To Arrive Where We Started

28 July 2021

In my checkered pinafore and stockinged feet 36 years ago. (The Central Lending Libary of National University of Singapore, 1985)

In my youth, stairs & steps gave me anxiety attacks not just because they were hard to ascend, but also because I was ashamed of how ungraceful I looked when I climbed. It did not help that my campus was built on Kent Ridge which follows the undulating terrain of the landscape.

I used to joke that NUS stood for University of Steps.

Yet, despite my dread for steps and slopes, Providence gave me a job as student assistant in the Central Lending Library I was waiting for my letter of acceptance/rejection from the university.

Each day I would report to the Senior Librarian, Ms Susan at 9am. My job was to manuelly cut and paste selected news articles on A4 papers to be turned into microfilms for archival purposes.


This went on for a few months. By the time I matriculated, I knew every floor and every corner of the library. I even knew which desk by the window received the best natural lighting at different parts of the day.

By the time I became an undergraduate, the senior librarians and deputy directors were familiar faces that evoked feelings of discipline and kindness. They were nothing like the grouchy librarians depicted in movies.

I found this picture of Mrs Lee-Wang (first lady on the left) and her colleagues on the Hon Sui San Library write-up.

Years after I became a teacher, I paid the staff, Ms Hema and Mrs Lee-Wang a visit to thank them for their powerful and nurturing influence over me. Ms Namazie had retired by then, but it was from her I learnt that a hard boiled egg and some salad made a good lunch.

The Central Lending Library as it was called in my time not only supported me financially, but also emotionally & academically.

The Central Lending Library today. (July 2021)

In between lectures when I had no one to hang out with, the library was my friend. When lectures ended early and I did not want to go home to face family dramas, the library had me.

And if I liked a particular author that was in my required reading list, I would seek out all his or her other titles and read them obsessively sometimes literally from dawn to dusk.

Each day after the library closed, I would make my way slowly from the administration block to the Pasir Panjang bus stop. The long walk down the tree lined slope gave me time to mull over what I read and rest my eyes.

Some nights when I looked up, I could see the full moon weaving in and out among the tree branches like a shy protector who didn’t want me to know she was there for me.

With or without the pandemic restrictions, my compromised mobility makes me very conscious of where I go and allows me to develop very strong attachments to locations and buildings.

Last week I had a picture taken of me outside the library just like I did as a young girl decades ago.

The time lapse of 39 years being in the same space that has meant so much to me felt as if I was on an overseas trip.


In “Mango Dreams,” the onset of dementia prompted a man to travel over 400km to his childhood home before the disease robs him of his most cherished memories.

Perhaps while waiting for travel restrictions to ease, we could consider visiting local places that have made us who we are and given us the means to travel far.

That day at the library as a woman of advanced age in my leopard print capri and holding my walking stick, I truly felt T.S. Eliot’s, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

My affinity with this library started when I was 18 years old, 39 years ago. (NUS Central Library, Hari Raya Haji Holiday 2021)

So here’s wishing all friends the good fortune to arrive at where they started and without having to go too far.

Journeys with Our Children

27 July 2021

Today one of my nephews turned 23 years old.

Isaac was 9 and his brother, Ilario was 8, when we visited the Asian Civilisations Museum 14 years ago.

We had gone “On the Nalanda Trail,” exhibition because the spaciousness of museum settings with their gentle lightings have a calming effect on children.

Young as they were, I thought it was good for kids to experience the presence of ancient carvings and texts that have survived the ravages of time and human follies.

When the museum visit came to an end, I asked the boys to strike a pose in front of the mural featuring Budhha with the Dharmachakra hand gesture.

Without missing a beat, the two primary school kids acted out the iconic gesture of their action hero, Ultraman.

Ilario, 8 and Isaac, 9 striking the ultraman pose in front of Buddha. (2007, ACM)

It was as if they were trying to align themselves with the Enlightened One by imitating the posture of the most evolved being they knew at that point in their young lives.

Over the years my nephews gain independence. These childhood physical outings have been replaced by adult discussions as they navigate the crossroads in their lives.

