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


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.

The Baker of Houpu

13 June 2019

Buddha and Christ meet in this Baker of Houpu.

It was late afternoon after we checked into Number Nine B&B in Jincheng, Kinmen.

As we were taking pictures of our surroundings a man on a motor bike slowed down and asked if we wanted bread.

The Baker of Houpu (明章) literally “Gave us this day our daily bread.”

He ran a nearby bakery with his wife. The B&B units around us in Houpu were his regular customers and he had just completed his distribution rounds with a bag of fresh left-overs.

As we had missed lunch & were hungry from all that travelling I was fairly focused on getting ourselves a dinner where I could have some rice. Freshly baked bread was the last thing on my mind.

But the Baker was very proud of his bread.

As we looked on, he continued in his childlike chatter, to offer information on his bread and his life.

When I listened more carefully, I realised his stories were about working and caring for his elderly mother. But the way he narrated his difficulties & disappointments with such gaiety intrigued me greatly. His tone didn’t seem to match his content.

I was even more amused when he pointed to a posh looking apartment behind us and said without a trace of envy but with a bright smile, “那栋房子很贵。我们买不起囖!”

(transl: that apartment is very expensive. We cannot afford it.”)

When we finally decided to buy his bread and asked how much they cost, the tall man with a shaven head & special story telling techniques announced with heartfelt glee, “不用钱的啊!是要给你们的!”

(transl: no money required. I’m giving them to you.)

He would later ride back to his shop, rummage through his cupboard and return with our very first souvenirs, to welcome us to Kinmen.

In the Baker’s non-grudging attitude towards suffering and scarcity, he shows me that abundance is not about having a life of ease & plenty, but it is about approaching all difficulties with an attitude of ease.

Meeting him on my first trip to Kinmen feels as though Avalokithesvara, the Buddha of Heavenly Ease was already there waiting for me.

And my daily remembrance of the Lord’s Prayer, beseeching Him to give me my daily bread, takes on a greater potency as the life of this Bread Man has shown me.

Timely Noodles

24 June 2019

I love “Mee Sua”. But I could never fully explain why till this recent trip.

Pronounced as “Mee Sua” in Minan or “Mian Xian” in Chinese, both meaning threads of noodles to reflect their fine texture and the way they can be manipulated and kept when dried, these noodles were a huge part of my childhood.

Also known as “Sho Mian” or longevity noodles, they are often coiled into figures of 8 to perhaps symbolise infinity.

The “Mee Sua” is thus the most important guest of honour in a traditional Chinese birthday celebration whether your party is held in the corridors of public housing or in the ballroom of the Ritz Carlton.

One of my former students from Peru, South America, the beautiful Janina, once told me that the “Mee Sua” is her favourite Chinese food in Singapore. And she often ate it at Causeway Point, Woodlands. She said it in 2010 but I can never forget a “Mee Sua” compliment.

In my childhood, a bowl of “Mee Sua” with a sprinkling of chopped spring onions, a drizzle of sesame seed oil and sometimes an egg, was all I needed to settle my hunger.

And on days when any kid in our family was sick or not keen to eat, my grandma would whip up a bowl of “Mee Sua” magic to end all food dramas.

In our recent drive about Pan Shan, Kinmen, the village where people share her surname originated, we stopped at a little Mee Sua workshop.

As I watched the life saving noodles of my childhood swaying in the sun spattered Kinmen breeze I felt myself giddy with a mysterious glee.

It was no exaggeration to say that for me seeing the noodles felt like I was meeting an actual person. Weird yes? I’ve never felt such adoration for food before.

My crazed look might have scared the Mee Sua maker somewhat because he kept smiling as he went about his chores while avoiding eye contact with me.🤣

When he wheeled out a rack of freshly made Mee Sua for airing & sun drying, I had the urge to ask for his autograph. I couldn’t express enough my gratitude to craftsmen like him whose dedication to food making has kept ancestral connections alive.

