Territorial Instincts

9 June 2021

Despite being only the size of a cushion, and weighing less than 6kg, Emmanuel growls menacingly when Ollie tries to cosy up on the couch he’s on.

Emmanuel, the cushion sized cat with a loud voice and a ready bite.
Different locations, same bickering over who occupies where.

In return, Oliver sneaks up at night on Emmanuel ensconced on the cane chair, and scares the wits out of him.

My counselling falls on deaf ears.

Both cats are loved, have free run of my home and access to food and clean water 24/7.

Once in a while they grudgingly share space.

Furthermore they are also somewhat related, having been born on the grounds of a girls’ school I was teaching in some 14 years ago.

Yet they bicker constantly about who occupies where as much as they can only bodily be in one location at a time.

Perhaps this fear of losing out & needing to own more than what one needs is hardwired into the survival instincts of all living beings.

Oliver posing with a literary magazine from Kinmen Island, a political pawn used by warring parties since the Ming Dynasty. My grandmother was born there in 1914.

Unlike cats, we humans have the advantage of analysis, and perhaps even tame some of our natural inclinations for power and control, and be free from fear and possessiveness to some degree.

Through Animal Eyes

3 June 2021

Day after day, Emmanuel the Cat lives the new dawn by the way he looks at the sky as if he’s seeing it for the first time.

His trancelike attention to light descending upon creation to the music of birdsongs shows a timeless appreciation for new beginnings even as he is aging.


20 May 2021

Yesterday at the animal shelter, an elderly Persian cat started purring loudly and turning her forehead to meet mine each time I managed to snip off a knot of matted fur that had twirled and tightened around her like barnacles growing on whales.

I hope Divina will still be around in my next visit. I hope to give her a bath and dry her properly.

Shelter trips are sobering reminders of abandonment, broken promises and vulnerabilities.

Shelter people are stretched to their limits to compensate the animals for the suffering in the hands of fellow humans.

This morning I came across a picture of a doctor holding a patient to comfort him. I thought of my encounter with the ageing Persian whom I had named Divina.

Different species, same loneliness.

Different contexts, same gestures.

Different professions, similar offerings.

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, cutting off the knots for the shelter cat felt akin to making a liberation gesture for me.

For some time as I leant against the plastic shelf with Divina purring loudly, I had an idea of the elation divers must have felt when they cut off fishing lines that have trapped marine lives.

Divina leaning towards me each time I snipped off a knot of matted fur from her body.

And today I learnt that some communities celebrated the birth of Buddha yesterday.

May we be free to offer relief to others with all the skillsets we have and in whatever situations we come across. 🌈🙏🐾

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.

Emmanuel’s Search

31st March 2021

Hakim and Emmanuel on Christmas Eve 2020.

It’s been 20 days since the passing of Hakim, the orange cat.

Hakim’s cat buddy, Emmanuel, continues to call for him at all hours of the day.

He has also been lying on the spots frequented by Hakim. Now and then he’ll walk about the house and let out a wail here & there like he used to whenever he wanted Hakim’s company.

It must be so confusing to the white-socked tabby that no matter how he pleads, his fiery play mate of over 10 years just won’t appear.

Emmanuel does not allow anyone except Hakim to come close.

This afternoon Oliver tried to get on the couch but Emmanuel wouldn’t allow him to take the spot that used to be Hakim’s.

Good natured Oliver then retreated to the kitchen and squeezed into the tuna can carton on the floor for his nap.

I’ve been told that cats have short memory and are disloyal. The first trait makes them difficult to control and the second makes them less reciprocal to goodwill.

But watching Emmanuel search for Hakim the past 20 days has made me wish fervently for him to be forgetful & disloyal.

Emmanuel’s Loss

17 March 2021

Emmanuel calling for his buddy, Hakim.

Emmanuel the Cat walks around the flat, calling for Hakim, his buddy, since they were 2 years old.

Hakim (2007- 12 March 2021)

5 days ago, he watched me from a distance in wary silence as I supported Hakim in his final stages of life.

I continue to place Hakim’s supper in his usual place with a light. Hakim ate fast and would go to Emmanuel’s plate for round 2. And Emmanuel always backed off & gave Hakim his food as he approached.

Emmanuel’s nightly calls for Hakim after supper to join him in the cat room is much like a human who cannot or refuse to accept that a loss has occurred.

