To give or not to give

13 Jan 2020

It had been on my mind since last December to contribute to the veterinary bills of a shelter dog called Dahua.

Because of my other long term financial commitments in animal relief, I wasn’t sure if I have enough to make a small once off contribution to her vet bills that have amounted to slightly more than 5k.

On Boxing Day 2019, this 9-year-old girl dog survived a surgery to remove a growth in her spleen. The next day she had two cardiac arrests and she was gone.

Dahua was the sole survivor of dog poisoning that killed her mom & siblings. Although much loved by her rescuers and shelter caregivers who took her on adoption drives, she never got adopted.

The shelter has been posting appeals for donation to cover Dahua’s vet bills. I wanted to help but was unsure if I should since I only have a part-time income.

So I made a wish as my birthday was near. I wished that whatever cash gifts I get, they will go to animal relief work.

But I would have to give first.

Yet this morning at the ATM, I hesitated. I wanted to transfer $200 to the shelter for Dahua, but ended up giving $130 instead, for fear of not having enough for myself.

After that I did some grocery shopping, making sure I bought just what I would eat. I did however, buy 4 red Chinese radish to welcome Spring. 😄

Ollie welcomes the red chinese radish.

On my walk home from the supermarket, I stopped by the park bench for a rest & saw a mynah picking up twigs to build her nest. The bird got me thinking of the pregnant mouse found by May Sarton, still holding in her paws bits of straws for her unfinished nest as she lay dead from ingesting poison laid out by farmers. My thoughts went naturally to Dahua again as she had been poisoned when she was a puppy.

What humans casually consider as pest or strays have very real life & death struggles of their own.

As I was sitting there thinking about these animals’ often unseen and hard lives, I received a message from my bank:

“So-and-so would like to send you SGD 200.00. Use the passcode provided by him/her to accept this amount at…”

Is this a hoax?

I texted my friend whose name was on the bank’s message for confirmation.

Indeed the SGD200.00 was from her. She wanted me to use the money in any way I deemed fit for animals.

I was teary. Less than 2 hours ago, I was lingering at the ATM, wondering if somebody like me with reduced earnings, and aging, was still in the position to donate $200 to help an animal.

“God told me to send the money,” my friend texted. She had been very busy at work. But divine intervention had led her to make the money transfer at the period when I was asking if my giving would deplete me.

My friend and I are from different spiritual backgrounds. She’s been questioning God’s existence and the teachings of her religious community. She felt that her role in the giving episode was a gentle reminder that her faith hasn’t been in vain and her relationship with the invisible God is real.

And I learnt now faith is not really about the absence of doubts nor the presence of unquestioned obedience. Or feeling capable and being in-charge.

Faith for me is perhaps the constant practice of testing & forging ahead, guided by the practice of kindness to the most vulnerable, despite the doubts & uncertainties at the back of my mind.

Dahua trusted her caregivers, and in faith they had put her through the surgery.

The dog’s physical life may have ended on 27 December 2019. But less than a month later on 13 Jan 2020, she has become the portal through which two friends felt the giving hands of the Divine.

What a well-lived life!

Dahua being loved and giving love.

OM in black for the Full Moon

9 Jan 2020

Black is accommodating.

It hides what is not ready to be seen.

Black is giving.

It stays in the background to allow others to shine.

May the full moon tonight bless our mind with wisdom, so that we can see beyond our emotions, and learn to rely on the comforting presence of darkness to recover, for our benefit and for the benefit of others.

Light to help us befriend not dispel Darkness, so that we can heal.

Hero’s Assurance

9 Jan 2019 (Full Moon)

My first penmanship gift from Sharonne in 2020.

I’ve been using blue ink to teach penmanship to younger students since 2014. Blue is easier to clean and more forgiving on kids’ clothes. And I’ve used blue so regularly that I’ve forgotten about black.

But ever since this new year when I started writing OM, my interest in black ink has returned.

OM in blue.

So the day before yesterday, I went to West Coast Plaza specifically to collect my shoes at the cobbler’s, and to look for black ink at the stationery supplies store there.

First Tutee shows Ollie pictures of themselves taken when he was in primary 1. He’s in primary 3 this year. 😊

I was in a bit of a rush to return home where First Tutee, now in Primary 3, was dropping by for his first lesson of 2020.

When I got home I realised I had forgotten to check out the bottle of HERO black ink at the cashier’s. It was still sitting on the shelf where I had placed it for safe keeping when I left.

As I couldn’t justify taking a cab back to the store just to pick up a bottle of ink, I decided to let the matter rest.

Yesterday, over lunch at Fortune Centre, my friend, Sharonne, whom I’ve known for 37 years gave me a present.

It was a HERO penmanship gift set made up of a fountain pen and a bottle of ink. She had bought it at Sisyphus Book Store in Hangzhou, China, where she spent many happy hours.

