My friend’s orange kitty, Sage, is selective about who gets to hang out with her, for how close and for how long.
My efforts to promote animal welfare do not impress her one bit.
My repertoire of animal knowledge is worth less a kibble to her.
But, if I know my place, Sage doesn’t mind eating a store bought treat from my hand. This means not trying to touch her when she’s trying to eat, or assuming that just because I have the means to buy things, I’m King.
Sage reminds me that I’m only a creature, just like her.
So whenever I need a dose of reality & liberation from egoistic tendencies, I make an appointment with Sage.
I was sitting on one of the benches facing the Boudha Stupa when 3 old persons with rickety gait came by.
I made room on the bench for them. They bowed lightly, and took their places while adjusting their belongings amongst themselves.
The grandpa spoke to me in a language I didn’t understand. He had a fedora on and was bundled up in winter clothing. The two grandmas smiled. I smiled back at their weather beaten faces and gentle eyes.
Lacking the vocabularly to ask about another’s nationalities, beliefs, marital status or occupations, our exchanges were reduced to gestures of smiling, bowing and nodding. That was truly a John Lennon’s “Imagine” moment for me.
One of the grandmas handed the grandpa a small packet which he raised towards the Stupa and then placed lightly against his own forehead. After that he took out a tiny piece of reddish looking substance from the little bag. It resembled blusher that had been chipped off from a make up receptacle.
He then broke the terra cotta red bit into tinier pieces with his fingers and placed a bit of which on the open palms of each grandmas.
Turning towards me, he offered the same thing. Seeing how reverently they treated the powder, I held out my palms too.
After that, as if they had rehearsed it many times, the three of them looked up at the Stupa, placed what was on their palms into their mouths and brought both palms together in prayer.
As I stared in wonderment at their synchronised actions, the grandpa turned to me. He puffed up his chest to indicate that the powder would make me strong like them.
For added effect, he also slapped his forehead & sniffled dramatically to show that it could keep head & respiratory troubles away.
Now, I have my reservations about taking unknown substances from strangers.
But the simplicity and earnestness of the 3 sages to share health & strength with me neutralised all misgivings.
The encounter was made all the more poignant when I realised how far we had travelled to share this moment of healing under the Stupa. The following year, travel restrictions of all kinds would make it hard for me to visit Nepal.
Perhaps at the heart of all communicative intent, it is not eloquence, but kindness that causes the mind to open.
And Bella has gone home to God. Even though we’re sad to lose him, we’ll not let fear or hate win.
Given the threats of animal predators and manmade errors that community cats face daily, Bella’s 16 years on earth is a miracle.
When he was a kitten with gender still unknown, the Canadian swim team named him Bella.
The student athletes whispered their secrets to him.
Local & international coaches & staff fed him or asked about him.
Visitors and parents took pictures of him, and sometimes with him (far away in the background).
Overseas athletes saved up their allowance to buy him treats.
Adults helped out with his veterinary needs.
Despite having a low tolerance for touch, and a high need for distance, Bella has succeeded in bringing many people & nationalities together. He has taught us to be generous with our heart, our money, and our time. And love doesn’t mean ownership.
Rest well, Bella Boy. Even though your entry into & exit from this world were not ideal, in between you were loved by many, and now multi-faith prayers from Singapore to Cambodia, and beyond Asia to the West are being dedicated to you. 🙏❤️
Lunar New Year begins not at a countdown concert, but a trip to the temple of my childhood for me.
The pouring rain this year did not dampen our spirit one bit. We just learn to adjust expectations and accommodate one another’s transport challenges.
Year after year I return to this place to start my year. The temple door guardians are ever so welcoming, and figurines of deities feel like old friends. Being aware that one day all these may not be accessible to me for various reasons makes the yearly meet ups all the more precious.
The incense aroma strengthens my spirit even as my body ages. And the sight of fire and lighted lanterns energises my mind even as my hair loses its colour.
Towards evening when the rain clouds lifted, a little green shoot on the trunk of the Chiku Tree greeted me. 😊
Spring indeed is the beginning of all things and the starting from zero. When we don’t hanker after what we don’t have or what used to be ours, Spring happens in us. 🙏
Although I grew up watching my Kinmen grandma cross stitch elaborate & perfectly symmetrical patterns on fabrics, I was miserable at sewing lessons in my primary school days.
