Instinctive Draw

14-11-22

Of all the manifestations or portrayals of the Buddha, I feel drawn to the one with curls on his head.

This manifestation of the Buddha which I’m drawn to is located at Tkechen Choling Temple in Beatty Lane, Singapore.

Somehow he felt Nepali to me. In 2011, before my first trip to Nepal I made a trip to the Tkechen Choling temple in Beatty Lane. I told him that I was going to visit his country & asked for his blessings on the medicines & veterinary supplies that we were bringing for the street dogs.

I’m old school in the sense that if I’m visiting a country for the first time, especially one with known spiritual traditions, I have a compelling urge to declare my intentions.

Today we were at the temple to light butter lamps. I lit a lamp for a beloved shelter cat that is lost and the people who are searching for him. May the Light guide him to safety. If he has left his physical form, may the Light embrace his soul & neutralise all negative imprints & comfort the people who love him.

Whether it is just by the window of my home, or in the presence of a sacred figure of reverence, dedicating a light is one of the ways of expressing respect, support and affection.

May Tam Tam the Cat be well. May his finders be guided and comforted.

And today I also learnt for the first time that the Nepali Buddha I’ve been speaking to for the past 11 years regarding my medicine journeys for animals is none other than the Medicine Buddha himself.

May we be guided as we seek to improve our own lives and the lives of others.

Gifts from an Unknown Horse

16 Nov 2022 (World Horse Day)

The refugee horse I saw in 2001 on the news would lead me to this book in Annapurna Bookshop in Pokara, Nepal in 2011.

In 2001 while following news on the aftermath of 911, the footage of a horse straining under the load strapped tightly to his/ her back while making the mountainous crossing between Afghanistan & Pakistan would forever be soldered onto my brain. It was one of those “once you see it, you cannot unsee it” moment for me.

Taoist prayer papers featuring horses of the Gods. I love the graceful lines by which horses are depicted, almost childlike in their simplicity while deeply evocative.

That TV encounter would lead me to learn more about the suffering of packed animals & support efforts devoted to improving their conditions. In my attempts to raise funds for them, I read up as much as I could. Soon my affinity with writings & artworks that featured horses, donkeys & mules also grew. A trip to Morocco to visit the Society for the Protection of Working Animals Abroad (SPANA) opened up.

And all the above had been bestowed upon me by a nameless horse shivering in the winter cold of armed human conflicts.

Recently a former student was heading to Nepal. By way of wishing her a trip filled with pleasant encounters & learning ease, I gave her a handmade card featuring a mythical horse.

Handmade card using Lokta paper. These are the remaining 3 in my collection after giving 1 to my former student heading to Nepal.

Mythical horses or Windhorses (Lungta) are carriers of auspiciousness in Tibetan and Mongolian cultures.

Windhorse prayer flags.

One of the things the young lady did when she reached the Boudha Stupa was to take out her windhorse card and take pictures of it with the prayer flags.

My former student, Cheryl Lee, and her windhorse card at Boudha Stupa in November 2022.

I have this belief that even if we cannot change the fate of working animals directly, treating representations of them or thoughts associated with them kindly has power.

May the gesture of a girl circumabulating the Stupa with the windhorse card under her jacket, bring better treatment to all working horses and animals.

Cheryl holding her card to the prayer flags.

May our aspirations for better days for ourselves and others never cease regardless of outcomes. 🙏

Dog sleeping underneath the prayer flags at Boudha Stupa, Nepal. Photo credit: Cheryl Lee.

Delightful Deepavali

24 Oct 2022

Over pineapple tarts from a Hindu parent, rempeyek fried by a Muslim friend, and store bought Massala Tea, two Chinese women who have known each other for more than 40 years caught up during this Deepavali public holiday.

Catching up over store bought massala tea, pineapple tarts & rempeyek on Deepavali / Diwali 2022.
From teenagers to senior citizens

They had met in their teens. One was from St Margaret’s Secondary School and the other from Crescent Girls’ School. And even when one left to study & work overseas for a number of years, there is no sense of separation or gaps in their communication. They speak in a mixture of English, Singlish & their home dialect like many Singaporean siblings do.

Today in Nepal, dogs are honoured in a festival called Kukur Tihar. Marigold flowers, incense, tikka & food are offered to street dogs & house dogs in many neighbourhoods to thank the canines. My dog, Shoya, earned his angel wings in 2014. But his qualities of loyalty and non-judgement for human frailties continue in his two cat buddies, Oliver & Emmanuel.

