Almost Full Moon in Kinmen

11-09-2019

The evening before we flew back to Taipei, we sat on a stone ledge near Grandma Ongg’s (翁奶奶) house in Kinmen Island and watched the moon rise. I was back to 5 years old again.

Grandma Ongg’s house is behind the stone ledge we sat on.

Some tourists passed us by. Too bogged down by their shopping bags and a bit anxious to locate their homestay houses they didn’t notice the Moon glowing benevolently above them.

The Moon wasn’t full yet, but her brilliance wasn’t any less because of that.

84-year-old Grandma Ongg had spotted us from the entrance of her 400-year-old house and decided to join us for a bit of moon watching.

We chatted in low tones and looked to the Moon as she weaved in & out of the clouds, her circular outline gaining prominence while we waited for her in the gathering dusk.

How often in our struggles with life we insist that we gotta be this or that in order to feel complete, when perhaps we are essentially complete. We just need time & space to notice it.

Grandma Ongg’s ancient house had been bombed 4 times. Each time it was bombed, they picked up the pieces and repaired the damages.

Like the almost full moon in Kinmen, we can still shine even if we’re chipped around the corners, or frayed around the edges by life’s challenges.

Mid Autumn Full Moon in Taipei.

13 Sep 2019 (八月十五)

It was my first mid-autumn full moon observation away from Singapore, my home.

In the morning we visited Taipei’s 200-year-old temple dedicated to the Mother Goddess and received her blessings on behalf of all sentient beings, especially the animal rescuers and their animals.

After that we headed to an old part of town to meet a seal maker who has been in the engraving practice & trade since he was a teenager.

His explanations on font selection & placement according to the purpose for which a seal is made deepened my respect for the written characters.

And I began to understand why I’ve always been able to sense the subtle energies emitting from the characters I see in my surroundings.

Kinmen Surprise

8 Sep 2019

After a walkabout in Kinmen’s scorching summer sun we were grateful to enter the air-conditioned cocoon of Yuan’s taxi.

Still recovering from the glare, we asked our quiet driver to decide what he thought might be of meaning & interest to us. He knew we were there to listen & learn.

Inside Yuan’s taxi. This taxi has a name and is a conveyor of good experiences.

And he surprised us by taking us to the film set of “Paradise in Service,” (军中乐园). The film was shot in 2015 in Kinmen.

At its premier screening, soldiers who fought in their youth and now grandfathers were invited to watch the film with their loved ones. When the film ended, the whole theatre was filled with tears of old men and their grandkids.

When you realise what you are documenting, the heat seems more tolerable.

We sat in reverential silence as our taxi cruised along the street flanked by flags on either side of the deserted film set, while Wang Jie’s (王杰), “An episode of game and an episode of dream,” (一场游戏,一场梦) played softly in the background.

We take pictures to hold memories and to remind ourselves how far we’ve come.

Indeed whatever happens in our lives, and however intensely we might have felt our emotions, seen in the context of time, history and human affairs, they may well have been just games and dreams to others.

Hair salons really looked like this in my childhood.

Take Time to Make Nice

14 Sep 2019

View of 100 year old tree from the cafe where Time is the secret ingredient in their cooking.

The owner of the cafe tucked in the alley behind the military headquarters(总兵署) was very detailed in giving us directions to Wu Miao (武庙), the temple that we needed to locate in order to be at Houpu Teahouse (后浦泡茶间).

Wu Miao Temple dedicated to Kuan Yu, the Warrior Deity who stood for justice & loyalty.

He taught us two routes to our destination: one for the local people and the other for visitors like us. And he was fairly insistent that we took the latter because he didn’t think we could read the landmarks meant for the locals.

We took his advice & had a great time.

The next day El suggested that we took our dinner at the cafe as a gesture of gratitude for the owner’s kindness.

When we arrived, the local patrons chatting with the cafe owner immediately offered us their table in the courtyard because they believed their position was the coolest and nicest part of the cafe on a hot summer day.

During our walk we got lost and gained this majestic tree and the hospitality of a cafe owner & his wife.

The cafe owner’s wife gave us our evening meal of cooked rice, slowly braised dishes, lightly fried cabbage & pickled vegetables.

When we complimented the wife for her amazing food, she smiled & told us her secret ingredient was time.

She said what we just had were ordinary produce braised in soya sauce with a bit of sugar over slow fire for 3 hours. Some dishes were cooled and then chilled in the refrigerator in order for the flavours to gather & settle.

And so what we ate was essentially Time, as she revealed with glowing pride.

The houses in this back alley are easily 100-200 years old. My grandmother was born in this city and I like to think she passed through here before.

Do You Have Space For …?

6 Sep 2019

“Miss Ong, do you have space for another cat?”

A former student in my first school during the 80s texted me recently.

Me: What do you mean? As in a live cat? (feeling a bit nervous)

First Student: No, I mean a cat figurine.

I thanked him for his kind thoughts but explained that I’ve had my share of cute cat merchandise to last a lifetime.

First Student went on to describe how the cat figurine he saw was very well made and he would like me to have it.

I was touched that a kid I taught 32 years ago and who’s now working overseas should be interacting with his ancient teacher with such sincerity & enthusiasm. 😊

And after all, a couple of cat figurines shouldn’t take up too much space, I reasoned.

So bring it, I texted back.

Last week when we caught up at Grains & Hops near his art studio, he didn’t just bring me a pair of cats, but an entire collection of 20!

He wanted me have a complete set he said.

So on Teachers’ Day today, I’m dedicating this cat mandala to wish all teachers plenty of heart space to receive generosity & completeness, as shown by the giver of these 20 kitties.

And as Maggie Smith in her Downton Abbey character once said, “Nothing succeeds quite like excess,” I hope all students will not hesitate to thank or compliment their teachers and mentors excessively today or any other day. 😄

Extravagant Impermanence

4 Sep 2019

This morning as I was sipping my coffee, a vision greeted me.

It was a new leaf bearing all the glory of Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”

Indeed “Nature’s first green is gold, her hardest hue to hold.”

As I studied the leaf up close I felt humbled.

Its luminous beauty & delicate veins reflect a creator of extravagance, and all the more so considering “it’s only a leaf” and will wither and die soon.

If Nature bothers to put in such exquisite details in a little leaf that might even go noticed, then giving my best to what I do however impermanent the outcome, will truly be an act of freedom & generosity to myself.

Life Force

3 Sep 2019

I’ve a tendency to collect seeds from the fruits I eat since I was a kid.

And whenever possible I like to bury them in the soil instead of throwing them into the trash.

I imagine the seeds taking a nap in the darkness, recuperating from the trauma of being separated from the flesh.

Sprouts from jackfruits that Krison bought 3 weeks ago.

And when the conditions are right, the seeds will wake up and send me a thank you sprout.

Just seeing their leaves catching the morning light makes me happy even if their sprouting is short-lived.

Their appearance keeps me from giving in to the despair of forest burning and animal harming, very much like how years ago a bunch of pigeons flapping around a friend’s legs had caused him to change his mind about taking his own life.

So I really believe in the restorative & healing powers of nature, and regularly stop to thank the shrubs and trees that I see.

Balonlong, Lime and Bougainvilla blooming under the tender care of garden worker.