In their 20s, Ultraman no more because the Hero is now in their heart. (2019 CNY Temple Trip)

Whether they are 9 or 23, our children will always appreciate sensible input from us. And even if we’re not digital savvy, our duty is to remain calm and offer them our presence when they need someone to reflect with on their journeys.

  • Dharmachakra mudra
    Dharmachakra in Sanskrit means the ‘Wheel of Dharma’. This mudra symbolizes one of the most important moments in the life of Buddha, the occasion when he preached to his companions the first sermon after his Enlightenment in the Deer Park at Sarnath.

https://web.stanford.edu

Don’t Wait

22 July 2021

Don’t wait till you’re dressed to take that picture.
Always be dressed so that you’re ever ready to have your picture taken.

Orchid Gardens, Singapore. June 2021.

Don’t wait till your house is bigger to welcome guests.
Keep your house simple so it’s eveready to receive people.

El & Ron visited the birthplace of my ancestors on Kinmen Island with me in September 2019. We stayed at a restored old house that had been through bombing and all kinds of hardship.
3 months after this picture was taken, the Covid 19 pandemic would trigger world wide travelling restrictions.

Don’t wait till your kids are grown to be obligation free.
Feel free, so that your kids and you can grow together freely.

Don’t wait till you’re successful to be happy.
Feel happy for others when they succeed, so that you’re already successful.

One of my first pictures with El. It was his first trip to Nepal and many to come. A year after this picture was taken, an earthquake struck Nepal, causing us to wonder if we would ever be able to visit again. (Park Village, Budanilkhanta, Nepal 2014)

Don’t wait till an award is conferred on you to be valued.
Feel valued so that every thing that you touch becomes an award.

Over the years, I’ve gone greyer and walking requires more effort. But my friendship with El has also grown stronger.

Wishing all my friends the ready power from within to sail through all things.

Soaking up the sun in the ancient city of Patan, Nepal.

🙏

Calling My Guru


21 July 2021

Film poster celebrating full moon of the lunar new year in my ancestral home of Kinmen Island where my Chinese calligraphy teacher and his wife came from

Two days ago on the eve of Hari Raya Haji, I managed to locate the contact number of my chinese calligraphy teacher and expressed my gratitude for his teaching some 17 years ago.

With my Chinese calligraphy teacher, Mr Khoo Seow Hwa, on Racial Harmony Day where he was guest speaker to students of Nanyang Girls’ High School. (2003)

Mr Khoo speaks Hokkien (Minan dialect) in the same way my grandma did. When I first heard him pronounce the name of my ancestral city during a lesson at the Singapore Buddhist Culture Centre at Upper Dickson Road, I felt a keen sense of familiarity with him.

The author of many books and teacher of local & foreign dignitaries treated me with respect despite my lack of Chinese cultural & literary knowledge.

I found this picture of my teacher online recently.

My inability to master brush strokes and lack of commitment to practice did not deter him from checking my homework. He pointed out that I was drawing lines and not writing. But I did not feel slighted because Mr Khoo spoke truthfully & kindly.

His other students were way ahead. They wrote out line upon line of ancient poems from memory as their paper unrolled and sometimes drapped over the edge of their tables. They made room for him respectfully as he weaved among them to inspect their work. His comments were received with reverence. 😊

Even though I couldn’t really follow the intellectual exchanges between him and his more mature & advanced students who had been with him for a long time, Mr Khoo often explained short chinese sayings to me so that I would feel included. His students took after him in his graciousness and were always welcoming towards me.

One unforgettable ancient saying that he taught me was this: the elegance of a room does not depend on size, just as the fragrance of flowers does not depend on numbers. In Chinese it reads “室雅何须大,花香不在多”. How compact! ❤️

When I apologised for my lack of progress in my writing, I remember Mr Khoo saying something like, “这是我们华人的字,你再写不好,也要写下去.” (Transl: This is our Chinese writing. Even if you’re not good at it, you must carry on.)

