Walking Our Paths

1 August 2022

Two days back I lit a butter lamp at the temple for my Christian friend to honour his departed soul. Light is a universal medium of blessing at all stages of life. It does not discriminate between life or death, happy or sad.

Dedicating the butter lamp before the lighting.

My late friend was a man of few words and not given to outward display of emotions.

Some years back, he quietly fed the cat taking refuge under his Volkswagen at his condo. He named him Winfred, and defended him when the neighbour accused the feline of spoiling the paintwork of his Mercedes Benz.

My friend took Winfred to the vet when he was ill, sheltered him when he needed a place to recover, and buried him in a safe place when he passed away so that the orange tabby would never have to stray.

Yesterday I made a donation in my late friend’s name to an animal shelter. He who made us sandwiches on long days at work and allowed me to ransack his work station for snacks & meji biscuits would have approved of money going to the dogs & cats too.

After helping the shelter, the thought of a specific animal rescuer who would appreciate some help came to mind. But I too have a budget to stick by.

Late last night I received a text message from a Catholic friend. She did not know of our Christian friend’s passing nor my wish to help the Muslim lady who works two jobs to help animals.

“Don’t know why but I suddenly had a feeling that I urgently need to transfer some money to you to help some animal,” she texted.

And the sum that my Catholic friend wanted to give away was the exact amount that the Muslim rescuer needed to cover some of the care expenses for an aging dog.

Aging dog can no longer walk. The factory compound where she used to seek refuge under heavy vehicles is not safe for her. Hence her feeder decided to put her in boarding where she can be cared for till the end of her natural life span.

So today on Chokhor Duchen which marks the day when Buddha gave his first teaching, I want to share magic, generosity, kindness and trust in people around us and the ones who have gone before us.

Regardless of our heritage, may our life’s choices put us on the path of compassion & wisdom, for our benefit and the benefit of all sentient beings. 🙏

Planting Dignity

12 July 2022 (eve before full moon)

Yesterday I stood next to a yam plant that was taller than me. I couldn’t resist having a picture taken with it. I wanted to hug the leaves or put my face against the cool green, but they looked very expensive. 😄

Yam plant being next to me at the nursery. (July 2020)

My first Tree friend was the Acacia Tree in the carpark of my primary school.

Years later I told a bunch of secondary one boys that I regretted not saying goodbye to the tree after my PSLE. Over the weekend, one of the boys would climb over the neighbour’s fence to pick a handful of the crescent shaped leaves that the Acacia is well known for and bring them to school for me. ❤️

Trees are teachers of silence & acceptance. Nowhere is this lesson more hauntingly demonstrated than during forest fires, storms, landslides and wars. Whether standing stoically in flames and molten lava, or facing screaming hurricanes with silent defiance, trees accept their fates.

Yet, as immovable as they are, and as vulnerable as they look, many trees have also outlived bombings & disasters.

Coming to 120 years old, this Banyan Tree has witnessed military affairs, human histories and bombings. (Kinmen Island Sept 2019)

The banyan tree in my grandmother’s city of birth is coming to 120 years old. It has witnessed thousands of soldiers passing through and experienced explosions brought about by ideological differences.

Banyan Tree from my grandmother’s birthplace as seen from the window of a tea house that has been relocated.

Once I thanked the trees growing on a 700 year old ruins in Morocco for providing shade for the cats and their elderly feeder. A wind rose after that, sending the canopy in waves of circular motion. The movements then stopped abruptly, as if I had imagined the whole encounter.

As a kid with physical mobility problems, I was always anxious of not being fast enough and being left behind. Fire drills depressed me as I was always one of the last to make it to the reporting venue. As an adult, the “Run, Hide, Tell,” response offers me little assurance in the event of a terrorist encounter.

But trees show me that accepting the inescapable enables me to plant my feet firmly on the ground, and cultivate a dignified response that can only grow from the soil of no choice.

Freedom is to lean my face against a tree and have no fear of contracting ANYTHING. (Japan 2006/7)

New Moon Mandala of Gifts

29 June 2022

New Moon Mandala of Dancing Ganesha on carved soap stone surrounded by energising red, orange & ochre. 🙏

Last week a friend shared a handful of bell peppers that he bought from the market with me.