Flowers, incense & tikka blessings for shelter & community dogs prepared by Street Dog Care e.v. in Nepal on Kukur Tihar.

Emmanuel accepts his rudrasha necklace to mark this occasion, and Oliver struts about proudly in his choker from Shivapuri Hills.

Emmanuel & Oliver spotting rudraksha seeds to mark Kukur Tihar.

May I take this chance to wish all sentient beings a delightful Deepavali regardless of the forms we take and the differences in our cultural & spiritual heritage. May all enlightened gestures made today multiply manifold, so that Light may come through us in a continuous flow. 🙏🪔

“I thought she said Kukur Tuna.” – Oliver

Mustangi Magic

20-10-22

In 2011, at the Annapurna Bookshop by Lake Phewa in Pokara, Ron pointed out a book sitting on the top shelf to me & I bought it.

“Horses Like Lightning,” by Sienna Craig documented an American veterinarian’s journey & spiritual growth as she cared for horses in Mustang.

The making of a Juniper smoke offering by local Mustangi people to complete each animal treatment struck a chord in me. I think that was the specific moment that sealed my understanding of medicines & healing having a spiritual dimension.

When we got back to Kathmandu, I couldn’t put the book down. Each night by the window of Hotel Harati in Thamel I would read the words slowly, dreading the time when I would arrive at the last page. I also started wondering what Juniper incense smell like since it was mentioned frequently in the book.

Finally at Boudha Stupa, I came face to face with Juniper in its raw & incense powder form. When lit, it released a scent that was both foreign and yet strangely familiar to me.

The aroma of Juniper incense permeates the air at Boudha Stupa at all times of the day.

While some find Juniper incense smoke dense & yeasty smelling, I find it comforting. It always reminds me of forest & yogurt. (Ikr, I’m never far from food. 😄)

It’s been 10 years since my fascination with Juniper started. Last month my friend, Sharonne and her husband, Khorn, visited Nepal to begin her 60th birthday celebration.

My friend of 40 years, Sharonne, & her spouse, Khorn, kickstarting her Super Sixty Birthday celebration in Nepal.

In the midst of visiting sacred sites and shelter & street animals of the Himalayas, the couple found time to replenish my Juniper incense supply from the same shop facing the Stupa.

Sharonne & Khorn arrived in Nepal on new moon of the 9th Lunar Month and brought much needed medical supplies for street and shelter dogs.

Moving onto higher grounds, Sharonne picked a sprig of Juniper from a tree that grew in the temple compound of Muktinath in Mustang, a faraway location that is difficult for me to reach but has benevolently decided to visit me. 🙏

The temple where the sprig of Juniper berries came from. (Muktinath, Mustang)

“I got us some wild flowers from this monastery! Breathtakingly beautiful views. I could sit here all day breathing it all in!” says my friend of 40 years as she approaches her superb 60th year. ❤️😊

In a few days’ time the Juniper’s green will go, but her history of having travelled from Mustang at 3800m above sea level, and flying 3800km to reach Singapore will always remain. 🙏

World Animal Day

4 Oct 2022

Dog contemplating the world on World Animal Day 2022 in Bakhtapur, Nepal. (Photo credit: Sharonne Tan)

Today is the Feast Day of St Francis of Assisi. He was known for living in peace with all beings, including animals and birds. So when ecologists in 1989 deciding on a date celebrate animal lives, 4 Oct was a natural choice.

This morning as I was wondering what would be a good picture to carry aspirations for peace for all beings, a friend sent me this picture from Nepal.

Peaceful Dog contemplating the world from an ancient window in Bakhtapur in Nepal on 4 Oct 2022. Photo courtesy of Sharonne Tan.

She & her husband had arrived last night in Kathmandu, from Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha.

And this morning she had to step out of their guest house just in time to snap a picture of a dog contemplating the world from his/ her window in the ancient city of Bhaktapur.

Underneath the canine’s intricately carved window and against the terracotta brickworks, was “PEACEFUL.” 🙏

May this precious shot taken on such an auspicious day & timing bestow peace on all animals and humans past and present.

The photographer of “Peaceful Dog” with her own dog, Luna, at the Terrace of Elephant in Cambodia. Luna passed on this July. She was buried in their garden at home and had prayers chanted to facilitate her soul’s ascension. 🙏

May we keep wishing and visualising Peace no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, for our own benefit, and for the benefit of all sentient beings.

Happy World Animal Day!

