Don’t Wait

22 July 2021

Don’t wait till you’re dressed to take that picture.
Always be dressed so that you’re ever ready to have your picture taken.

Orchid Gardens, Singapore. June 2021.

Don’t wait till your house is bigger to welcome guests.
Keep your house simple so it’s eveready to receive people.

El & Ron visited the birthplace of my ancestors on Kinmen Island with me in September 2019. We stayed at a restored old house that had been through bombing and all kinds of hardship.
3 months after this picture was taken, the Covid 19 pandemic would trigger world wide travelling restrictions.

Don’t wait till your kids are grown to be obligation free.
Feel free, so that your kids and you can grow together freely.

Don’t wait till you’re successful to be happy.
Feel happy for others when they succeed, so that you’re already successful.

One of my first pictures with El. It was his first trip to Nepal and many to come. A year after this picture was taken, an earthquake struck Nepal, causing us to wonder if we would ever be able to visit again. (Park Village, Budanilkhanta, Nepal 2014)

Don’t wait till an award is conferred on you to be valued.
Feel valued so that every thing that you touch becomes an award.

Over the years, I’ve gone greyer and walking requires more effort. But my friendship with El has also grown stronger.

Wishing all my friends the ready power from within to sail through all things.

Soaking up the sun in the ancient city of Patan, Nepal.

🙏

Befriending Fire


13 July 2021

The rain started last night and continues to this morning. I lit a light to thank Rain that cleanses, hydrates and heals. Then I thought of the animal shelters that flood during downpours. My mind went to the street animals having to brave the torrents on their own.

So I asked Fire to give them warmth and keep them dry.

Although I tended to incense and candles in the taoist temple of my childhood where my grandfather was caretaker, my friendship with Fire as an adult only began when I lit my first tea light in the Notre Dame Catheral in France.

My first light offering as an adult took place in the Notre Dame Cathedral in France.

After that, I lit my first tea light in Singapore at the grotto of the Church of St Peter & St Paul at Queen Street to support a friend who had to put down his dog, Socks.

Then I found out I could also meet Fire below the image of Mother Mary and Baby Jesus at the Church of St Mary’s of the Angels.

Fire guided me to the Icon at St Mary’s of the Angels. I have been visiting this space on and off since 2006.

In my 40s, visits to Patan and Boudha in Nepal brought me closer to Fire. Aging has somehow given me a porosity that allows me to soak up the illuminating presence of Fire at the prayer rituals I withessed there.

Butter lamp lighting at Boudha Stupa on full moon 3 Dec 2018. Light offering is the highlight of all our trips to Nepal.

And so certain am I of Fire’s loyalty that one of the first thoughts that comes to mind whenever loss or hardship befalls me or my friends is to raise a lamp to shine a path out of fear and confusion.

After all, my favourite catholic saint, Francis of Assisi addresses Fire as Brother Fire in “The Canticle of the Sun.”

So on a cold and wet day such as today, may we invoke the Fire within to keep ourselves and others warm and dry.

An unforgettable Full moon with friends and Fire on Nagarkot Hills, Nepal. (Dec 2017)

The “Uncle” at the Incense Shop

6 Dec 2020

Shopping alone gives me time to study things and sometimes learn life lessons from shop staff.

Whenever I’m at Fortune Centre I would make it a point to navigate the maze of escalators to visit an incense shop tucked away among the eateries on the 3rd floor.

The shop sells incense from Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet, and other ritual and aesthetic items for spiritual and leisure purposes.

The shopkeeper, whom I addressed as “Uncle” out of respect, would be watching comedies on his phone while I browsed and asked all kinds of questions about his products.

“Uncle” was always patient and allowed me to touch the prayer flags, tangkas, dorjes, incense burners and inhale the incense samples without asking me to buy anything.

Having travelled to many places in his youth before retiring as a keeper of his sister’s shop, he had learnt to always be kind to strangers.

“Always be nice to strangers,” “Uncle” once told me. “Don’t think only of your own family. For example, when you fall down outside, it’s a stranger that calls the ambulance. The ambulance driver is a stranger. The nurse attending to you is a stranger. Lot’s of things are done for you by strangers even before your relatives arrive at the hospital.”

Yesterday I was at the shop but “Uncle” wasn’t there. His sister whom he spoke fondly of was standing in his place.