The pretty ochre, orange, red and yellow remind me of the Sun.

Two days ago, the florist added a handful of red roses to the jasmine garlands I was buying from him.

And so a new moon mandala has come into being because of the generosity of two men which manifests as casual giving.

May the New Moon renew our heart and make our burdens light, for our benefit and for the benefit of all sentient creatures.

Bell peppers & roses encircle the Lord of Wisdom, Ganesha, to help us overcome all obstacles.

My Dad Speaks to Me All the Time

17 June 2022

I asked a highly articulate 12-year-old in my tuition class where she had learnt to converse like that.

“Oh, this I will have to credit my dad…my dad speaks to me all the time,” the raven haired girl explained with a smile.

Whether she’s listening or not, the father reads aloud news and offers his views to his young daughter.

As a result, I have a student who not only answers questions very fluently, but also asks insightful questions and initiates new ideas in classroom exchanges.

Her wit & confidence may make her appear domineering, but she’s always the first to collate worksheets for others and ease new tuition mates to lesson routine.

Often in sundresses or tank tops and denims, she’s equally at ease in *shalwa kameez if tuition is preceded by a temple trip.

“Look, Ms Ong! This top used to belong to my great grandmother. My mom gave it to me. Can you imagine how tiny girls in those days were?” my little goddess opined, as she pointed to her richly coloured tunic that united 3 generations of women in her family.

The natural trend setter frequently carries her tuition homework in an NTUC jute grocery bag, and sometimes wears a pair of rugged denim shorts to contrast with a cardigan of lavender purple that sparkles with bits of sequins.

The little hair clip she uses to tame her obsidian locks looks way too tiny to do its job, but hey, it works!

Sunday tuition for her is also about sauntering down the row of shop houses with her dad to pick up Peranakan sweets and savoury dumplings before heading home.

Zooming with youth.

There’ll come a time when daughters and sons outgrow their need to be taken around and have their snacks paid for, but they’ll always need to hear from their dads no matter how old they get.

And even when some of our fathers can’t be with us, their words will continue to sustain us through shared moments and their personal belongings.

So here’s wishing a “Blessed & Delightful Fathers’ Day” to all Dads, Appas, Pappas, Pappis, Babbas and Otuo-sans for being present and accessible, especially in our growing years.

🙏May all parents be healthy and happy for your children’s sake, because they will mirror you whether you wish for it or not.

A picture taken outside a Hindu temple to honour the girl student who inspired this post.
  • shalwar kameez – ethnic clothing of knee length tunic and pants.

Happy Solstice!

21 June 2022

The crystal on my necklace sparkled with joy at the June Solstice offering of vegetarian spring rolls at our pre-solstice lunch at Whole Earth.
(20 June 2022)

Yesterday we had pre-solstice vegetarian lunch at a place called Whole Earth, where some years back I had dinner to mark my 50th year on earth.

With the pandemic & politics forcing many food businesses including the iconic ones to go under, the ones that stay afloat have become symbols of hope.

In the midst of unrelenting changes, I feel a great sense of grounding in the old and the ornate.

The dragon calligraphy above us in birthday photos year after year at our favourite Hokkien restaurant, Beng Hiang, tells me that if a piece of painted paper can survive, so can I.

We never get tired of celebrating birthdays at Beng Hiang which has been serving Hokkien food for the past 40 years.

And last week at the TWG Tea Salon I enjoyed a tea spread which even the Queen & Paddington Bear would have approved. I sat by the window like I did in my 30s & relived my canefree days when the tea house used to be called Royal Copenhagen Tea Lounge.

At TWG for a tea spread specially chosen for me. (16 June 2020)🙏

Solstice in the Latin Language means the Sun stands still. May our observation of the solstices, equinoxes, and natural phenomenas help us create havens of stillness to mitigate feelings of fear caused by man-made madness.

May Light from the past give us the grounding needed to launch courageously into the unknown.

