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.

Dressing Up for World Peace

14 Sep 2021

This pink cotton *qipao that took me to the Great Wall of China was bought at a market in Beijing in the summer of 2002. The young chinese woman behind me kept telling me how “可爱” (ke ai) meaning endearing I looked in it. We made each other’s day.
The green watch on my wrist was bought by my second younger brother on his first trip to Moderna, Italy.

*qipao – dress with mandarin collar and slits at the side modified from clothes of manchurian people.

Some years back when I was feeding homeless cats, I noticed that neighbourhood bullies who harassed cat feeders were cautious with me.

And it wasn’t my handicap that made them decide to be kind to me. In fact my limp had on some occasions prompted people to have a go at me.

What made the bullies think twice about harassing me in my cat feeding rounds was the way I dressed.

In my teaching days I wore dresses and *qipao. And I was often still in my teaching clothes when I stopped to feed cats.

A talented friend draw this portrait of me in green qipao surrounded by my dog, Shoya, and my 10 cats in 2007.

A couple of times, a person on the verge of passing some nasty remarks about animals would appraise my clothes and asked if I worked for the government. Of course I said yes with great authority since all teachers come under the jurisdiction of the MOE.

I think that was where my understanding of power dressing without brands started.

Gradually, dressing carefully so that people would back off and let a lone woman feed cats in peace evolved from a necessity to a habit.

A couple of years ago, I taught English at a centre for troubled teens.

They were an energetic bunch plagued by anger management & learning issues.

Once in the midst of an expletive storm, one of them shouted, “M’am! You look nice!” when I was spotted sitting in the garden next to their gym.

Subsequently, “M’am, you look nice,” became a regular greeting whenever they saw me.

I think each time these young men stopped to pay me a compliment, or hear their friend make one, they experienced a momentary release from the rage & vitrol that had dominated their speech.

The old belief that it’s not what you eat, but what comes out of your mouth that kills you was evident in the way one of the boys beamed when I thanked him for his gracious words.

Perhaps getting dressed could be a way of promoting peace. And perhaps dressing up to save the world may not be as far fetched an idea as it seems. 😄

*qipao – dress with mandarin collar and slits at the side modified from clothes of manchurian people.

Grooming Divina

3 Aug 2021

Divina, the aging shelter cat always perks up when visitor approaches her enclosure.

Divina aka Hoonie, remains keenly interested for company even when the grooming session has made her comfortably sleepy. Her medical conditions require her to be isolated from the rest.

It doesn’t matter that her fur is unkempt and her whiskers are snotty.

A portion of the offending clumps that weighed on her shrunken frame.

She’ll make an effort to totter from her sleeping space towards anyone that stops by her enclosure without any idea if you’ll still be there by the time she makes the distance to say “hello.”

The life force emanating from this cat’s shrunken frame is unmistakable. It has so far attracted a regular visitor who has a Phd to give her special attention even as he’s charmed and surrounded by many cuter and fatter kitties.

Yesterday Divina’s love for life attracted a professional groomer to drop by.

Groomer being escorted by the charming and fat orange cat, Tenzin, in the morning light, as she went to greet the cats from enclosure to enclosure.

Moved by her gentle spirit, and encouraged by the glorious morning sunlight, the groomer felt that it was the right time to give the old cat her well deserved spa. Permission from her caregiver was sought and given.

Manicure and pedicure are part of the cat spa package.

Deftly & decisively, matted knots and dead skins were removed, and dirt filled nails threatening to maim were trimmed.

Shampoo and warm shower followed to wash off all offending residues that had weighed her down. At the sink, I found myself giving thanks to Mother Water.

“I want spa package like Divina’s!” – demanded a sweet Calico that managed to squeeze into the bathroom from a gathering of curious cats peeping from outside.

Back to her enclosure, the ancient cat purred and closed her eyes in dreamy bliss as she was being fluffed & towelled dried.

Divina’s fluffy fur and clean nails after the spa session. With or without the cleaning, her spirit is pure & loving.

Yesterday was the Groomer’s day off. And she had chosen to spend a part of her rest & play to serve someone who cannot pay.

I believe with or without the cleaning, Divina’s spirit is pure and loving.

But in the grooming of Divina, I felt we’re in some ways grooming ourselves to be free from impediments & judgements. 🙏

One more cuddle till the next visit. (3 Aug 2021)

Emmanuel’s Acceptance

27 Apr 2021

Me smiling cautiously at the peace between the 2 cats behind me.

Today for the first time, Emmanuel allows Oliver to occupy the space on the couch that used to be his buddy, Hakim’s.

Emmanuel and his orange brother, Hakim, before 12 March 2021.

Today is also full moon observation at Boudha Stupa. In the morning I lit a butter lamp to join the 1000 lamps being lit on behalf of animals by my friends there.

A butter lamp from Singapore to join the 1000 being offered on behalf of animals by my friends in Nepal this full moon.

