Walking Our Paths

1 August 2022

Two days back I lit a butter lamp at the temple for my Christian friend to honour his departed soul. Light is a universal medium of blessing at all stages of life. It does not discriminate between life or death, happy or sad.

Dedicating the butter lamp before the lighting.

My late friend was a man of few words and not given to outward display of emotions.

Some years back, he quietly fed the cat taking refuge under his Volkswagen at his condo. He named him Winfred, and defended him when the neighbour accused the feline of spoiling the paintwork of his Mercedes Benz.

My friend took Winfred to the vet when he was ill, sheltered him when he needed a place to recover, and buried him in a safe place when he passed away so that the orange tabby would never have to stray.

Yesterday I made a donation in my late friend’s name to an animal shelter. He who made us sandwiches on long days at work and allowed me to ransack his work station for snacks & meji biscuits would have approved of money going to the dogs & cats too.

After helping the shelter, the thought of a specific animal rescuer who would appreciate some help came to mind. But I too have a budget to stick by.

Late last night I received a text message from a Catholic friend. She did not know of our Christian friend’s passing nor my wish to help the Muslim lady who works two jobs to help animals.

“Don’t know why but I suddenly had a feeling that I urgently need to transfer some money to you to help some animal,” she texted.

And the sum that my Catholic friend wanted to give away was the exact amount that the Muslim rescuer needed to cover some of the care expenses for an aging dog.

Aging dog can no longer walk. The factory compound where she used to seek refuge under heavy vehicles is not safe for her. Hence her feeder decided to put her in boarding where she can be cared for till the end of her natural life span.

So today on Chokhor Duchen which marks the day when Buddha gave his first teaching, I want to share magic, generosity, kindness and trust in people around us and the ones who have gone before us.

Regardless of our heritage, may our life’s choices put us on the path of compassion & wisdom, for our benefit and the benefit of all sentient beings. 🙏

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.

Our Black Dogs

22 Dec 2020

This month last year there was a delay on our return flight from Nepal. SilkAir put us up at Crowne Plaza Sofitel for the night.

Amongst the clusters of travellers, climbers and pilgrims waiting for our boarding passes to be processed before we could leave the airport, there was this man by himself.

He was in his early 50s. Like most trekkers and climbers, his clothes, boots and backpack were in shades of earthy Khakis.

A couple of times we made brief eye contact, like strangers in a lift or small spaces do. Once he attempted to address me. As I was tired and didn’t have enough coffee in me to say anything worthwhile, I looked away.

But a while later I could sense that he was being contemplative, and not trying to be chatty or seeking company.

“You’re travelling alone,” I stated the obvious as our eyes met again.

“Yes, thought I’ll come to see the mountains before old age sets in,” he replied smilingly.

Over the years, he had been to the Himalayas several times with friends and loved ones. This time he had come to spend time alone with the mountains he loved so much.

“I took my son here when he was a boy. We met a black dog which started following us on our trek,” the man began.

“But at the higher pass, we had to let the dog go. It was too dangerous for him. My son cried for days when we couldn’t bring the dog with us,” he continued.

“I still have lots of pictures of them together,” he ended on a wistful note.

I didn’t add anything to what the man had said.

Perhaps this man had come to the mountains to seek pieces of himself that he had to let go in the course of preserving life.

And I wonder how many black dogs we have loved and left behind in our attempts to survive?

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)

Joy, Love & Laugh

8 Dec 2020

Shoya’s necklace sparkled in the morning light.

This morning I placed your picture and your urn by the window and lighted a butter lamp and incense to mark the 6th year of your passing.
The Sun shone bright. The necklace you last wore caught the light. And the beads on them say, “Joy,” “Love” & “Laugh.”

You have given me 15 years worth of all that & more.

May you continue to carry your auspicious presence wherever you are and in whatever form you have taken, my dear Shoya.

And I shall remember to send out joy, love and laughter in your name.

Shoya and I in our younger days. His name Shoya 寿雅 means to age graciously.

World Animal Day 2020 Prayer Flag Blessings

5 Oct 2020

Handprinted Boudha Stupa on handcrafted lokta paper.

Yesterday 4 Oct was World Animal Day. In the morning I dedicated prayers for more kindness and care to animals. I offered flower & light to St Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of Ecology & Animals.

In the afternoon I had the good fortune of presenting a set of new prayer flags to a friend who loves his adopted cats dearly.

Shortly after he got home, my friend unrolled the prayer flags. His cat, Sage, showed great interest in them.

After my friend had raised the prayer flags, Sage continued to show her fascination with the carriers of blessings.