How refreshing it is to know that there are other more intangible reasons for doing something other than being good at it! Because of Mr Khoo’s approach to learning, I’ve become mindful of using marks as the only measurement of a student’s suitability & aptitude to continue with a subject.

“Guru” in Sanskrit means “Dispeller of Darkness,” and “Bringer of Light.” In Hindu and Tibetan practices, gurus are essential to one’s path to self cultivation & liberation.

Mr Khoo taught me not because I showed any promise in calligraphy nor was I a deserving student. In the ways he generously shares his knowledge and patiently deals with my ignorance, he is in every sense of the word, my guru.

I wish my teacher and his wife peace & health as they lovingly support each other through the years and I hope to be able to pay them a visit one day.

Befriending Fire


13 July 2021

The rain started last night and continues to this morning. I lit a light to thank Rain that cleanses, hydrates and heals. Then I thought of the animal shelters that flood during downpours. My mind went to the street animals having to brave the torrents on their own.

So I asked Fire to give them warmth and keep them dry.

Although I tended to incense and candles in the taoist temple of my childhood where my grandfather was caretaker, my friendship with Fire as an adult only began when I lit my first tea light in the Notre Dame Catheral in France.

My first light offering as an adult took place in the Notre Dame Cathedral in France.

After that, I lit my first tea light in Singapore at the grotto of the Church of St Peter & St Paul at Queen Street to support a friend who had to put down his dog, Socks.

Then I found out I could also meet Fire below the image of Mother Mary and Baby Jesus at the Church of St Mary’s of the Angels.

Fire guided me to the Icon at St Mary’s of the Angels. I have been visiting this space on and off since 2006.

In my 40s, visits to Patan and Boudha in Nepal brought me closer to Fire. Aging has somehow given me a porosity that allows me to soak up the illuminating presence of Fire at the prayer rituals I withessed there.

Butter lamp lighting at Boudha Stupa on full moon 3 Dec 2018. Light offering is the highlight of all our trips to Nepal.

And so certain am I of Fire’s loyalty that one of the first thoughts that comes to mind whenever loss or hardship befalls me or my friends is to raise a lamp to shine a path out of fear and confusion.

After all, my favourite catholic saint, Francis of Assisi addresses Fire as Brother Fire in “The Canticle of the Sun.”

So on a cold and wet day such as today, may we invoke the Fire within to keep ourselves and others warm and dry.

An unforgettable Full moon with friends and Fire on Nagarkot Hills, Nepal. (Dec 2017)

We’re More Than Our Flaws

6 July 2021

One day 20 years ago I was on the platform of Bishan MRT Station looking out for the train.

A young woman brushed past me. She had the blackest black hair cascading from her head to below her shoulders in rich glorious waves that danced and rippled.

Picturea credit: “Hawk Whispers His Message of Awareness,” 1993 by Patricia Wyatt.

“Wow! What amazing hair you have!” The words had flown out of my mouth even before I knew I was saying them.

“Thank you! No one has told me this before!” said Girl with Raven Hair.

“But I’m overweight,” she added, pointing at her stout form as if I should take back the compliment.

She was indeed on the chubby side, but that wasn’t the first thing I noticed about her. She beamed when I told her that her hair, was the showpiece, and not her hips.

Girl with Raven Hair had been thinking of wearing black clothes to look trimmer although pastels were her favourite colours.

I asked her to rethink her new colour choice. Black clothing can also make a person look heavier than she really is because of its opacity.

She then realised focussing on hiding her curves had caused her to lose sight of the obsidian tresses that had gathered about her like a comforting cloak of lush velvet.

Whether it’s a lisp, or a limp, or not being trim enough, imperfections are not the sum of us. Investing our energy to hide them ironically amplifies their hold on our psyche and keep us from seeing fully.

First 2-person Dine-in with First Sibling

28 June 2021

Last week Singapore relaxed some of its hightened alert rules. Dine-in at cafes and restuarants could resume, but capped at 2 persons.

It was just in time to celebrate my first younger brother’s birthday.

