WA, Gibson Benness Industries, The Laminex Group and Marketforce (WA’s largest Advertising & Marketing agency) and Channel 7 where I managed to catch a live news broadcast on the Commonwealth Games and posed with News reporter Rick Arden on the set of Channel 7 news. I was given a tour of the facilities and had a hearty discussion with my counterparts on various subjects such as how to maintain customer loyalty and the do’s & don’ts of the various industries. We also had an exchange of ideas and I witnessed different management styles / techniques that were used there. I hope to be able to incorporate all knowledge and experiences gained during the program from my vocational visits and try to culminate them into our every day lives so it may benefit not just my colleagues and organization but everyone I come in contact with.

We spoke at many Rotary Clubs in District 9450 amongst them the Rotary Club of Perth, Matilda Bay, North Perth, St. George’s, City Beach, Hillary’s, Whitfords, Joondalup, Balcatta, Osborne Park, Moora, Morley, Claremont-Cottesloe & East Perth. We did a power point presentation on our families, our vocation, our activities and of course, our beautiful country – Malaysia ! Being an active Rotaractor and the Club Service Director of my club – the Rotaract Club of Kuala Lumpur, I spoke on Rotaract activities in Malaysia and highlighted some of the projects that we undertook during our term. At the end of our presentations, many Rotarians approached us with booklets of Tourism Malaysia that we had distributed earlier on and asked us many questions pertaining to people and places of interest in Malaysia. After just a few presentations, I can safely say that I can be a Qualified tour-guide of Malaysia.

We stayed with 9 wonderful host families in 4 weeks and were practically moving houses (and beds) every 3 days so you can imagine how tiring that must have been. I was lucky enough to have 2 hosts (Rtn. Brian Lewis & Rtn. Bill Holman) who lived on Scarborough Beach so I got up early (whenever I could) and took long walks on the beach. I must say, getting up as early as 6.00 am for a stroll on the beach was always something to look forward to.

We went Twilight Sailing and took part in a weekly race on board a yacht owned by Rtn. Frank Nathan and had dinner at the Royal Perth Yacht Club, got on a private yacht owned by PDG Colin Thorniley to the Rottnest Island, attended the annual Starlight Rock Concert hosted by the Rotary Club of City Beach and the annual Carine Rotary Fair hosted by the Rotary Club of Hillary’s. It was during this fair that I “volunteered” to get into the dunking machine. After a few failed tries by Rotarians and guests of the fair, I was dunked by none other than my very own Team Leader PP Bindi with just one shot ! These events are major fund raisers and so much fun to attend and maybe someday, we can have something like that in Malaysia hosted by our very own Rotarians.

Getting the opportunity to read newspapers from the 1800’s and seeing floor plans of what Perth was like during it’s early days made visiting the Battye Library worthwhile. We witnessed many remarkable works of aboriginal art at the Art Gallery of WA and had a full guided tour of His Majesty’s Theatre. At the Parliament House, we had the privilege to sit in on one of the sessions at the Legislative Assembly Chamber and have lunch with one of the Minister’s of Parliament, Mr. John Mcgrath. At Council House, we met councilors Rob Butler & Max Kaye and I even impersonated the Lord Mayor.

The best time I had was at The Shire of Moora which is located 189 km North of Perth. On the way to Moora, we stopped at New Norcia where we were met by our new hosts from the Rotary Club of Moora and visited the Benadictine Monastery there. Monstrous trucks (think 3 x 40 foot trailers size) pass New Norcia on a daily basis heading up North to Port Hedland. It was a pleasant surprise to see our host, Father Steven take us to tiny room with models of satellites & rockets and he even played a DVD presentation for us by ESA (European Satellite Agency) and explained / elaborated on their satellite facilities just outside New Norcia. It was truly a sight to behold seeing the huge satellite dish which could be seen miles away!

At Moora, we had the opportunity to try our hand at Trap Shooting as well as visited a SMALL farm (only 28,000 acres) ! If that was a small farm, you can imagine what Australians consider big and how big the farming equipment must be ! We saw tons of sheep, bulls & cows and hundreds of wild kangaroos at the farm. Wheat fields stretched acroos the horizon and never seem to end ! We were offered the opportunity to try our sheep shearing but just didn’t have the heart to de-robe the poor sheep.

Other than that, we got a helicopter ride to The Abrolhos Islands which is off the coast of Geraldton some 450km North of Perth. The Abrolhos Islands are picture postcard islands with untouched beauty, crystal clear waters & beautiful corals and fishes. The island is only 2 meters from sea level so the helicopter landed right on the corals and we got out and swam in the crystal clear sea. It was amazing !