Becoming Conduits

29 April 2022

Shelter cats, Cauliflower Boy & Hoonie aka Divina, were recently treated to a day at the cat spa, courtesy of groomer turned friend, Ong Hong Kuen.

Arrival of Cauliflower Boy & Hoonie aka Divina from Metta Cats & Dogs Sanctuary to Mad About Grooming for their cat spa pampering.

Cats are by nature self cleaning until old age and other infirmities strike. Much like humans, the untidy old woman or dishevelled old man we see at bus stops or food courts must have been dashing once.

Underneath all that stains is a fluffy cotton candy chest & belly. For want of grooming skills & tools, it is still better to leave an animal unkempt than injured or bleeding.

On each shelter trip, my friend,Marcus Tan for all his adherence to principles of aesthetics, makes it a point to check on the animals that may not receive as much attention, because they’re not as cute as their younger & healthier counterparts.

Hoonie aka Divina after her first cleaning by my groomer friend Ong Hong Kuen when she visited a few months ago. This time she decided to take her to her salon where she has access to tools, warm water, blow dryer etc.

In fact, it was him who got me started on cleaning Divina’s face and untangling her knots while he held her. Unlike dogs, cats are more wary and less cooperative with fur cleaning & nail trimming.

Besides, I’m no groomer and the wrong choice of tools can lead to dire outcomes. Therefore I understand for want of skills and equipment, it is still better to have an unkempt looking animal than an injured or bleeding one.

That day at the shelter we did what we could with Divina and as Cauliflower Boy was not familiar with us, we decided to ask for professional help.

And the Universe answered swiftly.

Within a week, our professional groomer friend turned up at the shelter and took both Cauliflower Boy & Divina in her car back to her salon for some needed spa treatment. ON THE HOUSE. She would hear nothing of payment, transport charges etc.

Under her loving hands and in the calm ambience of their surroundings, both cats had an enjoyable session and a complete makeover.

Cauliflower Boy’s milky white bib returned. Once the stains came off, his fluffy belly shone like cotton candy. Divina’s ears cleared and her persian fur regained its gossamar texture.

The true nature shines after the dirt comes off.

Little did we know that all the above changes were perhaps in preparation for a miracle about to manifest.

Yesterday, we received news that Cauliflower Boy got adopted!!!

Cauliflower no more! He is has a new name called Bernie to match his real appearance.

Yes, the boy cat with the deformed ear hence the name Cauliflower, and with a low adoptability potential, has found his home!

And as if to signify a departure from his past afflictions, Cauliflower Boy’s adopter has changed his name to Bernie. ❤️

As for Divina, she will continue to receive love and generate miracles for others at the shelter until such a time a special human appears for her.

In a couple of days, the New Moon will be upon us. May our recent witnessing of how two disadvantaged cats receive new lease of life, also encourage all who read this post that renewal is as much a state of mind and a matter of intention as it is dependent on external factors.

And so may we maximise our capacity as conduits for positive transformations & renewal regardless of how bleak the situation may appear.🙏

Feeding the Heart

16 Dec 2021

Before opening the cans of cat food, I make a short prayer of good health & freedom from illness for the shelter animals at the Metta Cats & Dogs Sanctuary.

The mundane “click” of a can opening is magic to the cats’ ears. Very quickly, a choir of meows will accompany me as my food trolley approaches.

The younger cats even scale the wire mesh of their enclosure to try to meet me at eye level. The older ones pace at the door, waiting for their gourmet lunch.

This sweet being just wants to head bum you. (Metta Cats and Dog Sanctuary, Singapore)

I think the feline song & dance food ritual also blesses the people who donate food to shelter animals.

As I lock the safety gate behind me and unlock the inner gate to enter each enclosure with food offerings, eyes of labradorite, amber gold, citrine yellow and green agate follow me.

This citrine-eyed beauty just wants to sit close to you. She doesn’t need you to feed or pat her. (Metta Cats and Dogs Sanctuary, Singapore)

When plates of food are placed before them, many cats do not immediately start eating. Instead they will walk around their plates gingerly to sniff & study the content before feeding.

The nervous ones have to be coaxed before they will eat, much like how we will encourage a shy child at the orphanage or a lonely grandpa in a nursing home during meal times.

In every 3-4 cats, there will be at least one begging to be picked up and cuddled before he or she will get on with the business of filling the stomach.

It is hard to look away when a cat stands on her hind legs, places her paw on your knee and looks you in the eye. She needs more than food.