In 2 days’ time Hakim will have been gone 49 days. I continue to place a light at his picture daily even as I progressively put away his things.

These days when I touch Emmanuel, he doesn’t panic and run away like he used to when had Hakim’s protection.

After so many night of calling for Hakim, perhaps Emmanuel now understands that his brother is never coming back. He decides to accept my cuddling.

So here’s to a new path of less fear and more trust between these 2 boy cats and me.

And may all beings be given the grace to accept what cannot be changed, and the peace to embrace new beginnings.

“What you seek is seeking you.” -Rumi, 13th century Persian Poet

9 April 2021

Be it material or spiritual attainments, it’s natural for us to seek the best. And when it comes to viewing highly elusive creatures such as birds, we earthlings strive for the closest distance to catch a glimpse of them.

We were assigned to sit 2 rows from the bird show space.

At the “King of The Skies,” show at Jurong Bird Park yesterday, we had been assigned seats that would bring us up close and personal with raptors, vultures, eagles and kites.

My friends gave up their choice seats to be with me so that I needn’t take so many steps.

But noting my walking cane, the young usher kindly suggested that my friends and I took the upper tier of the spectator stand. The “good” seats would require us to descend a number of steps.

I took the usher’s advice and my friends gamely gave up their choice seats to join me.

And this was how we came to settle under a beautiful tree whose emerald branches laced the sky of azure blue.

I remember thanking the tree silently as I took pictures of my friends smiling against his verdant backdrop.

When the show started, one by one, the Brahminy Kite, which was one of my friends’ favourite birds, flew from their handlers and came to perch on the branches right above us!

Brahminy Kite’s underbelly is a gorgeous sight!

Raising my face, I saw the underbelly of the Brahminy Kite. Holding my breath, my eyes drank in the distinct markings of warm browns, black linings and pristine white torso of the creature.

We couldn’t have gotten better seats than these, I screamed inwardly.

Over the years, my weakened leg has taught me to see clearly and not to feel bitter or shortchanged by the limitations that come along with it. Speed is important, but it’s not the only thing or everything to worthwhile living.

As the ancient poet Rumi says, “What you seek is seeking you,” and in my case, regardless of physical barriers, has happened to me many times before, and yesterday at the Jurong Bird Park again.

And because I’ve experienced the grace of this particular Rumi wisdom, extremes such as the fastest, and the latest or even the best cannot make me feel unseated easily.

Margo & Mikhail of Jurong Lake Gardens.

20 Dec 2020

Thanks to Seow Hwee & Edna, this is my first walk through the Jurong Lake Gardens since 2004. (13 Dec 2020)

Last week we visited Jurong Lake Gardens where parts of it were still being landscaped.

The lake joins the Jurong River (Sungei Jurong) which passes my flat on its way to the sea.

The newly developed Jurong Lake Gardens has built footpaths that allow us to get close to the water and vegetation. Across the lake and behind me stood the apartment blocks where I now live. (13 Dec 2020)

16 years back, this park had few footpaths. Its relative inaccessibility & mosquito presence was ironically an ideal gathering place for former farmers or elderly labourers who had much time and some money on their hand, but not many places to go.

Banyan Tree, Margo. (13 Dec 2020)

Under the banyan trees that skirted the water, these old men sat on roots and decaying trunks to play chess, chat quietly about their kampong childhood or just smoked in silence.

But most of all, they showed kindness to Margo & Mikhail, two stray dogs that had sought refuge in the relative wildness of the undeveloped park. Like these old men who had been forgotten by progress, these dogs also had no place to go.

The female stray dog had a delicate frame and would prance gazelle-like to her food when I whistled for her. Sometimes I could see her stretch out in the moonlight when my taxi passed by. So I named her Margo, after the british ballerina, Margo Fonteyn.

Ballet legend, Margo Fonteyn. Pic source: liveabout.com

The male stray was more cautious and would only come to eat after I had walked away. I named him Mikhail, after Mikhail Baryshnikov, the Russian ballet dancer who defected to the West.

Ballet legend, Mikhail Baryshnikov. Pic source: ikindance.com.au

When Margo’s life was under threat from complaints lodged against her by joggers and cyclists who felt threatened by her barking, one of her elderly protectors who loved her the most asked me to find her a real home.

And my friend and her husband gave Margo a home, and doted on her till she passed on at a ripe old age.

For a week after Margo left the park, Mikhail still turned up for his meals. Then he was never seen again.

One of the mature banyan trees that Margo and Mikhail would have played under in their youth.

Today both old men and dogs are gone. But the banyan trees that listened to happy chatters and bore witness to kindness to two homeless dogs are still there.

So on this recent visit, I thought I would name two old banyan trees, Margo and Mikhail, in honour of the blessed encounters between Man & Nature, long before the Jurong Lake Gardens was accessible as a place of leisure.

With banyan tree, Mikhail. (13 Dec 2020)