New Memories in Old Places

27 November 2020

In a matter of two days this week, I travelled a 100 years through time. I celebrated El’s 46th birthday in a chinese restaurant celebrating its 42nd Anniversary of serving traditional hokkien dishes.

The next day I lunched at a cafe that was opened in 1960.

At the chinese restaurant known as Bee Hiang, it was wonderful seeing elderly diners among younger patrons sharing a meal. The ornate furnishings of rosewood chairs, endless calligraphy scrolls and showy fengshui artefacts invoking longevity & auspiciousness triggered childhood memories of weddings, reunions and prosperity. I soaked them all in and felt their blessings all over again.

At the entrance, I looked up with affection at the pair of mythical animals holding up the gold and black signboard of Bee Hiang restaurant, and made a wish for many more gatherings at this place in the days ahead.

Yesterday I was at Holland Village with friends at a cafe that serves english fare in an Enid Blyton setting. The winged sofas, the mantelpiece of ceramic animals, the glittery christmas tree and overly tinseled beams and pillars of Fosters filled me with gratitude.

This was the place that my contemporaries saved up for to buy a meal during dating days. And when we were young teachers, there was never a better indulgence with fellow classroom warriors like a Fosters’ tea with its freshly baked scones.

Bee Hiang at Amoy Street before it relocated to its current location at Jurong East.

Memories provide an anchor to the past, a prompt to be present and a platform to venture forward.

In the current situation where food & beverage businesses are struggling to stay afloat, just being able to be around for any celebration is a feat in itself.

And so I hope the places & people that have witnessed the various transitions in our lives will continue to thrive and prosper, just so we will have the honour of saying,”Thank you for staying on through OUR ups and downs. See you again soon.”

Fosters verandah at Holland Village.

Full Moon Mandala of Foxes, Rice & Grass.

29 November 2020

The full moon last night as seen from Edelweiss Apt where Marcus hosted a vegetarian dinner.

Giving thanks to the Moon for being with us in all seasons of the year.

Ollie inspected the mandala before I lighted it.

May the moonlight lead foxes and all creatures away from manmade dangers and to safety.

May the moonlight bless all plant harvests and bring healing to all sentient beings.

May every grain of food and every blade of grass that we see fill us with humility and gratitude for the abundance that is bestowed on us unconditionally.

Ollie, Hakim & Emmanuel joined in the mandala offering of foxes, rice & grass to the November Full Moon 2020.

The Most Expensive Ingredient in a Meal

23 Nov 2020

A dab of olive butter scented by basil on crackers and a cup of 2-in-1 coffee taste precious when time is given to take them slowly.

The bitter sweet coffee warmed my throat, travelled down my neck and spread across my shoulder. Its aroma lingered at the back of my head and exited through my brow and crown.

Scent of basil on creamy olive augmented the crispy plainness of the crackers.

Perhaps that’s why simple & inexpensive foods might also enrich us.

A friend’s dad is contented with plain basmati rice mixed with a bit of water as long as no one disturbs him when he eats. And he is very fit.

On many late afternoons, my own dad would take his crackers soaked in coffee while reading at the kitchen table. This image always comes to mind whenever I need to connect with him.

Muruku Magic

19 November 2020

Muruku made by Suruthi.

Between the ages of 7 and 15, I always ate homemade murukus, especially during Deepavali season.

The fragrance of cumin and carom seeds in these deep fried dhal delights are unique to my chinese nose. In fact muruku and pappadum preceded pringles potato chips in my introduction to snacks beyond my culture.

3 distinct cultures bonded by English Language, Curry and Rice.

Last week 40 plus years later, I had the chance to taste homemade muruku again. My host even insisted that we took bags of my childhood snacks home! Of course I was more than happy to oblige.

Here’s giving thanks for the aromas of homemade snacks and massala tea as they perfume all gatherings of diversity. 🙏🌈🐾

The future is diverse, not homogenous.

New Moon Dedication

16 Nov 2020

Depending on time zones, yesterday and the day before were new moon observation days.

I didn’t manage to dedicate a mandala this time.

Today the store bought Lilies bloomed.

Just last night they were showing signs of droop when I got home. I hastily refreshed their water and wondered if they would make it after all.

This afternoon as I transferred the Thai basil plants that have grown roots in water onto soil, the fragrance of flowering Lilies filled the air.

May the New Moon’s energy bless all transitions, so that however hopeless things may look, we will keep Hope alive by remaining rooted to our commitments & duties.

