Vaccination Day

11 May 2021

“Door gifts for you!” The officer announced cheerfully after he had confirmed that I was fit to be discharged.

Vaccination issues dredge up old memories of regret & guilt about missing the one that was supposed to protect me from contracting childhood poliomyelitis.

In Singapore, many who are fit for vaccination are showing up for the jab to protect themselves and keep others from covid-19. I felt had to do my part too.

After reading up and consulting with my doctor on whether there were risks for post-polio patients, I registered to receive the vaccination.

I took a cab to the Yuhua Community Club for my first dose of vaccine.

I had lots of practice with medical appointments since I was a kid. As an adult, making them alone when I still can, is good training for old age.

Of course I had the good sense to arrange for someone to come & get me if I needed help in going home after the vaccination.

However, despite all that preparation, I still approached the vaccination venue with some trepidation.

As I trudged along the corridor leading to the registration counter, a man appeared in the opposite direction. He was wiping his face as he walked towards me.

And his built and gait looked strangely familiar. Is that my youngest uncle walking towards me? Or am I so stressed that I’m hallucinating about having a family member meet me at the centre?

Better not make a fool of myself, and go around calling strangers ‘uncle,’ I warned, even as I wished hopefully to be right. 😆

As it turned out, that man was indeed my youngest uncle! He was there to collect his safe entry token.

He was very surprised to see me in his neighbourhood. He thought I would have opted to go somewhere closer to my home for the vaccination.

My uncle showing the wood block carvings which he keeps carefully after digitization rendered them obsolete.

My uncle walked with me to the vaccination registration counter and my unease disappeared as we chatted.

Before seeing me off at the waiting area, he gave my shoulder a reassuring squeeze.

Looking back I now realised I am never alone. And the reason why someone’s built and gait could exude such strong vibes of familiarity and peace even at a distance, and even before I could ascertain his identity, was that they reminded me of my late grandfather, my uncle’s dad. ♥️

An encounter such as this is never merely just a coincidence for me. I hope by sharing this episode, those who have to do things on their own for whatever reason, will never feel alone.

Someone’s always watching over us. 🙏😊

Second flowering of orchids on Vaccination Day (eve of new moon).

Portals to Calm

29 Apr 2021

May this film on the significance of rituals which I’m happy to be part of energise you and enhance your equanimity.

In my experience, rituals are series of deliberate steps undertaken to invoke an internal order through external actions.

They can be personal & non-sectarian such as making tea or lighting a candle in the privacy of our home. They can also be public & religious, involving the community in specific locations.

When performed with focus & intention, a simple act can become a ritual.

In the absence of full participation with our senses, a ritual becomes a routine.

Conversation with El on rituals at a temple celebration.

So central to all rituals I believe is the mindful enacting of gestures to invoke a sense of order & strength within to manage the turbulence without.

When a child has a chaotic day at school and coming home to the sight of a loving adult making tea and arranging biscuits on a plate for him for the thousandth time since he started kindergarten may have a calming effect on him. And maybe then he will have the courage to share his thoughts.

Unfortunately more and more of us are just too knackered to initiate any kind of ritual with our children. Some of us abdicate our role as ritual masters in our kids’ life to therapists, counsellors or even strangers.

The adult working world can be unforgiving& unpredictable. So having some place to be still or set the table even if it’s just to eat a simple meal of porridge, may provide a moment of peace to our battered being.

In short, rituals sustain us and lend us the motivation to give whatever we’re trying to accomplish another shot.

The pandemic has generated wave upon wave of unease & difficulties. Distrust among nations and between citizens and their governments prevail even with the availability of vaccines.

While pharmaceutical developments race to keep up with the virus, and authorities we count on are understandably none the wiser, we need to look within for that sense of balance.

And the cure that keeps us from the panic that causes harm to self and others, might just be invoked through the discovery of new healing gestures or the enacting of old restorative.

A handcrafted incense holder in the shape of a dragon used by a priest. Dragons are associated with water and change.

Emmanuel’s Acceptance

27 Apr 2021

Me smiling cautiously at the peace between the 2 cats behind me.

Today for the first time, Emmanuel allows Oliver to occupy the space on the couch that used to be his buddy, Hakim’s.

Emmanuel and his orange brother, Hakim, before 12 March 2021.

Today is also full moon observation at Boudha Stupa. In the morning I lit a butter lamp to join the 1000 lamps being lit on behalf of animals by my friends there.

A butter lamp from Singapore to join the 1000 being offered on behalf of animals by my friends in Nepal this full moon.

In 2 days’ time Hakim will have been gone 49 days. I continue to place a light at his picture daily even as I progressively put away his things.

These days when I touch Emmanuel, he doesn’t panic and run away like he used to when had Hakim’s protection.

After so many night of calling for Hakim, perhaps Emmanuel now understands that his brother is never coming back. He decides to accept my cuddling.

So here’s to a new path of less fear and more trust between these 2 boy cats and me.

And may all beings be given the grace to accept what cannot be changed, and the peace to embrace new beginnings.

Cars & Ganesha

20-04-2021

My second younger brother, Andrew, and I at Boudha Stupa in 2011.

