Connecting with Earth & Sky


22 Sep 2022

https://www.nationalgallery.sg/sites/default/files/NG-Ever-Present-04.jpg

According to aboriginal artist, Michael Riley, the feather suggests a spiritual connection between the earth & the sky.

This weekend if you’re looking for a chance to ground so that you can reach the sky, please consider dropping by the National Gallery for “Ever Present: First Peoples Art of Australia,” exhibition, ending in 3 days’ time.

I rarely rave about art because firstly I’m not trained, and secondly I lack the words to do justice to works that speak to our subconscious.

But the experience at this exhibition that I visited a few weeks’ back keeps coming back to me. It was my first time consciously seeing pigments made from earth and minerals painted on barks of eucalyptus. I inhaled the paintings as it were, even as I stood & stared at the mesmerising dots, crosses, and tiny strokes that appeared so childlike and so sublime at the same time.

The embroidery by the Lanna tribe of Chiangmai resembles the Aboriginal artwork behind me in colour choices & order.

I was entranced by the Rainbow Serpent which I only read about in books rendered in floor to ceiling dimension at the exhibition. It was swimming energetically before our eyes even as it appeared to be still.

Seeing the Rainbow Serpent that I read about in books in this dimension with El is another special memory that will abide with me for a long time.

I regretted not taking a picture of the aboriginal dancer drawn in white pigment against black background. His calves were strong & elegant. And I could see the energy emanating from his stomping legs & turning torso while he held a spear and and a shield.

In these turbulent times I hope this exhibition will go to many places and bless lots of people with its ancestral wisdom and life affirming power.

Seeing pigments made from earth & minerals painted on eucalyptus barks for the first time in my life turns this gallery space into a shrine.

Only in Sg

15-9-22

My brother and I had Halal food at Fortune Centre in Middle Road today. The proprietress of Syam’s Corner served her padang dishes with delight. She was pleased when we asked her for sambal belachan.

After lunch I dropped by a vegetarian dry goods shop owned by a lady from Yunnan. There are 26 tribes in the place she was born. She climbed up a chair to bring down cups of sweet & sour vermicelli to show me the difference between that and mala noodles.

Carrying papadums, pumpkin crackers and cup noodles, we went to greet the deities at the Hindu temple and the Buddhist temple outside Fortune Centre.

We had been talking about this outing since 2020 but kept postponing it because of safe distancing measures.

Today we finally made it.

I couldn’t resist having pictures taken with Hanuman and Garuda no matter how many times I had seen them. They are ageless, but I’m not.

A soft spoken lady from Thailand approached us to take a picture of her and her mom. We had a great time helping them to strike a pose.

In a short span of a few hours and within a few hundred square meters, we interacted with people from different cultures and faiths and experienced architecture that went back hundreds of years.

And only after 50 plus years I noticed that my brother enjoys padang food, just like the way our father did.

Only in Sg

15-9-22

My brother and I had Halal food at Fortune Centre in Middle Road today. The proprietress of Syam’s Corner served her padang dishes with delight. She was pleased when we asked her for sambal belachan.

After lunch I dropped by a vegetarian dry goods shop owned by a lady from Yunnan. There are 26 tribes in the place she was born. She climbed up a chair to bring down cups of sweet & sour vermicelli to show me the difference between that and mala noodles.

Carrying papadums, pumpkin crackers and cup noodles, we went to greet the deities at the Hindu temple and the Buddhist temple outside Fortune Centre.

We had been talking about this outing since 2020 but kept postponing it because of safe distancing measures.

Today we finally made it.

I couldn’t resist having pictures taken with Hanuman and Garuda no matter how many times I had seen them. They are ageless, but I’m not.

A soft spoken lady from Thailand approached us to take a picture of her and her mom. We had a great time helping them to strike a pose.

In a short span of a few hours and within a few hundred square meters, we interacted with people from different cultures and faiths and experienced architecture that went back hundreds of years.

And only after 50 plus years I noticed that my brother enjoys padang food, just like the way our father did.

Bearing with Impermanence

6 Sep 2022

Today I finally had a meal with my yoga teacher at Mangiamo, my favourite Italian cafe on Albert Street.

Erika, my yoga teacher, is nearing 70.

10 years ago when shoulder stands or stretches got tough, visualising the amazing thin crust pizza I would be having after class kept me going.

The healing hospitality of Eileen Sng matches the passion with which her husband puts into making food.

Life is a series of adjustments and realignments. Hair turning silver, joints & organs becoming uncooperative, and relationships changing for various reasons are part of being alive.

My first shoulder stand in 2013.

But memories of shared moments of kindness and love remain. In fact they gain significance through the passage of time.

Knowing that the person who helped me with my shoulder stand 10 years ago is still available for a meal becomes extra precious.

Knowing that the chef and his wife who bore punishing kitchen heat to feed us what we need, are still in charge is reassuring.

In the end, it is love that makes everything worthwhile, and impermanence bearable.

After a series of twists and turns, stagnant energy leaves my body.
My first shoulder stand. (2013)

Passports

8-8-22 (National Day Eve)

“You have trekked so far, Bhaktaprasad, and today you may have understood you can travel far and not arrive, and not travel at all, but still arrive.” –

– Adventures of a Nepali Frog by Kanak Mani Dixit

In secondary 3, I was the only student in my Art Club ECA who couldn’t go on a school trip to Baguio, Philippines, because my dad couldn’t come up with the $300 required to pay for the already subsidised trip.

I don’t recall feeling very sad about it but I think it must have hurt my dad. Years later he would tell me lacking the means to let us take overseas trips like some parents did, made him feel inadequate as a provider.

With my dad at Westlake Chinese Restuarant when I was in my 30s.

In my early 20s as a working adult, when I made my first ever overseas call from Europe to Singapore, it was my dad picked up the call. He reminded me not to spend money on souvenirs but to keep my luggage light so that I could move easily and take in all the sights.

Recently the news of ICA rejecting passport photos of smiling applicants prompted me to check my old passports.

And among the expired little red books, there was my dad’s passport. He was 58 years old when he made that passport to visit Malaysia with my mom and her siblings. I am now his age as I get ready to renew my passport for the 5th time.

In his passport photo, my dad wore a blue & white batik shirt which I bought with my first teaching paycheck. Tucked within the passport’s protective covers were currencies that he had collected from years back. A wish to visit these countries one day perhaps?

Passport and notes

The fear of being called a frog in the well may have prompted some of us to look to travelling to broaden the mind. But travelling without knowledge or due preparation can also reinforce pre-existing prejudices.

So I hope my dad knows that even though he couldn’t afford to take us overseas when we were kids, his lifelong interest in books, music, plants, cultures and documentaries would influence my future travelling choices which money cannot buy.

And today as we look to Singapore’s 57th birthday celebration tomorrow, and enjoy the travelling ease which our red passport brings, may we also honour the foremothers, forefathers and the ones who have made sacrifices and remained island bound, so that others can go farther. 🙏

A $3 per head day trip to local places of interest organised by the Residents’ Committee was all it took to make my late dad happy. My mom continues to delight in her temple jaunts and visits to Chinatown on a regular basis.

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! 😊🙏