And the colour of the ink?

It had to be black of course. 😊

It feels humbling & assuring that the black ink has made its way to me despite my inability to purchase it on my own.

So I wish for my friends and all sentient beings the same assurance and the same ease that have been experienced by me, as they go about heroically creating better lives for themselves & for others.

Happy Full Moon! ♥️🌈🐾

Timeless Appeal of Joy

8 Jan 2019

Sharonne’s CNY shopping achievements today.

Sharonne and I met in our late teens in the early 80s.

In our early 20s.

Between the two of us we must have eaten hundreds of plates of fried kuay teow at the NUS Arts Canteen during our student days.

When we became teachers, it was with her that I took my first flight on Air Romania to Holland to visit our friend, Mee Geok Liau. That summer while on a day trip to Belgium, we stumbled upon a a little restaurant on a medieval street and celebrated Sharonne’s birthday there. The name of the street was Zandstraat.

Sharonne got me a Hero fountain pen & a bottle of black ink. We took this pic at Guam Imm temple with the apsaras behind us.

Now in our 50s, having a vegetarian meal at Fortune Centre, making a temple visit and buying loud Chinese New Year decorations evoke the same giddy happiness we felt when we were just girls 37 years ago.

It is wonderful to know that joy remains or may even become more intense with the passing years.

Staying Sweet for 2020

6 Jan 2020

First Parcel in 2020 for a friend whom I hardly see but is always supportive of my animal work since 2007.

School & work started on the 2nd day of 2020 for most in Singapore.

Since primary school days the ending of the old year and the beginning of the new one carry great significance for me.

As I age, I find myself more selective and making more efforts in the simplest of activities that I partake in around this season. (This would be the main reason why I need to operate alone. 😄)

Ollie poses with a Street Dog Care calendar from Nepal. This was the first gift I mailed out in 2020.

So on the 2nd day of 2020, I decided that leaving my house to make a trip to the post office to mail a calendar to a friend was top priority.

Now the taxi fare to & fro would easily cost me at least $14, and if I were pragmatic, I should have waited a few more days to gather up more errands and mail her the calendar while I was running them. But this friend definitely deserves more, and shall not be part of my errands.

My sore throat was also healing. Although I didn’t think it auspicious to begin the new year with one, it had the benefit of making me stay home to write OM and drink honey water.

After the Westgate Post Office, I stopped by a costume jewelry counter on my way to the supermarket.

The counter was just on the walkway of the mall so it wasn’t even in a proper shop.

Ollie, like Planet Jupiter, wears my choker of 12 moons.

But the salesgirl on duty that day was dressed as if she was working for Cartier.

She showed the low priced trinkets respectfully to customers who were mostly in carefree and casual clothes.

I was immediately impressed by her regal air even though her retail space was tiny & cluttered, and even though she only had a plastic stool to sit on, despite looking like a million dollars.

When she saw me, she was very interested in the rudraksha beads on my wrist and tried to recall their Mandarin name.

“Boudhi Seeds (菩提子),” I offered.

The young Queen smiled.

After she realised I understood Mandarin, she started telling me how she liked the way my choker looked against black.

This 12-moon choker of buffalo horn reminds me of Jupiter and has accompanied to many places. Its bovine presence often allows total strangers to relax and smile at me.

I returned the Queen’s kindness by complimenting her on her youth and dress sense, and she replied, “我只是年轻罢了。而你的时尚是打从骨子里来的.” (Rough Transl: I’m just young, but your style is bone deep).

As I watched Her Grace greeting customers who didn’t even bother to look at her, I felt I needed to give her something to remind her of her sweetness.

So before I left the mall, I bought an extra bottle of honey from GNC and went back to the costume jewellery counter to give it to her.

“May your life be sweet no matter who you meet.”

At first she looked a little puzzled. Then she held up the bottle of honey and revealed excitedly that this was her first gift from Singapore! She had only been working here for a month plus. And for her to receive honey at the start of the new year was auspicious, she gushed.

And standing tall on her fine stockinged legs, the Queen bent low to ask if I could give her a hug!

As I did, I wished her a happy and youthful 2020 and may the honey gift remind her of her own sweetness, and to remain sweet no matter what kind of customers she meets.

First Word of 2020

3 Jan 2019

There are several understandings of “OM”. My favourites are “OM” is the first sound of creation and has the ability to neutralise pride,the cause of fear and jealousy.

I spent the 1st day of 2020 in relative silence while practising to write OM in the Tibetan Uchen style for the first time.

“Start writing OM,” has been on my mind the past few years but I never got round to it because I was waiting for the “perfect” timing, “perfect” video and “perfect” calligraphy book to get started.

In Nepal, the book sellers in Thamel & Boudha that I checked with didn’t seem to sell the practise book that will show me the sequence of the strokes that I needed to see before I could write the character. Did such a practise book even exist? I only started to do online searches for it after my failed attempts in Nepal.