At Geraldton, we attended the District Conference from 24th – 26th March 2006. This was the moment we were waiting for as we had to present to the entire district with many distinguished guests present amongst them the District Governor of Disrtict 9450, Bill Benbow. We were so nervous as we not only had to do our presentation but also do a “Joget Melayu” and we even skipped lunch to practice it. We were so relieved once it was over ! We walked off the stage with a smile and felt much “lighter” as though the weight of the world was lifted off our shoulders ! It was also during the District Conference that poor ol’ Amanda was “murdered” by yours truly (evil grin) ! Don’t worry, she’s alive and well… During the infamous Langkawi Legend of Mahsuri, I played the part of the village headman who stabbed the beautiful Maiden Mahsuri (Amanda) to death. On the way back to Perth from Geraldton, Rtn. Bill Holman took us on a detour to see the Pinnacles where thousands of huge limestone pillars that rise from the shifting yellow sands, resembling a landscape from a science fiction movie.

Aussie Barbie with Rotarians of RC Osborne Park

There were a few funny incidents during the trip such as our very own DG Ken Khoo
“stealing” chili’s at his friend’s place during an Aussie Barbie for the GSE Team as we were all complaining that the food in Perth was very bland ! We even have proof !

A trip to Perth will not be complete without visiting Freemantle. There, we visited the
Freemantle Maritime Museum and had a tour of the submarine, HMAS Ovens and visited Lobster Australia where we saw HUGE lobsters. Too bad they didn’t provide us with samples or souveniers !

The scariest / freakiest experience for all of us was the visit to the Dobson Family Funeral Care Services. Rtn. Bill Dobson (whom we affectionally call “Bill Mayat”) runs a funeral care services and does the embalmment (to treat a corpse with preservatives in order to prevent decay) himself. The hair at the back of my neck (and all over) were at attention when he opened up the door to his “workplace” or his office as he likes to put it ! I have never been so freaked out in my life ! Skydiving & swimming with Sharks was definitely much easier as I discovered in Sydney later on. This was one visit where none of us took out our cameras or wanted to take any pictures at all !

Aside from all that, we visited The King’s Park Botanical Gardens, AQWA (Aquarium of Western Australia), The Perth Mint, The Bell Tower, The Constitutional Centre, Alcoa Alumina Refinery Centre, Mundaring Weir (a Dam), Swan Valley (delicious wines) and The Whiteman’s Park Nature Sanctuary where we saw many animals & had the opportunity to take pictures with Wombats, Kangaroos & Koala’s.

Australians love Bar-B-Q’s and we are willing to swear upon and testify to that statement as we attended many “Aussie Barbie’s” while we were there. We had Aussie Barbie’s at Mundaring Weir (a Dam) hosted by RC of East Perth, at Rtn. Alex Anderson’s (RC Osborne Park), at Rtn Bill Holman’s (RC of Hillary’s) and with Rotaractors from RAC Subiaco & RAC UWA (University of Western Australia) as well. Rtn. Alex Anderson and his family are season pass holders for Australian Rules Football (Footie) and took me to the season’s kick-off match on 30th March 2006 at the Subiaco Oval stadium between the home team, West Coast Eagles vs. St. Kilda’s (Melbourne). The West Coast Eagles won 84 – 66.

One of the most heart-touching events through out our trip would most definitely be the visit to the “Wheelchair for Kids Project”. It is a joint community service project between
RC of Scarborough and The Christian Brothers. This project was strongly recommended by our own District Governor, Dr. Ken Khoo, who himself visited the premises during his visit to Perth. We were given a tour of the premises and informed on the overview of the project, how the project was realized and how volunteers got together to assemble and distribute wheelchairs to needy children from all over the world. It was indeed a touching and an eye-opening experience for all of us.

Saying my goodbyes to all Rotarians and their respective spouses as well as members of the GSE Committee that were there to see us off at the airport, I took a flight to Sydney while the rest of my team went back to Malaysia. I had arranged for a detour to Sydney before I left Malaysia as Rtr. Irfan of RACKL (who is doing his Masters in Audio Design at the University of Sydney) had offered to host me there.

With Irfan on Bondi Beach

I arrived in Sydney at 7am took the train to Central Station where Rtr. Irfan was already waiting and helped me with my luggage back to his place. Rtr. Irfan stays at Surry Hills which is only 5 minutes walk from Central Station. Being strategically located, traveling was so easy and convenient. As I was only going to be in Sydney for 2 weeks, I took full advantage of my time there and traveled and saw as much as I could.

Rtr. Mei Han of RACKL was in Sydney earlier this year as she was the lucky one to be sponsored to attend RYLA by RC Kuala Lumpur Diraja. With pointers from her and
Rtr. Jennifer Woo (RACKL), I knew exactly what to do and within a few days managed to cover all that they had mapped out for me.

I visited the Queen Victoria Building, Hard Rock Café, Circular Quay, the Paddy Markets, the Rocks, Bondi, Maroubra & Manly beach, Darling Harbour, Cockle Bay Wharf, Pylon Lookout Point, Sydney Fish Market, Telstra Stadium and went clubbing at the 3 Wise Monkeys bar.

