Two days ago on the eve of Hari Raya Haji, I managed to locate the contact number of my chinese calligraphy teacher and expressed my gratitude for his teaching some 17 years ago.
Mr Khoo speaks Hokkien (Minan dialect) in the same way my grandma did. When I first heard him pronounce the name of my ancestral city during a lesson at the Singapore Buddhist Culture Centre at Upper Dickson Road, I felt a keen sense of familiarity with him.
The author of many books and teacher of local & foreign dignitaries treated me with respect despite my lack of Chinese cultural & literary knowledge.
My inability to master brush strokes and lack of commitment to practice did not deter him from checking my homework. He pointed out that I was drawing lines and not writing. But I did not feel slighted because Mr Khoo spoke truthfully & kindly.
His other students were way ahead. They wrote out line upon line of ancient poems from memory as their paper unrolled and sometimes drapped over the edge of their tables. They made room for him respectfully as he weaved among them to inspect their work. His comments were received with reverence. 😊
Even though I couldn’t really follow the intellectual exchanges between him and his more mature & advanced students who had been with him for a long time, Mr Khoo often explained short chinese sayings to me so that I would feel included. His students took after him in his graciousness and were always welcoming towards me.
One unforgettable ancient saying that he taught me was this: the elegance of a room does not depend on size, just as the fragrance of flowers does not depend on numbers. In Chinese it reads “室雅何须大，花香不在多”. How compact! ❤️
When I apologised for my lack of progress in my writing, I remember Mr Khoo saying something like, “这是我们华人的字，你再写不好，也要写下去.” (Transl: This is our Chinese writing. Even if you’re not good at it, you must carry on.)
How refreshing it is to know that there are other more intangible reasons for doing something other than being good at it! Because of Mr Khoo’s approach to learning, I’ve become mindful of using marks as the only measurement of a student’s suitability & aptitude to continue with a subject.
“Guru” in Sanskrit means “Dispeller of Darkness,” and “Bringer of Light.” In Hindu and Tibetan practices, gurus are essential to one’s path to self cultivation & liberation.
Mr Khoo taught me not because I showed any promise in calligraphy nor was I a deserving student. In the ways he generously shares his knowledge and patiently deals with my ignorance, he is in every sense of the word, my guru.
I wish my teacher and his wife peace & health as they lovingly support each other through the years and I hope to be able to pay them a visit one day.
The rain started last night and continues to this morning. I lit a light to thank Rain that cleanses, hydrates and heals. Then I thought of the animal shelters that flood during downpours. My mind went to the street animals having to brave the torrents on their own.
So I asked Fire to give them warmth and keep them dry.
Although I tended to incense and candles in the taoist temple of my childhood where my grandfather was caretaker, my friendship with Fire as an adult only began when I lit my first tea light in the Notre Dame Catheral in France.
After that, I lit my first tea light in Singapore at the grotto of the Church of St Peter & St Paul at Queen Street to support a friend who had to put down his dog, Socks.
Then I found out I could also meet Fire below the image of Mother Mary and Baby Jesus at the Church of St Mary’s of the Angels.
In my 40s, visits to Patan and Boudha in Nepal brought me closer to Fire. Aging has somehow given me a porosity that allows me to soak up the illuminating presence of Fire at the prayer rituals I withessed there.
And so certain am I of Fire’s loyalty that one of the first thoughts that comes to mind whenever loss or hardship befalls me or my friends is to raise a lamp to shine a path out of fear and confusion.
After all, my favourite catholic saint, Francis of Assisi addresses Fire as Brother Fire in “The Canticle of the Sun.”
So on a cold and wet day such as today, may we invoke the Fire within to keep ourselves and others warm and dry.
One day 20 years ago I was on the platform of Bishan MRT Station looking out for the train.
A young woman brushed past me. She had the blackest black hair cascading from her head to below her shoulders in rich glorious waves that danced and rippled.
“Wow! What amazing hair you have!” The words had flown out of my mouth even before I knew I was saying them.
“Thank you! No one has told me this before!” said Girl with Raven Hair.
“But I’m overweight,” she added, pointing at her stout form as if I should take back the compliment.
She was indeed on the chubby side, but that wasn’t the first thing I noticed about her. She beamed when I told her that her hair, was the showpiece, and not her hips.
Girl with Raven Hair had been thinking of wearing black clothes to look trimmer although pastels were her favourite colours.
I asked her to rethink her new colour choice. Black clothing can also make a person look heavier than she really is because of its opacity.
She then realised focussing on hiding her curves had caused her to lose sight of the obsidian tresses that had gathered about her like a comforting cloak of lush velvet.
Whether it’s a lisp, or a limp, or not being trim enough, imperfections are not the sum of us. Investing our energy to hide them ironically amplifies their hold on our psyche and keep us from seeing fully.
A father’s influence is impossible to ignore even when he’s absent. If he’s a good father, he’s missed. If he’s a bad father, his kids are welded to him by hate.
I’ve met boys with limited access to their father pining over their dads & fantasing about fatherly attributes that may or may not exist.These boys will continue to look for their father in other people for a long time.
Girls whose fathers have let them down may appear unscathed on the surface, but scars stay.
While moms are rightly glorified for giving us life, I think fathers are magical because their influence or even the lack of it affects the meaning of our life.
Throughout his life, my father hardly spoke to me. But his interests in books, batik, non-Chinese foods, Balinese arts and Nature continue to live through me. His sacrifices and shortcomings have become important lessons for my brothers and I as we move towards the age of his demise.
My Fathers’ Day wish is that may all fathers claim their rightful place of power, and make good use of their influence for their children’s benefit and for the benefit of others. 🙏
“You walk very well,” the lady on the motorised scooter addressed me heartily when I greeted her.
We were on our way out of the orchid gardens when we met. From a distance she looked like a pink blob.
But upclose, she was fully coordinated spotting a face mask and comfortable cotton frock of bandung pink while her thick silvery hair was held in a neat bun by a pair of pink tiger lilies clasp. A circular brooch of antique gold resembling a Flower of Life caught the morning sun and sparkled attractively atop her shoulder.
I felt like hugging her. But in the current climate I wasn’t sure how my gesture would be perceived.
“Thank you! You look amazing!” I said to her, hoping she could pick up the sincerity in my voice.
Earlier on in the pavilion, a soft breeze had risen as I offered the bottled coconut juice which was given to me to the Sky and Earth first before I took my sip. (I saw this practice in a mongolian documentary)
As the pink vision receded steadily from my view under the wide open sky, I had the feeling that I did not just compliment a handicapped lady, but a goddess on her chariot making the rounds in her gardens. ❤️😊