And during the search I indulged in almonds. So over the last few days leading to this new year I developed a sore throat.

That was how Silence descended. Seclusion followed quickly as the need to rest my voice caused me to abstain from all social gatherings. Together, they created the space I needed to pursue the long awaited OM.

“Please let me just know how to write OM, everything else will be a bonus,” I thought to myself as I viewed the video of Tashi Mannox writing the mantra of Great Compassion (OM MANI PADME HUM).

I’m a slow learner. I need to see the strokes in slow-mo if possible, run them through my head & be allowed to copy stroke for stroke before I can do it on my own. Many videos were too fast for me.

But Tashi Mannox’s video did it with his calm voice and deliberately unhurried movements.

So that was how I learnt to write my first word on the first day of 2020.

Balinese Hindus celebrate their New Year called Nyepi by going into self imposed silence and seclusion, so that they can retreat, reflect and be renewed.

As I lack the cultural practice nor the lineage to create such a ritual on my own, the Universe has kindly turned a sore throat into an opportunity to start the year with an ancient and sacred word, “OM”.

So I wish for all my friends and all sentient beings the same benevolence that has been bestowed on me to create a positive outcome from a negative situation.

May you be kind. May you be auspicious. May you be full of grace.

Tashi Delek.

The strokes that made up OM had intrigued me for as long as I remember. They resemble a person dancing. While practising OM, memories of my secondary school bio lessons on bones came back. In those days I had a compulsion to study the bone samples from angles that were not required by the syllabus. I started seeing the bones as pillars, trees and balconies and drew them the way I saw them. My very unscientific renderings drove my Bio teacher insane, but I kept at it even when I knew my diagrams would be rejected and I would fail in that component. Perhaps those bone sketches were my early attempts to write OM which I didn’t know exist.

A Himalayan Christmas Blessing

29 Dec 2019

I was all set to leave my flat for a post-christmas gathering at a friend’s place when a clear voice rose in my head and went, “Bring something from Nepal.”

I tried to ignore the voice because I had already wrapped up a present for gift exchange and saw no reason to bring another.

But reluctantly I went back to my room and selected a notebook made of Lokta paper from among the gifts from Nepal to take with me.

I’m fond of buying handmade gifts, compelled by a vague logic to honour the makers and the belief that they will bring blessings to the recipients.

As I didn’t know who I would be meeting at the gathering except “a few close friends and family members,” I wasn’t sure if the Lokta notebook would be appreciated.

When I arrived at her home, my friend had the Nepali greeting, “Namaste,” on her door.

So my first word upon my arrival was a “Namaste!” to the guests who were already inside the flat.

A tall and lanky netball player with gorgeous curly hair came to hug me. She knew me from sports school days.

A quick sweep across the living room confirmed that I was The Oldest person in a meet up of supple youth from the sports and art fraternity.

After the gift exchange and a couple of group shots, a young man came to sit with me and asked if I was a teacher in SJI before. He had been a student there and recognised me the moment he saw me at the door even though I didn’t teach him.

Our conversation drifted to school days and the convergence of circumstances that set him on a path in film & animation.

Young Man laughed at my attempts during teaching days to interest his SJI mates in “Dreams” by Akira Kurosawa when all they mostly cared about was having a lesson in the air-conditioned comfort of the AVA studio!

But years later, one of those boys would become a partner in a law firm and write to say that whenever the sun shines on a rainy day, he would remember the foxes’ wedding in “Dreams,” and think of me.

I mused that perhaps Kurosawa’s films were too stark and too abstract for teenage boys. They might have responded better to “Totoro,” or “Spirited Away,” although Hayao Miyazaki’s animations are as profound, if not more, than Kurosawa’s films.

Young Man’s eyes lit up at the mere mention of Hayao Miyazaki, the 70plus year old Japanese animation guru. This creator of fantasies is renown for his meticulous hand drawn details and his ability to convey difficult themes such as death, abandonment and loss through his tales.

Young Man then shared that even though these days lots of animation work has gone digital, he is still very “old school” at heart. He really enjoys drawing every detail by hand and still does so with his projects.

I knew by then for whom I had been told to “bring something from Nepal.”

I showed him the last minute gift that I had brought from home.

He was stunned and told me he didn’t know what to say.

And thus it was in the living room of a flat by the Kallang River in Singapore, that a young animation artist came into contact with handmade paper made from trees growing at 3000m in the Himalayas.

I invited him to use the notebook to incubate his ideas for films and animation so that the many blessings from Nepal on survival, gratitude and beauty will bring him assignments that not only pay the bills but also be of great benefit & service to others too.

Young Man accepted the Himalayan blessings reverently. I was very grateful to have obeyed the prompting to bring a gift even when I thought it wasn’t necessary.