Of all birthday observations, a sibling’s birthday is unique. Our brother or sister has been with us long before any BFFs, BFs, GFs, partners or spouses appear.

When I was younger, I saw my siblings through my parents’ eyes. Their disappointments or happiness in my brothers became mine.

Aging helps me to individuate, separate and differentiate, so that these days if I have any opinions or views on anyone, they are strictly mine. And as they’re ONLY my views from a limited mind, there’s no need to hold on to them so tightly.

Because my brother was not academically inclined, his childhood fascination with cars and all things mechanical & electronic were seen as purposeless and a waste of time.

With our dad before heading to Italy for his training under Ferrari.

Fortunately, cars have always been his first true love, so his dream of caring for cars in a workshop which he can be proud of didn’t die.

Giving thanks at the temple during lunar new year.

About 10 years ago, I bought a Ganesha figurine made of resin from the Tribuhavan Airport in Nepal.

It was love at first sight for my car mechanic brother when I placed the pot bellied elephant deity in his palm.

My brother with Ganesha in bronze at Hotel Harati in Kathmandu.

6 months after that, my brother would accompany me to carry medicines to street animals in Nepal. He also brought along his resin Ganesha on our trip to give thanks.

We stayed at Hotel Harati in Kathmandu where he met Ganesha in bronze, and Park Village in Budanilkhanta where we stopped to say hello to Ganesha in clay each morning.

My brother as a 5 year old in one of the few family outings my dad had the mood & means to take us.

Today this little brother who needed me to take him to Jurong Bird Park for a primary school art contest is now in his late 40s.

Fixing cars has opened up numerous new paths not only for my brother, but for others as well.

And on his birthday today, I wish him good health and peace to keep cars safe on the road.

May his reverence for Ganesha also make him wise and keep him grounded, even as he deals with speed & energy everyday. 🙏🌈🐾

My brother selecting incense holders in a little shop in Thamel, Kathmandu. He is wearing a G2000 jacket I got him when he headed to Italy years ago for his car apprenticeship. Although this is an old photo, the vibes it gives out are always fresh.

“What you seek is seeking you.” -Rumi, 13th century Persian Poet

9 April 2021

Be it material or spiritual attainments, it’s natural for us to seek the best. And when it comes to viewing highly elusive creatures such as birds, we earthlings strive for the closest distance to catch a glimpse of them.

We were assigned to sit 2 rows from the bird show space.

At the “King of The Skies,” show at Jurong Bird Park yesterday, we had been assigned seats that would bring us up close and personal with raptors, vultures, eagles and kites.

My friends gave up their choice seats to be with me so that I needn’t take so many steps.

But noting my walking cane, the young usher kindly suggested that my friends and I took the upper tier of the spectator stand. The “good” seats would require us to descend a number of steps.

I took the usher’s advice and my friends gamely gave up their choice seats to join me.

And this was how we came to settle under a beautiful tree whose emerald branches laced the sky of azure blue.

I remember thanking the tree silently as I took pictures of my friends smiling against his verdant backdrop.

When the show started, one by one, the Brahminy Kite, which was one of my friends’ favourite birds, flew from their handlers and came to perch on the branches right above us!

Brahminy Kite’s underbelly is a gorgeous sight!

Raising my face, I saw the underbelly of the Brahminy Kite. Holding my breath, my eyes drank in the distinct markings of warm browns, black linings and pristine white torso of the creature.

We couldn’t have gotten better seats than these, I screamed inwardly.

Over the years, my weakened leg has taught me to see clearly and not to feel bitter or shortchanged by the limitations that come along with it. Speed is important, but it’s not the only thing or everything to worthwhile living.

As the ancient poet Rumi says, “What you seek is seeking you,” and in my case, regardless of physical barriers, has happened to me many times before, and yesterday at the Jurong Bird Park again.

And because I’ve experienced the grace of this particular Rumi wisdom, extremes such as the fastest, and the latest or even the best cannot make me feel unseated easily.

Emmanuel’s Search

31st March 2021

Hakim and Emmanuel on Christmas Eve 2020.

It’s been 20 days since the passing of Hakim, the orange cat.

Hakim’s cat buddy, Emmanuel, continues to call for him at all hours of the day.

He has also been lying on the spots frequented by Hakim. Now and then he’ll walk about the house and let out a wail here & there like he used to whenever he wanted Hakim’s company.

It must be so confusing to the white-socked tabby that no matter how he pleads, his fiery play mate of over 10 years just won’t appear.

Emmanuel does not allow anyone except Hakim to come close.

This afternoon Oliver tried to get on the couch but Emmanuel wouldn’t allow him to take the spot that used to be Hakim’s.

Good natured Oliver then retreated to the kitchen and squeezed into the tuna can carton on the floor for his nap.

I’ve been told that cats have short memory and are disloyal. The first trait makes them difficult to control and the second makes them less reciprocal to goodwill.

But watching Emmanuel search for Hakim the past 20 days has made me wish fervently for him to be forgetful & disloyal.

Holding Space

22 March 2021

These boys have become men, holding jobs and being responsible sons and partners.