First Sibling and I celebrating his birthday at the mall last week (25 June 2021)

The original plan was to have a meal in the Bugis-Waterloo Street area followed by a bit of gallivanting to admire the beautifully carved figurines in shops selling religious goods.

But these days with seats in public spaces where I can sit to rest cordoned off, First Sibling thought it would be easier on me that we went to a mall.

Many outings for me require visualisations and forward planning akin to making overseas trips.😂

After a birthday meal of noodles and over coffee, First Sibling remarked that we musn’t assume anyone could reach 60.

This morning I looked at the only picture of my First Sibling with our Aunt when he was little and the one we took at the mall last week.

My first sibling and childhood friend with our Aunt in our village at Covent Gardens Rd (now Zion Rd) in the 60s.

50 plus years have passed between 2 pictures just like that.

And I’m glad I could dedicate the first 2-person dine-in provision to celebrate the birthday of my first sibling and first childhood friend.

Heart Mandala for Full Moon


24 June 2021

Rose quartz heart for unconditional love. Clear quartz heart for clarity & courage.

This morning around 4am, the Moon came flooding through the windows. Emmanuel the cat had a glorious moon bath, his grey fur and white paws taking on a luminous glow.

8 years ago, on an evening before this, we were standing on the roof top of Tibet Guest House in Nepal greeting the full moon.

The full moon in Kathmandu on 23 June 2013 that started my mandala dedications to the Moon.

That was the first full supermoon that got me started on dedicating mandalas to the moon.

May our hearts be filled with the fullness of the Moon, to keep caring even if there isn’t a cure.

May our hearts take on the luminosity of the Moon, to see clearly and act courageously, for our benefit and the benefit of all sentient beings.

Divina, the elderly shelter cat has a rose quartz heart to keep her company.

The Ultimate Influencer

21 June 2021

Vespa was my dad’s favourite bike till he couldn’t ride.

A father’s influence is impossible to ignore even when he’s absent. If he’s a good father, he’s missed. If he’s a bad father, his kids are welded to him by hate.

I’ve met boys with limited access to their father pining over their dads & fantasing about fatherly attributes that may or may not exist.These boys will continue to look for their father in other people for a long time.

My dad in his youth donning a uniform from an unknown source. He was 8 month old when his father died. Having no father to role model after, he still did his best for us.

Girls whose fathers have let them down may appear unscathed on the surface, but scars stay.

While moms are rightly glorified for giving us life, I think fathers are magical because their influence or even the lack of it affects the meaning of our life.

Temple visit with my dad on chinese new year. We hardly spoke but my collection of pics of him attests to his importance in my life.

Throughout his life, my father hardly spoke to me. But his interests in books, batik, non-Chinese foods, Balinese arts and Nature continue to live through me. His sacrifices and shortcomings have become important lessons for my brothers and I as we move towards the age of his demise.

My dad as doting grandpa. Here his grandson is pointing a gun at me and my dad’s smiling!

My Fathers’ Day wish is that may all fathers claim their rightful place of power, and make good use of their influence for their children’s benefit and for the benefit of others. 🙏

The Goddess at Orchid Gardens


16-6-2021

“You walk very well,” the lady on the motorised scooter addressed me heartily when I greeted her.

We were on our way out of the orchid gardens when we met. From a distance she looked like a pink blob.

But upclose, she was fully coordinated spotting a face mask and comfortable cotton frock of bandung pink while her thick silvery hair was held in a neat bun by a pair of pink tiger lilies clasp. A circular brooch of antique gold resembling a Flower of Life caught the morning sun and sparkled attractively atop her shoulder.

I felt like hugging her. But in the current climate I wasn’t sure how my gesture would be perceived.

“Thank you! You look amazing!” I said to her, hoping she could pick up the sincerity in my voice.

Earlier on in the pavilion, a soft breeze had risen as I offered the bottled coconut juice which was given to me to the Sky and Earth first before I took my sip. (I saw this practice in a mongolian documentary)

As the pink vision receded steadily from my view under the wide open sky, I had the feeling that I did not just compliment a handicapped lady, but a goddess on her chariot making the rounds in her gardens.
❤️😊