Ever since Hakim’s passing, Emmanuel has been lying at the spaces frequented by his orange buddy.

A yellow khata for Hakim, my sunshine boy. (2007-12 March 2021)

A “khata” is a fabric inscribed with auspicious symbols & scripture in the tibetan tradition. It is offered as a gesture of blessing for all important events in life. This yellow khata is a gift bought from Boudha Stupa.

Hakim, my orange boy cat left his body at 2.20am this morning. He was 13 going on 14.

He remained soft and warm when I gave him one more hug before he left home for the crematorium.

Last night he listened quietly as I bless him with pomegranate leaves. He heard about all the good that he has done for me and all who knew him, and the names of people praying for him.

Hakim loves to lounge. (Dec 2020)

Then I assured him I will look for him again and he will never be forgotten.

At the crematorium he was surrounded by fresh orchids. A simple altar by a staff articulated the deep bond between human and animal.

I gave thanks for Fire’s cleansing and transformative power, and hugged my Sun one last time before he entered the Fire to merge with Light.

Hakim loves treats. My students called him 胖爷 pang ye meaning the Well Fed Gentleman.

Hakim crosses his forelegs regularly like a well mannered person.

I placed a pearl from Oman in Hakim’s mouth to wish him a prosperous new birth and a sprig of pomegranate leaves between his paws to bless his heart.


2 March 2021


Yesterday my friend who was painting the enclosures at the end of the animal shelter alerted me to an elderly cat that needed some attention.

Estimated to be around 12-14 years old now, the frail but alert creature has been on medication to manage her health issues. She was found sick on the street a few years ago. Details of her background and even her name if she had one was only known to the late founder of the shelter.

Gently, I passed the wet tissue over the length of the cat’s body several times to ease her into the change of temperature. Then I moved a fresh piece of wet tissue up the back of her head and sort of passed it over her temple and face lightly to relax her. I was a stranger after all, even if I meant well.

When she with the unknown name allowed me to touch her facial region without backing off, I was then able to see the dried tear stains and hardened snot that needed removing.

And throughout the cleaning and being shifted about, the cat took every opportunity to turn around and face my friend who was watching us from outside the enclosure.

My friend’s feelings for this cat’s plight must have been so intense to generate such a phenomena.

Today when I played the encounter over in my head, some of the lines from “The Divine Image,” by William Blake came up:

K2 thanks Marcus for setting up a bed for him.

“Mercy has a human heart, /Pity a human face/ And Love, the human form divine…”

Perhaps the cat saw God in my friend.

Bubbles walks about to learn to be at ease outside her enclosure while K3 (Tenzin) and K2 look on like some gangsta cats.

And “Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell /There God is dwelling too.”

We will never know what this old cat was called before. But based on her behaviour and her ability to call up “The Divine Image,” naming her “Divina” might be appropriate. 🌈🙏🐾

March Mercies

1 March 2021

At the shelter this morning I found a mug to hold my iphone to amplify the song of White Tara for the cats and dogs.

Tenzin, the big orange boy wasted no time in showing his appreciation.

When I came home, more desert roses have bloomed.

May the mercies we receive multiply as we pass them on to other sentient beings.

Ancient Patterns

28 Jan 2021

On the morning of the final full moon of the Year of the Rat, Emmanuel the Cat slumbers on.

He dreams of Sumerian cuneiforms, Egyptian hieroglyphs and pictographs of the past as he tallies up his lives’ scores.

The distinct letter ‘M’ marking on his velvety forehead that extends all the way to the top of his head and separates into wispy lines down the back of his neck like some elaborate headdress lends the sleeping cat a majestic air.

Perhaps Emmanuel had been a prince.

Emmanuel’s kohl lined eyes, bib of pristine white, ringed limbs and white socks also evoke a priestly presence.

Perhaps this cat was a priest before, and all the ring markings on his furry limbs were bangles he wore for ritual purposes in a bygone era.

Or perhaps this now portly feline had been a prisoner, and the ring markings were once ropes that bound him to suffering.

As I look at the blissful form breathing in the morning breeze, I get the feeling that whether Emmanuel had been a prince, a priest or a prisoner in the past, one thing is for sure.

And that is, someone from his past must have loved him & did all that was required that have resulted in his current life of relative ease.