In my teaching days working with male students, I regularly got complaints from mothers that their sons often kept them in the dark about issues that they were facing.

Whether it was about learning challenges or relationships, these boys seem unable to share their burdens with those who loved them most.

Some parents wondered if there were special communication or questioning techniques they could use to help their sons share with ease.

But the reality for me was, boys probably told me stuff more easily because I did not have emotional attachment to them. This emotional distance allowed me to let them talk without offering solutions, or feeling the urge to “set things right,” for them.

To grow into women of means & balance, lovely girls like these need to be given safe spaces to sort out whatever growing pains they encounter.

See, if you are a boy or a girl, and, having a tough time in school, the last thing you need after telling someone at home about your trouble is having to manage their upset reactions. And even worse than a parent going to school to “solve your problem,” is being told that you should have done this or that, or that the problem you speak about is all in your head.

I’ve learnt not to offer unsolicited advice when a young person speaks to me.

Red winged starling perching on my hand. (18 March 2021)

Often times, like birds needing a temporary perch to stand and rest their tired wings, people just need a safe space to bring up what’s hurting them. That space enable them to call up all the hidden demons and laid them out in the light to rest. And we know Light brings clarity and healing.

So as our offspring, nieces and nephews enter Term 2 of the school year, and the older ones take on internships and industrial attachments or even a first job, may we have the wisdom and discipline to hold safe spaces at home for them to articulate the difficulties they meet outside, so that all the aspirations of benefits for themselves and others may take flight.

Red-winged Starling taking flight to reveal the fire under the wings.

Emmanuel’s Loss

17 March 2021

Emmanuel calling for his buddy, Hakim.

Emmanuel the Cat walks around the flat, calling for Hakim, his buddy, since they were 2 years old.

Hakim (2007- 12 March 2021)

5 days ago, he watched me from a distance in wary silence as I supported Hakim in his final stages of life.

I continue to place Hakim’s supper in his usual place with a light. Hakim ate fast and would go to Emmanuel’s plate for round 2. And Emmanuel always backed off & gave Hakim his food as he approached.

Emmanuel’s nightly calls for Hakim after supper to join him in the cat room is much like a human who cannot or refuse to accept that a loss has occurred.

Ever since Hakim’s passing, Emmanuel has been lying at the spaces frequented by his orange buddy.

A yellow khata for Hakim, my sunshine boy. (2007-12 March 2021)

A “khata” is a fabric inscribed with auspicious symbols & scripture in the tibetan tradition. It is offered as a gesture of blessing for all important events in life. This yellow khata is a gift bought from Boudha Stupa.

Hakim, my orange boy cat left his body at 2.20am this morning. He was 13 going on 14.

He remained soft and warm when I gave him one more hug before he left home for the crematorium.

Last night he listened quietly as I bless him with pomegranate leaves. He heard about all the good that he has done for me and all who knew him, and the names of people praying for him.

Hakim loves to lounge. (Dec 2020)

Then I assured him I will look for him again and he will never be forgotten.

At the crematorium he was surrounded by fresh orchids. A simple altar by a staff articulated the deep bond between human and animal.

I gave thanks for Fire’s cleansing and transformative power, and hugged my Sun one last time before he entered the Fire to merge with Light.

Hakim loves treats. My students called him 胖爷 pang ye meaning the Well Fed Gentleman.

Hakim crosses his forelegs regularly like a well mannered person.

I placed a pearl from Oman in Hakim’s mouth to wish him a prosperous new birth and a sprig of pomegranate leaves between his paws to bless his heart.

Learning from a Flower the Discipline for Joy

5 March 2021

Desert Roses in full bloom on 5 March 2021.

The pot of desert rose plant I brought home on 1st February is in full bloom.

Desert Rose plant on 1 Feb 2021.

A month ago, to manage my expectations, the seller told me that desert rose plants are hardy but their flowering depend on other factors.

I assured her I would be grateful if it survived my care. The flowering would be a bonus. I paid her $18, carried the pot and made the short walk home.

Except for the knowledge from google , I have little experience in desert rose care.

So even when it started budding around mid-February, I didn’t dare expect too much for fear of disappointment.

And bud by bud, the desert rose came.

Desert Roses on 1 March 2021.

The whole experience has given me the chance to face my fear of disappointments and living things dying on me.

While searching for a quote to honour this plant’s teaching, I came across catholic writer, Henri Nouwen’s writing on the discipline of being surprised by joy.

After reading his thoughts I realised in bracing myself for disappointments and suffering, I have forgotten about joy! And being joyful is as much an effort as being able to handle pain.

I shall close this post with Nouwen’s quote in full to do justice to the man’s profundity and the desert rose’s inspirations within a month of being with me.

“Learn the discipline of being surprised not by suffering but by joy. As we grow old . . . there is suffering ahead of us, immense suffering, a suffering that will continue to tempt us to think that we have chosen the wrong road. . . . But don’t be surprised by pain. Be surprised by joy, be surprised by the little flower that shows its beauty in the midst of a barren desert, and be surprised by the immense healing power that keeps bursting forth like springs of fresh water from the depth of our pain.” – Henry Nouwen