Years ago, I took a picture of my dog contemplating the inscription bearing squares of blue, white, red, green and yellow, like this lovely ginger girl did on yesterday evening

This morning, much to my amazement, the same picture I was hoping to locate popped up on my FB memories.

My dog, Shoya, contemplating the prayer flags 6 years ago.

Sage Leaves & Prayer Flags

29 Sep 2020 (2 days to Full Moon)

Today we visited an animal shelter for cats & dogs.

I’m beginning to see life as a series of crossings all sentient beings have to make. Some crossings are very hard. Besides providing food and care for animals, we might help them cross from sickness and fear to more auspicious states through our prayers and personal rituals.

So I brought sage leaves and prayer flags with me to the shelter in hope that they might be of service.

After wiping down the cats, I came to the end of the shelter corridor where a stupa stood on a metal trolley.

Boudha Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal. I took this shot in Dec 2019 on our last day there.

A stupa is sanskrit for a dome structure used for buddhist meditation or for holding sacred texts and relics. Stupas vary in size. Some are small enough to be placed on dashboards.

I think the stupa at Boudha in Kathmandu, Nepal, is probably the largest on the planet. Walking around it can cultivate wisdom and compassion. The stupa that needed cleaning today was about half my height.

As I was removing dust from the stupa with a wet cloth, a large orange cat suddenly hopped onto the trolley top. He began weaving around the stupa as if he was making a circumambulation with his body!

When I managed to peel him off the stupa, he wrapped his paws around my neck and started purring and rubbing his face against mine affectionately.

The stupa at the shelter.

I lit a sprig of sage leaves and passed their white plumes of aromatic smoke over and around the stupa after the cleaning was done.

Then holding the burning sage, I walked down the length of the corridor and paused at each animal enclosure.

The cats were fascinated. Many came towards me and lingered at the wire mesh to be closer to the smoke blessings.

Even their 17 year old dog snoozing at the doorway got up and joined us.

At the section that housed the dogs, we were barked at. Then as their eyes followed the smoke and their ears picked up the prayers, many calmed down.

A girl dog with gentle eyes wagged her tail merrily at us and wouldn’t let us out of her sight.

As I prayed for the animals to be healthy and happy, and to be released from all causes of difficulties in life, I realised I was essentially praying for myself.

Towards late afternoon, my friend raised the prayer flags over the entrance to bless everyone.

We learnt that the shelter caregiver’s late mom had been wanting to get a set of prayer flags for their shelter since they moved here. But the daily upkeep of the place and looking after animals left them with little time or energy to go looking for prayer flags.

My friend initiated this shelter visit about 2 weeks ago. The sage leaves were given to me recently. The prayer flags were gifts from years ago. I learnt that today is the feast day of the archangels.

All these seemingly random occurrences have come together to facilitate my intentions to support animals and their caregivers. And it brings me comfort to know that the prayer flags put up today will be fluttering under the light of the mid-autumn full moon in a day’s time.

Newly raised prayer flags for the shelter.

Andy, my Wounded Healer.

24 Sep 2020

Andy with the bandages that show what it takes for him to move around.

I first met Andy, the cream coloured paraplegic canine at Street Dog Care in the Boudha neighborhood on a full moon day in Dec 2016.

I remember how he let out nary a whimper as Junu applied medicines on his leg sores that had been rubbed raw by the abrasive contact between his skin and the metallic part of his wheels.

Andy on the full moon of Dec 2016 at the former centre.

His wounds reminded me of the ones I got on the back of my leg from scrapping the metallic caliper that I wore in my childhood.

Much to my delight, we saw Andy again in 2017 and 2018 when we visited Nepal.

Back in Singapore, I would look out for my hero in wheels whenever the centre uploaded videos of their in-house residents.

The last time I touched Andy in Dec 2018.

When we visited their newly located centre in 2018, I remembered Andy making a bee line for hugs. He was very determined to monopolise all the cuddles. El assured me that nobody would dare bully my dear Andy because he was fully capable of defending himself on two legs.

Last night I received news of Andy’s passing. I knew that day might come sooner for him than for his healthier companions, but still.

While searching for a favourite photo of me and Andy to light a butter lamp, I chanced upon another photo that had been missing for so long that I thought I would never find it. It was a photo of a student and I in my younger days on a happy occasion.

Long lost photo found through Andy.

Even in his passing, the little dog had helped me locate a long lost picture to remind me to keep smiling. ♥️🙏

May all the affection & care that precious Andy boy received from Street Dog Care in this lifetime facilitate his passage onto an auspicious realm. 🌈🐾