A Thangka Trip

5 Jan 2019

This morning I was reading “Dolpo, the world behind the Himalayas,” by Karna Sakya, when I received a call from Ron. The thangka which he had bought in Nepal and sent for framing in Singapore was ready for collection.

Ron had found his thangka among the shops in Patan when we were there last December.

That day on the terrace, I could feel and see the joy he radiated as he held up his choice.

So when he asked me this morning if I would like to have lunch before dropping by the frame maker’s, I jumped in.

For lunch we came upon this little eatery called Prince Coffee House in Beach Road. It wasn’t our first choice for a lunch location but the Blanco Court Prawn Noodle Shop (my favourite) next door was full.

We decided to give Prince a chance. I’ve always wondered about their homemade yam cake anyway. Besides, the elderly proprietor was ever so hospitable, standing at the door and smiling at anyone that showed the slightest interest in his menu.

The lunch experience turned out to be worth more than the food we paid for.

The 80-year-old F&B sage regaled us with tales of his youth in the industry and the Taiwanese & Hong Kong movie stars that had eaten at his coffee house. In fact the pyrex plates that we were dining on were 45 years old! He bought each set at $10, his eyes glowing with affection as he said so.

He also charmed us with his childlike joy when talking about his yam cakes, chicken pies and apple pies. Each day at 3pm he would go to the kitchen and assist his bakers to make them.

We felt so honoured when he brought us each a glass of water so that we could “eat slowly” because it was a hot day. He also gave all his patrons free dessert of fruits or grass jelly.

When we finished our meal, the octogenarian personally cleared our table and amazed us by arranging the crockery on each of his arm before walking nimbly back to the kitchen! It was Cirque de Soleil to me!

The thangka is a Nepalese art form that depicts Tibetan buddhist iconography. It has many spiritual and practical functions. For me, the variety and depth of colours in thangkas and the emphasis on harmony & proportion inspire me to seek inner & outer balance.

Looking at the owner of Prince Coffee House, his outer balance must have come from an inner peace cultivated from 80 years’ worth of managing the ups and downs in his life.

And it is so apt that today on the eve of the new moon we would collect a thangka that features a long ago Prince who spent his life showing us a way to peace.

So in whichever era we’re born, and regardless of social status, may we cultivate peace within so that we may radiate it to all sentient beings, like the Prince Siddharta depicted in this thangka painting and like the old proprietor of the Prince Coffee House we met today.

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