Solstice Sisters to welcome the blessings each changing season brings.

Happy Solstice, one and all! 😊🙏

Releasing our Enemies

18 May 2022

This morning while making a sage smoke offering, I looked up. A straight line of clouds had formed in the sky, as if extending the smoke from the scallop shell in my hand to the heavens.

My prayer this morning was to be free from past hurts and wrongs, that we have experienced since childhood, whether we deserve them or not, and whether we’re conscious of them or not.

Working closely with youth & young kids allow me to see that hang ups, if not managed wisely, can ruin relationships with ourselves & others.

Disappointments in warring parents can result in trust issues and constant craving for assurance.

Humiliations suffered in the classroom or family can lead to overcompensation at work, fixation for validations & hunger for vindications.

All these cravings and fixations drain us, while leading us to attach ourselves to entities, people & organisations that can cause us further damage.

So this morning at 4am, the cats meowed, the moon blasted her light on my face and together they forced me out of bed to play the Ganesha mantra to let Wisdom in. And I finally understood “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” has such a centering effect on me because it’s an invitation to release my enemies.

The cloud extends beyond the picture frame, as if facilitating my intention to let my enemies go so that I no longer become prisoner of fear & pain.

Safe Space for Youth

16 May 2022

A young girl from a dysfunctional family cut out a picture of a boat she found in a magazine and put it on the wall. During episodes of domestic violence, she would cope by imagining herself taking her younger brother with her and getting on that boat.

When she went down on her knees to scrub the kitchen floor, she imagined herself wiping the deck of her boat & making it shine.

This vision sustained her for many years, and kept her from developing self-destructive behaviour.

She would grow up, make something of herself & eventually owned a real boat!

This story has helped me in my dealings with young children, especially those from desperate circumstances when immediate escape was not possible.

I once gave a friendless young boy in a foster care facility a palm sized cat plush toy. It had travelled a long way from Finland to Singapore and got tossed about before it reached me, I told him. So whenever he felt lonely, he must remember to look at the toy to remind himself that he too would survive the hardship because there were people caring for him even if he couldn’t see them.

Findus to journey with a primary 5 boy in foster care facility.

The next day when we met, the boy told me he had hidden the cat plush toy inside his pillow case so that it would be safe.

He drew a card to help me remember him too. ❤️

The one needing protection had become the protector!

As I was searching for pictures to accompany this post, a former student texted to say she has been accepted into a summer programme at a reputable university. She thanked me for writing her the letter of recommendation.

The girl who once needed a simple letter to help her get started will be studying & writing scores of far more complex materials to bring about a better world for herself and others.

So here’s wishing all adults to use whatever limited means we have to create safe spaces for our youth, and wish them well, so that unlimited and unexpected good may come through.

When I see the potentials in these youths, I’m motivated to do what I can within my limits to facilitate their paths. (Primary 5 2021)

Radiance

5-5-22

Yesterday (May 4) I saw a young man walking most inelegantly in the Botanics Gardens.

In each of his hand was a walking aid which wobbled with each step he took. Two persons were holding to the straps attached to a girdle around his waist to keep him from falling over.

He was probably in post-surgery mode or suffering from something. His walk didn’t look easy or comfortable. But boy, could he smile!

He didn’t care who was looking at his struggle or how ungainly he looked to others. With each clumsy step he took, he was radiating joy.

One of the members in his entourage must have noticed my awestruck state and smiled warmly back at me when our eyes met.

He was a vision. I’ve rarely seen a beautiful smile like his on many intact, clean limbed & youthful bodies.

Is this what it means to rise above all circumstances?

A Heritage of Peace

3-5-22

This morning, decked in traditional finery that spoke of ethnic pride & brimming with benedictions fresh from morning prayers, First Tutee touched the back of my hand with his forehead to wish me peace.

First Tutee is now taller than me. I’ve known him before he entered Primary One.

For the past few years, my home has been his first place of visit after prayers at the mosque on Hari Raya mornings.

A little boy and his cat friend on Hari Raya morning a a few years back.

This year he brought a friend with him. He wanted to show him how to interact with Oliver the Cat.

