Always Loved

26-1-23

Tribute from Auntie Nance.

The Sun is Up!

And Bella has gone home to God.
Even though we’re sad to lose him, we’ll not let fear or hate win.

Given the threats of animal predators and manmade errors that community cats face daily, Bella’s 16 years on earth is a miracle.

When he was a kitten with gender still unknown, the Canadian swim team named him Bella.

Bella as a kitten in 2006/7.

The student athletes whispered their secrets to him.

Bella always listens without judgement. (Photo credit: Koh Aik Beng)

Local & international coaches & staff fed him or asked about him.

Bella is grateful for kibbles & canned food.

Visitors and parents took pictures of him, and sometimes with him (far away in the background).

Overseas athletes saved up their allowance to buy him treats.

Adults helped out with his veterinary needs.

Bella chilling out with his brother, Topaz by the window of the laundry room.

Despite having a low tolerance for touch, and a high need for distance, Bella has succeeded in bringing many people & nationalities together. He has taught us to be generous with our heart, our money, and our time. And love doesn’t mean ownership.

Bella enjoying scritches from Coach Shahrin in a recent picture. The silent company of cats invites us to pause & breathe.

Rest well, Bella Boy. Even though your entry into & exit from this world were not ideal, in between you were loved by many, and now multi-faith prayers from Singapore to Cambodia, and beyond Asia to the West are being dedicated to you. 🙏❤️

Till we meet again, you live in our hearts.

Spring’s here!

22-1-23 (First Day of Lunar New Year)

Temple of My Childhood

Lunar New Year begins not at a countdown concert, but a trip to the temple of my childhood for me.

The pouring rain this year did not dampen our spirit one bit. We just learn to adjust expectations and accommodate one another’s transport challenges.

Starting the Year of the Rabbit with aromatic smoke offerings that carry our aspirations and the fragrance from this beautiful tree.

Year after year I return to this place to start my year. The temple door guardians are ever so welcoming, and figurines of deities feel like old friends. Being aware that one day all these may not be accessible to me for various reasons makes the yearly meet ups all the more precious.

My childhood temple door guardian.

The incense aroma strengthens my spirit even as my body ages. And the sight of fire and lighted lanterns energises my mind even as my hair loses its colour.

My lovely cousin, Michelle, faithfully records our gatherings year after year. She is also an admirer of batik.

Towards evening when the rain clouds lifted, a little green shoot on the trunk of the Chiku Tree greeted me. 😊

Spring indeed is the beginning of all things and the starting from zero. When we don’t hanker after what we don’t have or what used to be ours, Spring happens in us. 🙏

A Dragon & Two Rabbits welcome Spring. (22-1-23)

Sowing Love

18 Jan 2023

Although I grew up watching my Kinmen grandma cross stitch elaborate & perfectly symmetrical patterns on fabrics, I was miserable at sewing lessons in my primary school days.

I was very dependent on the teacher marking out where the cross stitches should be.

Once towards recess time, she coldly warned me that I woudn’t get my break unless I could sew the cross stitches diagonally across a square fabric. I panicked.

To my 7-year-old self then missing recess was unthinkable for two reasons. Firstly, I would miss the delicious food which I was thinking about all morning. Secondly, to be stuck in the classroom to struggle with sewing felt like the ultimate betrayal by an adult for whom I had the highest regard.

So I had a meltdown.

A classmate’s mom came to my aid when I was hyperventilating and trying to thread the needle through tears at the same time. Till this day I can still recall my rescuer’s hairstyle, her facial features and her gentle voice. A couple of her teeth were capped in gold.

In my childhood, lots of women could stitch & sew. Their sewing skills put food on the table and their kids through school. So I have deep respect for women and later on men, who can sew and cook, long before social media & celebrities make these skills trendy.

Years later after that episode I would develop a special fondness for the cross stitches and indigo prints of minority people in China, Northern Thailand and Vietnam.

Showcase of Hilltribe embroidery at the Asian Civilisation Museum.

And each time I wear something handmade by women I’ve never met, I feel the collective power of all our female ancestors and the kindness of my classmate’s mother all over again. ❤️😊

Red Hmong embroidery purchased from Chiangmai, Thailand.

Setting Intentions

9-1-23

The 11 and 12-year-olds in my tuition class were given 6mins to write down their names and decorate them using whatever they can find in their pencil cases. While beautifying their names they were to come up with 3 personal traits which they think they have and wish to be known for.

The time for this activity was kept short to prevent overthinking, sharing of ideas and making comparisons.

Being helpful & kind, intelligent,
elegant and a good team player were some of the qualities these youngsters wanted to be known for. And having a sense of humour and respecting others were mentioned as well.

“Why do u need others to know you are intelligent?” I asked the girl whose spectacles seemed to occupy all of her face.

