Memories as Medicine

15 November 2019

Yesterday afternoon I took a quick picture of the building that used to house the photo studio in which my parent had their wedding pictures taken over half a century ago.

225 Outram Road where my parents had their wedding pictures taken more than half a century ago.

It was the cheapest studio that my 25-year-old dad and 20-year-old mom could afford at that time.

My mom is now a grandmother with grown up grandkids. But still she has the habit of pointing out the now non-existent studio along Outram Road that took her picture when she was a young lady.

Dad was 25 years old and mom was 20 years old on their wedding day.

It pleases her to be reminded that the cheap studio has given her some really good pictures that have lasted all these years. 😄

And so when we look back on the past, be it through a building, or a picture, it’s not about trying to hold onto youth or to find fault, but it’s more about understanding our circumstances so that we can set the past free to merge with our collective sacred memory that inspires further journeys.

Seeking our roots to better understand our circumstances so that the past can be set free to merge with our collective sacred memory to inspire new journeys and healing.

Messenger on 11-11

12 November 2019

It was full moon last night.

After dedicating a mandala, I met up with a friend for dinner. I had been wanting to hand him a souvenir from Taipei since September.

It was an access card holder with peacock embroidery on it. I bought 3 of them and two have already found delighted owners.

The 3rd piece was a bit tricky to give away because this friend and I seldom meet. By the way, the intended recipient of this gift has spent nearly his whole life studying birds.

I was slowly doubting the necessity for an ornithologist to own an embroidered bird as a keepsake when he’s surrounded by REAL feathered beings every day. 😄

I had my “selling ice to an eskimo” moments which made me harbour thoughts of keeping the gift for myself.

But I’m so glad I didn’t.

Last night, not only was my friend very very pleased with the gift from Taipei. It turned out that he’ll be there this December for new year countdown!

As he learnt about my September visit to Taipei and Kinmen Island, my grandma’s birthplace, he became intrigued by the latter.

He wanted to know more about the old streets, slow life and ancient houses. His eyes shone in wonderment when I told him about the abundance of blue peacocks on the island.

By the time dinner ended, my friend was thinking of including Kinmen Island in his new year celebration.

After we parted ways, I saw a young man on the linking bridge between Westgate Mall and JEM Mall. He was aiming his cell phone camera at something in the distant.

As I followed his hands, my eyes landed on a Peacock shimmering away outside the Jurong East MRT Station.

The Peacock, despite his majestic beauty, is associated with humility and magnanimity. Being light-footed, he carries his magnificence with ease. He is a reminder not to turn blessings into burdens because of our craving for control.

Honouring Roots

1 Nov 2019

The humble leeks that I paid $1.40 cents for had travelled from Cameron Highlands to Sheng Shiong Supermarket before they ended up in my kitchen as lunch.

The roots have to be chopped off as they are inedible and trap soil. And even as these roots belong to the same species of vegetable, they differ in thickness, length and their curling angles.

Like the discarded portions of the leeks, the relevance & diversity of our origins that anchor us are often hidden or even when visible, are considered cumbersome in our rush to seek surface acceptance.

I think the neglect of our roots, whether by choice or circumstances, can also make us incredibly ignorant or hypersensitive to any comments or questions on race, colour, and even the pronunciation of cultural and ethnic terms.

As we step into the last two months of 2019, may we find time & space to seek and arrive at the grounding and sense of belonging that come from recognising and acknowledging our roots. Perhaps then we will feel secure enough to respond to the dynamics of life without causing harm to ourselves or to others.

Deepavali Delights

27 Oct 2019

During the Festival of Lights season, a school cat that had been injured and warded for medical boarding finally made a full recovery. His homecoming was much anticipated by staff & students.

On Deepavali morning, a former student dropped by my home to hand deliver her wedding invitation card.

Hand delivered wedding invitation card from Habibah who is now a primary school teacher and bride to be this Nov.

Habibah Najihahbi Ahmad, the bride-to-be was 15 when she studied English with me.

In these days where relationships are often hurried & transient, not to mention contractual, Habibah’s visit on Deepavali morning has brought such warmth & light.

Habibah and her mountain guide above 5000m in the Himalayas in 2018.

Now in her 20s, she’s completed her academic & professional training, driven & camped solo around Iceland, trekked the Himalayas, become teacher to primary school children and is going to be married this November.

Habibah wrote this in 2010 as a response to a question on childhood memories. In 2018, she would go on to trek the Himalayas. I think what childhood exposures & activities have power over adult behaviour later on.