So I stood star struck in the cosy sunlight of Kinmen and listened to the whispering sea winds as the aromas of flour mixed with salt & water, swirled around us.

It then dawned on me that each time I slurp a strand of the Mee Sua, I’m not just eating, but partaking in the rich blessings of the Sun & the Wind that have sustained all living things. 🙏

Tomorrow, 25 June, happens to be the birthday of the older of my two younger brothers, Terence. It gives me a special sense of gratitude to know that he’ll be having a bowl of Mee Sua right from the place where his Kinmen ancestors came from, and made in the very village of Pan Shan where his grandma’s people originated.

And by the power bestowed upon me in the light of my long standing relationship with the longevity noodles, I would like to wish my brother and all my friends a long & happy life of love, learning and reconciliation.

A Journey Outside Time

22 June 2019

For many of us childhood outings with grandmas usually centered around going to school, going to the market & temple visits.

On mornings if I woke up late & missed the market outing with my grandma, I would stand by the kitchen window of our Prince Charles Square flat and watch for her return as she briskly crossed the bridge on the Alexandra Canal on her way home.

Once she had to cross the canal twice just to go to the market to make sure she got me the clay monkey figurine that I really liked. Things bought for me must not look like it was meant for my brother.

When I got older, her trips became infrequent.

As she aged and we moved to a new flat, my grandma became more housebound & more isolated.

She was always standing by the window and waiting for us to come home.

By then I was occupied with my own life & thought very little of her loneliness.

Many afternoons I saw her sitting by the stove silently, but I would never risk asking what she was thinking or feeling lest it gave her a chance to criticise my mother again. Likewise I learnt not to ask my parents what was on their mind.

That was how Silence invaded our home.

Silver belt and magazine overlooking the South China Sea on 11 June 2019.

This time when I landed in Xiamen, I wanted to be able to talk freely. So I placed my grandma’s silver belt by the window sill of the hotel room facing the sea. I told her we would be making the crossing to her Kinmen Island in a few days’ time.

When I got the ferry ticket at Wutong Harbour, I told her.

As the ferry departed for Shuitou Harbour in Kinmen, I placed her possession by the window of the boat & showed her the waves that she rode on nearly 100 years ago.

Riding the waves to Kinmen. (13 June 2019)

A drizzle had begun when we landed on Shuitou Harbour, Kinmen Island. A harbour staff by the name of Mr Zhang Hui Ren (张惠人) quickly came to our assistance by getting us a trolley for our luggage. He showed us great Kinmen hospitality by supervising our customs clearance and looked for our B&B host who was there to pick us up.

He reminded us to let the counter staff know on our return trip that I would need help with luggage and boarding. Everyone was in a chatty mood. Even the security personnel with the cute beagle were happy to see us. I wanted to hug the dog but controlled myself.

My travel mate, Pin Lay & I were treated to premium Kinmen hospitality by Mr Zhang. (13 June 2019 at Shuitou Harbour)

The sun shone brilliantly the next day and the next 2 days as I walked the streets of my grandma’s hometown, Houpu & visited her ancestral shrine in Pan Shan.

On the morning before my journey to Pan Shan (15 June) I placed her silver belt on the balcony ledge of the B&B we were at.

Below my unit, mammas and pappas scooted about with kids on their vespas. Above me the sun shone brightly and the birds tweeted. The air was cool & crisp.

I felt the sun’s warmth on my face & neck as I gave thanks.

After I had told my grandma about our plan for the day, a butterfly bearing markings of brown, white and orange landed on her silver belt. I held my breath as it lingered briefly before taking off again.

A butterfly landed briefly on my grandma’s silver belt which I had placed on the balcony of the B&B to give thanks for the sun and the journey ahead.

The journey ahead for the rest of the day was filled with wonderful sights, heartfelt conversations and unexpected discoveries, assuring me that the longevity of Love continues outside time.

I almost fainted with joy to see these longevity noodles airing in the warm sunlight of Pan Shan,Kinmen.