Aside from that, I stayed one night at the YHA in Katoomba where I visited The Blue Mountains & the three sisters. I climbed the giant stairway and took a ride on the Scenic Railway which is the steepest train ride in the world (52° incline). The 415m descent will lead you through a cliff side tunnel into an ancient rainforest. I caught the documentary entitled “The Edge Movie” which highlights the most inaccessible parts of the Blue Mountains wilderness at The Edge Cinema.

I did the Opera House tour and the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb as well as the Sydney Tower Skywalk. I played lawn bowling with Rtr. Irfan’s & his classmates and also met up with Rotaractors from RAC UNSW and RAC Sydney Town. With much time to spare, I headed to the Sydney Skydiving Center where I jumped out of a plane at 14,000 feet and experienced free-fall for 1 minute. That was the LONGEST 1 minute of my life. The air up there is so fresh and I took as many deep breaths as I could!

Watch out behind you! Shark diving...

Next up, Shark Diving! I got on an army assault raft from Darling Harbour called the Ocean Extreme and got the best ride of my life (on water that is)! The Ocean Extreme travels at speeds of up to 120 km on water and at one point went vertical before crashing back down! Thank GOD no one was thrown over. I was dropped off at the Manly Aquarium for my shark dive and was given briefing and saw a safety video on the don’ts while swimming with the sharks. We were told to keep our hands close to our bodies at ALL times. After that, me and the 3 other participants were taken to the pool area where we got into our wet suits and received training on how to use the underwater gear as none of us had done diving before this.

After spending 1 hour in the pool, we were lead to the open aquarium where we walked to the tunnel and leaned on it for support. Within minutes, giant turtles & stingrays and not to forget 7 sharks were swimming in circles around us (thank GOD they fed the sharks minutes before we got in) ! What was funny was watching the expressions of people who were walking in the tunnel below us as they were scared for us and the kids were screaming every time a shark came close to us. It was truly a frightening experience which cannot be put into words each time a shark got close to me. Alice, a 3.5 meters Grey Nurse Shark decided to come closer to check me out and literally took my breath away! The pictures taken during the 45 minutes dive will speak volumes and maybe give you an idea on how “interesting” the whole ordeal was! YOU HAVE GOT TO TRY IT!

I arrived back in Malaysia on the 21st of April 2006 just in time for the District Rotaract Assembly (DRA) which was held this year in Morib. The words Fantastic, Amazing, Superb, Great, etc can hardly describe what I learned and the experiences I gained thanks to GSE. We were given first-class treatment wherever we went and specialized personal tours were conducted for us by top personnel of any company / organization we visited. We felt really honored and special. With that, I wish to thank Rotary International, the GSE Committee, DG Dr. Ken Khoo, Rotary Club of Kuala Lumpur Diraja, Team Leader PP Bindi Rajasegaran, PP VG Chandran, Rtn. Juston Teoh and everyone who made it possible for me to attend this wonderful program and give me this wonderful opportunity.

I wish to convey my sincerest and heartfelt gratitude to DG Bill Benbow of District 9450, the GSE committee in particular Rtn. Peter Mckenzie, Rtn. Bill Holman, Rtn. Mike Shade and Rtn. Rebecca Moore, GSE Inbound Team PP Peter Durrant, Karen, Kala, Angela & Daniel, our wonderful host families as well as all the Rotarians and all the people I met during this exchange for making this one of the best experiences of my life. I truly miss everyone and hope to meet them all again someday.




5 responses

23 05 2006
Leslie from D3310

Hey Neeraj my man…
Just wondering if you wud be willing to drop by our Rotaract Dist Conference to share your GSE experience. I’m sure it’ll gv a much needed boost to the motivation of Rotaractors in 3310. Not many have been on a GSE. Some probably dont even know abt this program.

It’s on 14th & 15th July.

If you can make your way down, we’ll of course host you-and feed you too lah:-) In fact I will personally bring you to smoke some great shisha in Arab Street in Singapore.
Wat say u, man? Boleh kah?


23 05 2006
Neeraj Chhabra

Hey Leslie,

Good to hear from ya… I can let u know in June as I have been away so my leave depends on how well i perform the next few weeks… Is ur H/P no. still the same ?


17 07 2006
District Team

Hey Neeraj,

Great to have you speaking to us on your GSE experiences in D9450 at our recent RDA 2006 at RP. Having been inspired and motivated by your dynamic speech as a Rotaractor, I was wondering if you are agreeable to let me publish your interesting report on our D3310 blog. Like DRDC Leslie says, it will gave a much needed boost to the motivation of rotaractors in D3310 and inform them of existence of GSE.

Pls let me know if you are agreeable.

IPP Matthew Phua
Dist. Marcom Director 2006/07
Rotaract 3310

18 07 2006

Hey Matthew… sure ! Give me your email address and I’ll email the pics and report to you… I’m glad my talk help… Always a pleasure to meet up with D3310 !

Have a great week ahead !


25 07 2006


My email is


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