“Because I want people to know I will still do the right thing even when no one’s watching,” the 11-year-old replied softly.

A recurring motif that appeared in their 6mins output came from nature. Floating clouds, mountain peaks, planets and animals appeared abundantly around and on the letters that formed their names.

One boy turned the letters of his name into a blue print for a future park he would like to build, complete with security features and facilities to make the visit a good one. And the traits he would like to be known for are bravery, boldness and kindness.

When I gave this same boy an old calendar card last year because he likes elephants, he pointed out to me that his birthday falls on International Vegetarian Day.

“Mama, why aren’t you glad that my tusks are growing?” – 2014 IFAW calendar to highlight plight of elephants killed for their tusks to meet demand for ivory.

Perhaps the path to peace is to appreciate the perspectives of children. And when they place nature and animals alongside their names, they’re also carrying aspirations of healing & hope for all that’s been broken in this world.

Art By Seb Mckinnon.

Sweet Start

1-1-23

Little Monk & Lord Ganesha ushering in 2023 with coconut candy.

Colorful coconut candy for Ganesha, the Lord of New Beginnings, to usher in a year of Sweetness, Wisdom and Resourcefulness for all sentient beings.

This celadon Ganesha figurine has travelled from Chiangmai to Bangkok before reaching Singapore. It is an unexpected gift from 2 friends. (Received on 29 Dec 2022)
A former student whom I taught 29 years ago and now a father of two bought me these coconut candy on a family trip in Malacca. Just the right timing & quantity for me to offer them to Lord Ganesha to usher in sweetness, wisdom & resourcefulness in 2023. (Received on 30 Dec Dec 2022)

First Outing of 2023

3–1-23

Posing with Year of the Rabbit CNY decor. Both of us were born in the Year of Rabbit and have been friends since for nearly 40 years.

Yesterday we repeated our favourite pre-celebration ritual of vegetarian meal, temple visits and decoration shopping in the Fortune Centre area. The last time we could do so maskless & free, was in 2020.

At the vegetarian cafe where we ordered longevity noodle. My lunar birthday fell on 1 Jan 2023 this year.

In 20 days’ time the Lunar New Year will be upon us.

It was good to see the old folks up and about at the vegetarian cafe. They were happily taking food orders and heartily conveying their choices to the kitchen.

The evening puja at Sri Krishnan Temple had started as we walked by. The aroma of incense offering and intermittent peal of brass temple bell lifted our spirit.

A moment of calm amidst the aromas of incense and peal of the prayer bells.
Lord Hanuman watches over us as we pose for a picture at the beautiful Sri Krishnan Temple.

At the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple (Goddess of Mercy), devotees were quietly praying outside the closed temple gates as dusk fell.

A few steps ahead, we chanced upon a shop called “Good Neighbour,” that appeared to be only selling household goods. As we ventured further in, an array of chinese new year decors in shades of vermillion & carmine greeted our eyes.

Blessings and Prosperity are in our hands.

Even though it was near closing time, the staff and cashier remained hospitable to browsers and handled each customer’s enquiry good-naturedly.

The young man at the cashier counter code switched effortlessly among English, Mandarin, Malay and Hokkien depending on the language being used to address him.

“When beautiful people talk to me nicely, I will speak clearly too,” he shot back cheerfully when we expressed amazement at the accuracy of his Hokkien pronunciation.

After he had helped us take a picture with the Year of the Hare (Rabbit) decor, he respectfully wished the two of us elderly Rabbits good health and many years of new year jaunting to come.

With the multilingual and good natured Malaysian boy. We named him Golden Lion.

When my friend wished him the blessings of good employment & kind employer for all round prosperity, the carefree boy with studded ears and golden streaks in his hair listened intently & bowed lightly.

Our first day outing of 2023 came to a sweet close as we stopped for local ice cream wrapped in bread. Above us the nearly full moon shone.

Freedom is eating local ice cream wrapped in bread under the open evening sky.

Mandala for Final New Moon of 2022

23 Dec 2022

Handcrafted Mandala from Nepal received on 21 Dec 2022.

I just received a mandala crafted from stone by a young mason. He took two days. The two young ladies who commissioned this piece of work were amazed by the depth of the craftsman’s knowledge & pride in his culture.

Mandala for the final new moon of 2022. (23 Dec 2022)

In the beginning of December, a former student on honeymoon in Italy texted to send me light & love. He remembered me telling him about St Francis, Botticelli and Machiavelli when he was just a boy. And now he is seeing what he read about for real with his wife.

Another, who is a businessman and now father of two has ordered a book for me which he thinks I will like based on our delight in words and respect for language.

If these former students hadn’t gotten in touch I wouldn’t have known how well their lives have turned out. The return of investment in young people takes a long time.

