If Things Could Talk…

26 Sep 2019

El waiting for me to rest my legs before climbing the stairs to the Local Teahouse.

I was resting in the temple courtyard when I chanced upon this rusty rack holding up containers of beautiful young plants.

The old supporting the new. (8 Sep 2019, Juguang Rd, Kinmen)

This calls for a trip to IKEA, the Singaporean shopaholic in me remarked inwardly.

But somehow the rotting planks, rusty bits and worn out containers formed a poignant contrast to the succulent foliage.

It felt like I was looking at an altar dedicated to an Unseen Benevolence.

It felt like I was facing at altar dedicated to an Unseen Benevolent Presence.

I lingered respectfully and felt the compulsion to bow before moving on.

Bridges in the Teahouse

22 Sep 2019

Two Sundays ago (8 Sept) we called on Wang Ling at the Local Teahouse (后浦泡茶间) in Houpu, Kinmen Island (金门)

She was my first point of Kinmen contact when I was reading up for my first trip in June to seek out my grandma’s birthplace.

On this second trip I was keen to show my travel mates, El & Ron, the juxtaposition of Wang Ling’s youthful hospitality with the nostalgic ambience of the quaint teahouse setting.

Over light Taiwanese tea paired with local kinmen snacks, conversations among the four of us from different backgrounds & ages flowed effortlessly.

The Local Teahouse was set up primarily to facilitate communication & cultural exchanges among young local working adults.

Apart from serving snacks & beverages, it also has specially curated merchandise & talks that promote interest and respect for folk cultures, literature, architecture and the arts. As a result, the Local Teahouse also welcomes overseas visitors.

On this trip I was also very eager to pick up my copy of Local-M Village Live Reader, a magazine that promotes village revitalisation through music and many interesting activities.

Along with the magazine, I was very happy to receive a book by scholar ethnographer, 唐蕙韻, of the Kinmen University.

The writer happens to share the same birthplace as my grandma. Even though she was born 58 years after my grandma, her book contains precious photos of old places in Houpu that my grandma might have seen and most certainly walked in.

The passage of time is indeed relentless.

In my search to make sense of life, my trembling hands have found support and my aging feet have found bridges to walk on, thanks to the youthful vigour and compassionate hearts of the people that I’ve had the great fortune to meet.

And I wish for all youthful passions to be augmented with wisdom and compassion, so that a better world could emerge through the building of bridges, not barricades.

Holding On for Peace (为了和平)

21 Sep 2019

Kinmen Island is much more than a former military base or a war zone between the CCP and KMT.

Walking among ancient pine trees and stones felt very peaceful.

This little island that has survived the ravages of bombing also contains shrines & human dwellings bearing features of Minnan architecture dating from 600 years ago.

At the main courtyard of Zhu Shan Da Yuan. This house is at least 200 years old.

Our lodging this time was in the village of Zhushan (珠山), a short drive from the old city of Houpu(后浦) where my grandma was born.

In olden times auspicious dates & timings dictated the laying of stones, erecting of pillars & raising of beams. This could be why I felt very strong sitting in this space.

One morning as I sat gazing into the courtyard of the 200-year-old house while the birds chirped and a black butterfly lingered, I felt a deep sense of peace followed by gratitude to the Kinmen people, especially the elders.

We shared a freshly baked sponge cake with Grandma Ongg who in turned nourished our spirit with her stories of how her home endured 4 bombings and how she & her husband raised and educated 7 kids through farming & hawking. She IS a victor in the wars of life and speaks about gains & losses with equanimity.

The older generations had suffered terribly during the wars, but they held on to their homes so that someone like us get to savour the peace and appreciate a bit of history.

Kinmen breakfast of porridge, buns and sweet potato in the days of plenty.

Almost Full Moon in Kinmen

11-09-2019

The evening before we flew back to Taipei, we sat on a stone ledge near Grandma Ongg’s (翁奶奶) house in Kinmen Island and watched the moon rise. I was back to 5 years old again.

Grandma Ongg’s house is behind the stone ledge we sat on.

Some tourists passed us by. Too bogged down by their shopping bags and a bit anxious to locate their homestay houses they didn’t notice the Moon glowing benevolently above them.