I was very dependent on the teacher marking out where the cross stitches should be.
Once towards recess time, she coldly warned me that I woudn’t get my break unless I could sew the cross stitches diagonally across a square fabric. I panicked.
To my 7-year-old self then missing recess was unthinkable for two reasons. Firstly, I would miss the delicious food which I was thinking about all morning. Secondly, to be stuck in the classroom to struggle with sewing felt like the ultimate betrayal by an adult for whom I had the highest regard.
So I had a meltdown.
A classmate’s mom came to my aid when I was hyperventilating and trying to thread the needle through tears at the same time. Till this day I can still recall my rescuer’s hairstyle, her facial features and her gentle voice. A couple of her teeth were capped in gold.
In my childhood, lots of women could stitch & sew. Their sewing skills put food on the table and their kids through school. So I have deep respect for women and later on men, who can sew and cook, long before social media & celebrities make these skills trendy.
Years later after that episode I would develop a special fondness for the cross stitches and indigo prints of minority people in China, Northern Thailand and Vietnam.
And each time I wear something handmade by women I’ve never met, I feel the collective power of all our female ancestors and the kindness of my classmate’s mother all over again. ❤️😊
The 11 and 12-year-olds in my tuition class were given 6mins to write down their names and decorate them using whatever they can find in their pencil cases. While beautifying their names they were to come up with 3 personal traits which they think they have and wish to be known for.
The time for this activity was kept short to prevent overthinking, sharing of ideas and making comparisons.
Being helpful & kind, intelligent, elegant and a good team player were some of the qualities these youngsters wanted to be known for. And having a sense of humour and respecting others were mentioned as well.
“Why do u need others to know you are intelligent?” I asked the girl whose spectacles seemed to occupy all of her face.
“Because I want people to know I will still do the right thing even when no one’s watching,” the 11-year-old replied softly.
A recurring motif that appeared in their 6mins output came from nature. Floating clouds, mountain peaks, planets and animals appeared abundantly around and on the letters that formed their names.
One boy turned the letters of his name into a blue print for a future park he would like to build, complete with security features and facilities to make the visit a good one. And the traits he would like to be known for are bravery, boldness and kindness.
When I gave this same boy an old calendar card last year because he likes elephants, he pointed out to me that his birthday falls on International Vegetarian Day.
Perhaps the path to peace is to appreciate the perspectives of children. And when they place nature and animals alongside their names, they’re also carrying aspirations of healing & hope for all that’s been broken in this world.
Yesterday we repeated our favourite pre-celebration ritual of vegetarian meal, temple visits and decoration shopping in the Fortune Centre area. The last time we could do so maskless & free, was in 2020.
In 20 days’ time the Lunar New Year will be upon us.
It was good to see the old folks up and about at the vegetarian cafe. They were happily taking food orders and heartily conveying their choices to the kitchen.
The evening puja at Sri Krishnan Temple had started as we walked by. The aroma of incense offering and intermittent peal of brass temple bell lifted our spirit.
At the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple (Goddess of Mercy), devotees were quietly praying outside the closed temple gates as dusk fell.
A few steps ahead, we chanced upon a shop called “Good Neighbour,” that appeared to be only selling household goods. As we ventured further in, an array of chinese new year decors in shades of vermillion & carmine greeted our eyes.
Even though it was near closing time, the staff and cashier remained hospitable to browsers and handled each customer’s enquiry good-naturedly.
The young man at the cashier counter code switched effortlessly among English, Mandarin, Malay and Hokkien depending on the language being used to address him.
“When beautiful people talk to me nicely, I will speak clearly too,” he shot back cheerfully when we expressed amazement at the accuracy of his Hokkien pronunciation.
After he had helped us take a picture with the Year of the Hare (Rabbit) decor, he respectfully wished the two of us elderly Rabbits good health and many years of new year jaunting to come.
When my friend wished him the blessings of good employment & kind employer for all round prosperity, the carefree boy with studded ears and golden streaks in his hair listened intently & bowed lightly.
Our first day outing of 2023 came to a sweet close as we stopped for local ice cream wrapped in bread. Above us the nearly full moon shone.