First Tutee supervising his friend’s first contact with a cat.

First Tutee explained to his little friend how he used to be scared of cats before he met Oliver.

He then taught him how to sit still while waiting for the cat to approach, and how to offer food respectfully to the animal.

Showing his little friend how to approach a cat & feed him respectfully.

“Don’t touch him when he’s trying to eat cos it makes him nervous,” said the older boy to the younger one.

While they were sitting by the window, First Tutee pointed out the direction of Batam, Indonesia, to his fascinated guest. He also told him the body of water he saw was called a reservoire, not a swimming pool.

Two Muslim boys looking out of the window at the world while the prayer flags flutter above them.

Although First Tutee and I are not related by blood, and these days we don’t see each other much, he seems to have taken after me in the way he explains things. And now & then when he spots a full moon, he’ll send me a picture of it.

While we make material provisions for our children, showing them how to live peacefully with all despite our differences could give them the wisdom & compassion to journey further & do better under all circumstances in life.

“Unity doesn’t have to mean uniformity” – Palki Sharma, news anchor of WION.

Becoming Conduits

29 April 2022

Shelter cats, Cauliflower Boy & Hoonie aka Divina, were recently treated to a day at the cat spa, courtesy of groomer turned friend, Ong Hong Kuen.

Arrival of Cauliflower Boy & Hoonie aka Divina from Metta Cats & Dogs Sanctuary to Mad About Grooming for their cat spa pampering.

Cats are by nature self cleaning until old age and other infirmities strike. Much like humans, the untidy old woman or dishevelled old man we see at bus stops or food courts must have been dashing once.

Underneath all that stains is a fluffy cotton candy chest & belly. For want of grooming skills & tools, it is still better to leave an animal unkempt than injured or bleeding.

On each shelter trip, my friend,Marcus Tan for all his adherence to principles of aesthetics, makes it a point to check on the animals that may not receive as much attention, because they’re not as cute as their younger & healthier counterparts.

Hoonie aka Divina after her first cleaning by my groomer friend Ong Hong Kuen when she visited a few months ago. This time she decided to take her to her salon where she has access to tools, warm water, blow dryer etc.

In fact, it was him who got me started on cleaning Divina’s face and untangling her knots while he held her. Unlike dogs, cats are more wary and less cooperative with fur cleaning & nail trimming.

Besides, I’m no groomer and the wrong choice of tools can lead to dire outcomes. Therefore I understand for want of skills and equipment, it is still better to have an unkempt looking animal than an injured or bleeding one.

That day at the shelter we did what we could with Divina and as Cauliflower Boy was not familiar with us, we decided to ask for professional help.

And the Universe answered swiftly.

Within a week, our professional groomer friend turned up at the shelter and took both Cauliflower Boy & Divina in her car back to her salon for some needed spa treatment. ON THE HOUSE. She would hear nothing of payment, transport charges etc.

Under her loving hands and in the calm ambience of their surroundings, both cats had an enjoyable session and a complete makeover.

Cauliflower Boy’s milky white bib returned. Once the stains came off, his fluffy belly shone like cotton candy. Divina’s ears cleared and her persian fur regained its gossamar texture.

The true nature shines after the dirt comes off.

Little did we know that all the above changes were perhaps in preparation for a miracle about to manifest.

Yesterday, we received news that Cauliflower Boy got adopted!!!

Cauliflower no more! He is has a new name called Bernie to match his real appearance.

Yes, the boy cat with the deformed ear hence the name Cauliflower, and with a low adoptability potential, has found his home!

And as if to signify a departure from his past afflictions, Cauliflower Boy’s adopter has changed his name to Bernie. ❤️

As for Divina, she will continue to receive love and generate miracles for others at the shelter until such a time a special human appears for her.

In a couple of days, the New Moon will be upon us. May our recent witnessing of how two disadvantaged cats receive new lease of life, also encourage all who read this post that renewal is as much a state of mind and a matter of intention as it is dependent on external factors.

And so may we maximise our capacity as conduits for positive transformations & renewal regardless of how bleak the situation may appear.🙏