The Moon wasn’t full yet, but her brilliance wasn’t any less because of that.

84-year-old Grandma Ongg had spotted us from the entrance of her 400-year-old house and decided to join us for a bit of moon watching.

We chatted in low tones and looked to the Moon as she weaved in & out of the clouds, her circular outline gaining prominence while we waited for her in the gathering dusk.

How often in our struggles with life we insist that we gotta be this or that in order to feel complete, when perhaps we are essentially complete. We just need time & space to notice it.

Grandma Ongg’s ancient house had been bombed 4 times. Each time it was bombed, they picked up the pieces and repaired the damages.

Like the almost full moon in Kinmen, we can still shine even if we’re chipped around the corners, or frayed around the edges by life’s challenges.

Kinmen Surprise

8 Sep 2019

After a walkabout in Kinmen’s scorching summer sun we were grateful to enter the air-conditioned cocoon of Yuan’s taxi.

Still recovering from the glare, we asked our quiet driver to decide what he thought might be of meaning & interest to us. He knew we were there to listen & learn.

Inside Yuan’s taxi. This taxi has a name and is a conveyor of good experiences.

And he surprised us by taking us to the film set of “Paradise in Service,” (军中乐园). The film was shot in 2015 in Kinmen.

At its premier screening, soldiers who fought in their youth and now grandfathers were invited to watch the film with their loved ones. When the film ended, the whole theatre was filled with tears of old men and their grandkids.

When you realise what you are documenting, the heat seems more tolerable.

We sat in reverential silence as our taxi cruised along the street flanked by flags on either side of the deserted film set, while Wang Jie’s (王杰), “An episode of game and an episode of dream,” (一场游戏,一场梦) played softly in the background.

We take pictures to hold memories and to remind ourselves how far we’ve come.

Indeed whatever happens in our lives, and however intensely we might have felt our emotions, seen in the context of time, history and human affairs, they may well have been just games and dreams to others.

Hair salons really looked like this in my childhood.

Take Time to Make Nice

14 Sep 2019

View of 100 year old tree from the cafe where Time is the secret ingredient in their cooking.

The owner of the cafe tucked in the alley behind the military headquarters(总兵署) was very detailed in giving us directions to Wu Miao (武庙), the temple that we needed to locate in order to be at Houpu Teahouse (后浦泡茶间).

Wu Miao Temple dedicated to Kuan Yu, the Warrior Deity who stood for justice & loyalty.

He taught us two routes to our destination: one for the local people and the other for visitors like us. And he was fairly insistent that we took the latter because he didn’t think we could read the landmarks meant for the locals.

We took his advice & had a great time.

The next day El suggested that we took our dinner at the cafe as a gesture of gratitude for the owner’s kindness.

When we arrived, the local patrons chatting with the cafe owner immediately offered us their table in the courtyard because they believed their position was the coolest and nicest part of the cafe on a hot summer day.

During our walk we got lost and gained this majestic tree and the hospitality of a cafe owner & his wife.

The cafe owner’s wife gave us our evening meal of cooked rice, slowly braised dishes, lightly fried cabbage & pickled vegetables.

When we complimented the wife for her amazing food, she smiled & told us her secret ingredient was time.

She said what we just had were ordinary produce braised in soya sauce with a bit of sugar over slow fire for 3 hours. Some dishes were cooled and then chilled in the refrigerator in order for the flavours to gather & settle.

And so what we ate was essentially Time, as she revealed with glowing pride.

The houses in this back alley are easily 100-200 years old. My grandmother was born in this city and I like to think she passed through here before.

Mandala of Words For New Moon

3 July 2019

My first English word was “cow”. I remembered the elation I felt when I could spell and pronounce it.

Respect for words is cultivated letter by letter.

As a child, I remembered fear leaving when I could understand what the doctor and nurses were saying about me.

As an adult, I remembered love rising when I could accept words that hurt me.

“Soar in English Word Bank” was published on 28 June 2019.

May the new moon shine her light on us and grant us a healthy relationship with words.

May the words we acquire turn confusion into clarity, hurt into love and ignorance into wisdom, for our own benefit and for the benefit of all sentient beings.

50 years ago my grandparents showed me that words are to be treasured more than material wealth.