So even when you don’t wish to keep the others waiting, and you’re physically aching from all that bending, you’ll still pick this one up & hug her close to feed her heart.

A Dog’s Influence

8 Dec 2021

The son of my former neighbour who lived one unit below us in our old block used to stop by our door to pat Shoya on his way home from school.

Shoya wagging his tail at my parents’ home as my mom prepares for prayers to the earth god on chinese new year eve.

Now as a young working adult, after having finished his polytechnic studies, and served in the army, he recently adopted a dog from a local shelter.

Handsome dog, Nugget, reminds his adopter of Shoya.

He told me his nearly 8 year old adoptee reminded him of Shoya. They had met when he was volunteering. He wanted to give the shelter boy a taste of home like how Shoya found a home with me.

When he was still in primary school, this young man would ask me all sorts of questions about dog breed, ownership, licensing rules etc

Today is the 7th year of Shoya’s passing in 2014.

Recently I saw the young man gently guiding his handsome dog to step into the lift with him.

Looking back it humbles me to know that just by sitting quietly at the threshold to welcome a boy who passed by, Shoya was sowing the seed of a home for a future dog in need.
❤️🙏

Shoya and I at our old block. I hope one day we will meet again. He passed on in Dec 2014 when I was in Thailand. I didn’t have a chance to say “Goodbye”. In hindsight I think maybe he didn’t want to say goodbye.

Olfactory Healing

18 Nov 2021

Fire turning sage leaves into ephemeral beauty of healing and comfort.

When we were children, my Kinmen grandma had the practice of waving smokes from burning sandal wood towards us.

My brother and I in our clean pyjamas would stand obediently facing her as the comforting aromas filled the space. We did not choke nor feel suffocated.

As a result, juniper incense makes me feel at home in Nepal.

The caregiver of the animal shelter gives me the chance to make a burning sage offering for the resident cats and dogs whenever I’m there.

As I move about the shelter systematically & wave the sage smokes towards each refugee animal and offer words of blessings and aspirations of finding good homes, a number of them will start gathering around me.

Old lady carrying old lady: Hoonie aka Divina & me.

At such a moment I sometimes feel I’m my grandma and the animals are my brothers and me. 😊

At a recent visit, one elderly dog perked up when I passed the sage smoke over her head. Alexi is 16 and feeling disorientated. She used to be the first animal to toddle towards me and place her head below my palm to take in the sage blessings. After that she and one of her cat sidekicks would follow me around as I moved from enclosure to enclosure, as if to assure everyone of my benevolent intentions.

That day after the blessing, HK helped Alexi put on her wheels and took her to walk the shelter grounds like in the old days.

Perhaps despite Alexi’s aging form and neurological issues, the sage smoke reminds her that all is not lost.

However, olfactory memories can hurt too.

Adeline Yen Mah of “Chinese Cinderalla,” couldn’t bear the fragrance of magnolia flowers. In her childhood she had to bury her only pet chick whom she had named PLT ( Precious Little Treasure) under the Magnolia Tree after it was killed by her father’s german shepherd.

It is my wish that no children or anyone will ever have to hold such tragic olfactory associations. And for those who do, may they be guided to transform traumas to peace.

And may all cherished olfactory memories heal & comfort us when time renders all other senses unreliable.

Alexi used to be the first to come for sage smoke blessing when she could walk on her own. The sage smoke perks her up & gives her the strength to put on her wheels so that she can inspect her beloved shelter. ❤️

24 October

24 October 2021
(19th day of 9th Lunar Month)

20 years ago on this day, I removed a puppy that had been kept in a junkyard along a defunct railway track and took him home.

I named the junkyard puppy, Shoya, and took him home.

That puppy lived for 15 years, gave me the courage to live alone and opened my eyes to the plight of street animals.

Shoya waiting to see his first vet, Dr Simms.

I named him Shoya 壽雅 meaning to live long & be gracious.

He gained his angel wings 7 years ago, but not a day goes by without his happy face crossing my mind. ❤️😊

Because of him I dared to venture into abandoned places to feed homeless dogs, walk in dim alleys to locate lost or injured cats and intervene in potentially abusive behaviour towards animals and people.

Feeding & befriending Margo in Jurong Lake Park before she found her forever loving home.

“Do one thing every day that scares you,” or versions of it has appeared on self improvement books, speeches & songs etc. I think taking Shoya home was the beginning of that for me.

With the late Andy of Street Dog Care in Nepal. I see my Shoya in every dog I meet and I just want to give him or her the best I can.