The young lady who used to scale walls & sit inches from the ceiling in her childhood, wrote articulately in English, and faithfully fed the school cats till she graduated from secondary school, will be someone’s precious life partner soon.

Removing cat fur off visitors is the last ritual whenever people visit me.

Through the years, I’ve seen Habibah in polo t-shirt and school skort, sports training gear, concert attire, baju gurung, trekking jacket and I’m now looking forward to see this lovely lady in her bridal finery. ♥️

Blueberry Mandala on New Moon

28 Oct 2019

May the new moon tonight illuminate the path of all who are facing changes in their lives.

Whether it’s about starting an apprenticeship or leaving a job, getting married or becoming alone, finding a home or returning to the streets, may the new moon bestow a spirit of bravery on all sentient beings.

My First Teacher on Inclusivity

26 Oct 2019 (Eve of Deepavali 2019)

When we relocated from a chinese village to a multi-racial housing board flat in the 70s, our immediate neighbour was an Indian family of four.

As the head of that household was 1 year older than my dad, my grandma told us to address him as Elder Uncle. Elder Uncle was Hindu and his wife Theresa was Catholic. Knowing that her name was too much of a challenge for our grandma’s untrained chinese tongue and for ease of communication, Theresa had kindly allowed her name to be modified into a rather inelegant sounding, “Ah Sa.”

“Ah Sa” had a key to our home and we had a key to hers.

In those days we had no telephone. If her relatives dropped by and there was no one home, we would unlock the door to “Ah Sa’s” flat on her behalf.

And if we misplaced our key to our home we need not panic because “Ah Sa” had a spare.

I loved lingering in her kitchen to watch her cook and be fed as well. I must have eaten hundreds of “Ah Sa’s” chapattis and dosas by the time I reached secondary school.

Her children, Manimaran & Selva were younger, and my mother was in love with their dark glossy hair and long eye lashes. My mother would touch Mani’s fringe affectionately and wondered aloud why her own kids had such flat hair.

Elder Uncle and “Ah Sa” were very strict parents but they had a soft spot for my youngest brother, Andrew, who was a toddler then. Elder Uncle would scoop him up and parade my baby brother around the neighbourhood like a prized pet.

Each Deepavali morning our Indian family would give us a tray of festive snacks in beautiful glass bowls covered with an embroidered organza tea cloth.

It was exquisite.

We would receive the tray with reverence and bring it into the kitchen to transfer its contents to airtight containers.

In return we filled “Ah Sa’s” glass bowls with sugar, candies and fruits to wish her a sweet and fruitful life ahead.

Years later, “Ah Sa” is the reason why I remember the names and aromas of Indian spices. She’s also the reason why I can stare at sarees and dupattas for hours and why I still tune into the Tamil radio station now & then.

I give thanks for the light of inclusivity that entered my world through this family, and hope to keep it shining in their honour.

Universal Light

25 Oct 2019

It was the second last lesson at the old campus. The students had been checking their marked exam scripts and tallying marks.

As much as we like to believe that marks are just marks, we also know marks determine GPA scores and have the power to call up all kinds of intense emotions.

We’re usually good at celebrating success but awkward at handling disappointments. Sometimes in our eagerness to help someone see the bright side of things, we ply them with glib platitudes & unsolicited solutions.

On that day I had prepared a lesson inspired by the Deepavali (Festival of Light) season and brought a small tea light in a decorative clay holder to represent a traditional oil lamp to class.

We explored the literal & figurative meaning of light, and the various symbolism of fire & light across cultures and in our everyday language.

The students cheered softly and their eyes lit up when the youngest in class struck a match to light the lamp.

A hush came upon the room as each child carefully passed the light from hand to hand, taking a moment to still their hearts to give thanks for the mental faculties to sit for exams and for whatever scores their efforts have brought them.

Slowly the heaviness of discontent lifted as the light burned brightly.

“I feel that there are a lot of things that I can look forward to in the future, and I feel motivated to work hard for the things that will happen next,” a student responded when asked how did holding a light in her hand feel like.

By contemplating on light, the students experienced how their minds could rise above the temporary disappointments that had threatened to lock them in a permanent state of fear and self-doubt.

When the lesson ended, I gave thanks to light and bless the room that had hosted us all these months.

That lesson turned out to be the last time I would be using that room as the following week, I would receive notice that the campus would close permanently.

As a result of the campus closure, we had the chance to conduct our final lesson of the year with a field trip to Little India where the students became part of the Festival of Light celebration.

My wish of having our final lesson at Little India had been fulfilled by factors beyond my understanding.

So I like to take this chance to wish all my friends the blessings of Fire and Light, especially when we face situations & outcomes that are beyond our control.