I imagine the youthful maker of tonight’s mandala peering over the details which his dexterous hands had coaxed from stone. He inhaled the dust particles that emerged from all that chipping, as the spirit of the mandala and his breath became one.

Youth power: Sanam crafted the mandala upon the request of Cheryl & Judy when they met in Nepal in November.

So may the New Moon tonight watch over our youths, and bless the intentions of their hearts and the work of their hands, to secure their future for the benefit of ALL sentient beings. 🙏

The Sun (Son) Rises

26-12-22

Emmanuel listens to story of his rescue as Mother Mary holding Baby Jesus watches on. (25 Dec 2022)

My cat, Emmanuel stretches as he soaks up the sun streaming into our living room.

Many years ago he was found without his mother. He was about to leap off the balcony to escape a bunch of well intentioned, but poorly informed school girls trying to get close to him. Luckily a teacher walked by and intervened in the ill conceived rescue mission. A tragedy of a kitten falling from height and a bunch of wailing school girls was thus averted.

Emmanuel means “God with us,” in the Hebrew language. It is also the name of Jesus, who was born of a woman to manifest the Divine.

Bambi sleeps on a pistachio yuletide log. The deer is an important & sacred animal in nordic, hindu & buddhist tradition.
2022 Bambi and deer light holder from India which was purchased in 2012.

So as we observe the birth of Divinity and the return of Light during this holy season, may we be reborn from ignorance to wisdom, confusion to clarity and fear to compassion. 🙏

Over the years holy day festivities have gotten smaller, simpler, quieter & deeper for us. (Christmas Lunch 25 Dec 2022)

Solstice Practice


11 Dec 2022

My second time making dumplings from glutinous rice floor from scratch. We added yam flour from Philippines to rice flour from Thailand to create the colour purple.

“Solstice” means the Sun stands still. In the north, it stands for the symbolic death of the Sun, only to be reborn in 3 days’ time.

Although it is endless summer in Singapore, Winter Solstice is celebrated as “Dong Zhi” (冬至) by south-east asian Chinese who inherited the practice from their east asian ancestors.

In about 11 days’ time, on 22 Dec 2022, the winter solstice will be upon us.

To mark the occasion, matriarchs of the family, either the mother or grandma will gather the children around the kitchen table to make glutinous rice dumplings that symbolise the sun, reunion & rebirth.

No alchohol was abused in the making of these dumplings.

These days, readymade dumplings of various colours and fillings from supermarkets have rendered the above practice redundant.

Recently I was only too delighted to be invited to make the spherical shaped dumplings from scratch in a friend’s newly moved in apartment.

Just imagine, on a high rise floor up in the sky, and surrounded by the latest state-of-the-art home gadgets, two English speaking persons of Fujian ancestry participating in a food making ritual that originated in ancient times.

As we ate the creation of our hands cooked and sweetened in a herbal concoction of lemon grass, honey and flowers, our friendship deepened in silence.

Handmade dumplings cooked in a concoction of lemon grass, honey and flower syrup.

So as the Solstice approaches and year end celebrations beckon, I hope we can choose to do less but put in more time & effort, and not feel pressured to fall into the trap of convenience, trying to do everything and ending up with nothing.

Wishing all friends & sentient beings a healing time as we follow the Sun. 🙏

Gin Mei’s *Mantra

9-12-22

Gin Mei, the shelter cat, is on palliative care.

Gin Mei is medicated & syringe fed to keep her as comfortable as possible. (Metta Cats & Dogs Sanctuary 7/12/22)

She has an enclosure to herself with food, water, litter box and a bed for her comfort. She is medicated and syringe fed to keep her as comfortable as possible.

When I prayed outside her enclosure a couple of days ago, she stopped pacing about and came towards me as if drawn to the recitation of the Medicine Buddha Mantra.

She pressed her face against the wire mesh, let me hold her paws as she stood on her hindlegs for quite some time while I bent as low as my joints would allow me to recite the mantra in her ears.

Extending her face beyond the enclosure.

Throughout this session there was no pity and no dread, but peace between the cat and me.

Because of Gin Mei’s willingness to come to me despite not being familiar with me, I was also able to place my *mala bracelet on the top of her head to bless her further.

Sentient & Spiritual

The cat’s response to the mantra offering to ease her difficulty is open to interpretation. But for me it shows that animals are not only sentient, but they might be as spiritual as we are.

I held her little paws as Gin Mei stood up on her hind legs to receive the Medicine Buddha Mantra.

So even in the most desperate of situations where all medical resources have been exhausted, we must remember we still have the one medicine that goes beyond life & death, and that is our mantras & prayers. ❤️🙏

*mantra – sanskrit word meaning “sacred words”, “chants”, etc that are repeated to aid focus and create beneficial outcomes.

*mala bracelet – prayer beads. This particular one was lovingly made by a friend who meditates regularly & does charity work in Cambodia.