Letting Light Through

13 November 2020 (Eve of Deepavali)

To be like these leaves, solid enough to withstand the elements, yet translucent at the same time to let Light through might be how glowing softly from within looks and feels like.

Emerald and jade jewellery have to be cut & polished before they can shine.

Likewise our pride needs to be broken before we can listen. Our thoughts need to be polished before they can be spoken. And maybe after all these, there may be space for Light to pass through, and we acquire the assuring glow of the leaves.

Biscuit to My Lineage

5 November 2020

When 84-year-old Granny Weng (翁奶奶)knew that we were coming to Kinmen Island the next day, she hopped on the bus to do some shopping in the city.

Among the gifts she bought us were little round biscuits called “Kao So,” (口酥) which means crispy in the local Kinmen dialect.

Granny Weng put on this dress called qipao for this picture taking.

Over tea by the doorway of her ancient courtyard she offered us the treats which my grandmother would have eaten during her childhood more than a 100 years ago.

El sharing a joke with Granny Weng at the ancient doorway of her home. We saw the full moon together the next day.

As she eagerly removed the packaging, the hardy grandmother explained in our dialect, “kao so si lin ah ma zou gin na eh si zun siang si kiah.” (Rough translation: This biscuit was popular during your grandma’s childhood).

Granny Weng (翁奶奶) went to town to buy us the biscuits the day before we arrived. She married at 17 and raised 10 children with her husband through the war. She is now a great-grandmother of 6. The next day we watched the full moon rise together, not knowing that in a few months’ time cross border traveling would become impossible because of the pandemic.

November is a month of harvesting, uprooting & stock taking. The biscuit episode happened last June, months before border closures because of the pandemic.

Some of us may not have pedigree lineage to speak of, nor scholars or high fliers among our forefathers. But as ordinary as some origins may be, they are worth remembering.

Biting on a “Kao So” biscuit that day felt like breaking bread to renew a shared heritage that had been quietly waiting for me all these years.

And I have an octogenarian’s affection and efforts to thank for this realisation.

Salam & Namaste

2 Nov 2020

On full moon morning just 2 days ago, I placed a gift of chrysanthemum tea to quench thirst and groundnuts to give energy, on a basket outside my kitchen window.

The workers painting the outer walls of our block were in the gondola on their way up to the 40th floor. From there they would descend & paint unit by unit till they reached the ground.

The items had to be packed compactly to occupy minimum space in their gondola and not to compromise their safety.

I wrote a note to express my intention and most importantly to prevent any misunderstandings with their supervisor/employer.

SALAM means “Peace be Upon You,” and NAMASTE means,”The Light in me greets the Light in you.”

And so it was on the morning of the full moon, an exchange of offerings and blessings took place 30 plus floors above ground outside a kitchen window.

When I recalled how I placed my palms together and bowed wordlessly to the two painters while their joyful Thank Yous filled the air, I felt God visiting me. 😄

Truthful Thursday

29 Oct 2020

Years back through an English assignment, a young boy revealed that he came from a single parent household. His father had been incarcerated for various offences.

“Are you sure you want to read your story to the class?“ I asked him to consider some of the more specific details he had written.

The boy who identified strongly with American gymnast, Simone Biles’ childhood said he wanted to go ahead. The class was very quiet after listening to him.

When everyone had left the room, the 13 year old boy smiled gently. His eyes glowed softly as he said quietly, “Now I don’t have to lie about my mother’s divorce and make up stories about my father anymore. And people can stop asking about my father during PTM (parent-teacher meeting).”

He also revealed that his father used to burn him with lighted cigarettes. The mother’s shame did not allow her abused child to speak ill of his abuser.It was their neighbour who called the police.

The boy and I agreed that because he could share the truth of his background, he wouldn’t have to be constantly on the lookout for people finding out.

After that episode, he put in extra effort in his writing, and often came up with new words to express his thoughts. Free from the fetters of shame and secrets, the boy’s mind flourished with new energy and he found his voice.

It was as if fragments of his fractured psyche were coming together. One of the words he “die die also must write” in all his essays and reflections regardless of its appropriateness and context is “beatific.”

And beatific means “rapturous joy” and “divine bliss”, his rewards for having the courage to make peace with the good and bad bits of his life.

To this day I remember the shine in the eyes of Beatific Boy as he was relieved of the baggage of lies.

May we adults try to live responsibly & truthfully to the best of our ability, so as not to burden children with our broken dreams, unfinished business and unceasing neuroses.