“Take your time to see what you need,” the sister extended the same hospitality to me.

“Uncle” had passed away last year (December 2019). He had lived well and went peacefully.

Seeing the incense was like seeing old friends again. Every thing I touched was imbued with the kindness of the old man who was no longer there.

Before I left the shop, the silver haired sister weaved a bracelet of sacred threads from a tibetan monastery and set a turquoise bead on it. It was a gift for my mother to protect her in all encounters.

“Here, you take these. They are made by the lamas,” she spoke softly, as she placed an auspicious symbol of infinite wisdom and the union of empathy and knowledge woven in yellow thread in my hand.

Graciousness & Generosity

3 Dec 2020

With Lamu Tsering in 2011. She gave my brother and I khatas and I gave her my fleece jacket to whoever needed it that winter. Lamu feeds the little kitten each morning instead of shooing it away.

10 years ago, I met Lamu Tsering. She was the housekeeper of the inn that my brother and I stayed at in Kathmandu.

Even though she engaged in menial chores, she carried herself like a queen, or maybe even a goddess.

The morning before we left for the airport, she placed a khata over each of our necks, and said softly to my brother who was undergoing some work changes at that time, “Don’t be angry.”

I never met Lamu Tsering after that, despite my subsequent trips to Nepal.

But I started noticing women who keep their poise even if they are cleaning toilets at the malls. Those who make eye contact with me, I thank them.

With my former students in 2020. They have kept in touch long after our lessons ended.

I became conscious about how disappointments and unfulfilled dreams can harden the heart and justify unkindness to others.

Lamu Tsering taught me that people can take away your land and remove your titles by force, but they cannot take away your graciousness and generosity, without your permission.

Ollie hugging a print of Goddess Tara at Boudha overlooking all beings. Print Courtesy of Street Dog Care.

The Birth of Clarity

6 Oct 2020

Incense offering to the Sunrise at Nagarkot (Dec 2017)

I took 2 hardboiled eggs from the breakfast buffet and slipped them into the pocket of my winter top.

We were travelling down the hills of Nargakot to stay one night at the Airport Hotel in Kathmandu. It was 2017 and Nepal’s election year. All roads would be close to vehicles on the day we were flying back to Singapore.

I kept the eggs in case I came across a hungry dog or cat, or even a child. It can be traumatic for some of us to meet a hungry animal and have nothing to give. But instead of feeling sorry and helpless, I decided to fortify myself with food. Eggs in their shells proved to be most hygienic and practical in a situation like this.

Down the valley, the hotel check-in went smoothly. Then I rested while my travel mates headed out to Patan for some last minute exploration.

We would meet for dinner.

Dinner was still some time away when I woke up from my nap in the Nepalese winter.

The eggs I brought with me in the morning had become my sustenance till dinner time.

As I sat by the window gazing out at Tribhuvan Airport in the setting sun, it became clear to me that “what we do unto others, we do unto ourselves.”

Thus have I experienced that the giver is also the receiver.

Zooming with the Chuba from Boudha.

6 July 2020

The iridescence of the brocade fabrics from which the chubas are sewn reflect the rainbow in our soul. Weaves of flowers, eternity knots, and geometrical patterns conjure up aspirations of peace, healing and balance.

The “chuba” or “chupa” is a Tibetan word for an ankle length robe worn by Tibetans. Slight variations of it are worn by members of the Sherpa community and a number of cultural and language groups across the Himalayan regions.

Even though I had passed by many chuba shops during my visits to Nepal, I took my time about buying one. I didn’t want to treat someone’s actual clothing like a costume or a quaint souvenir.

A Tibetan grandma in her chuba feeds the dogs at the Stupa even as she does her daily circumambulations (kora).

Apart from its wearability for celebratory occasions in Singapore, I wanted a chuba as a visual reminder of my encounters in Nepal. From the Nepali friends of the Newari, Tamang, Rai, Gorkha and various culture/ language groups, I’ve learnt what it means to be generous and resourceful at ALL times.

So after thinking about it for about 8 years, I finally bought my first chuba from one of the shops at Boudha in December 2019.

The lovely young lady at the chuba shop speaks fluent Nepali, Tibetan, Hindi, Assamese and a smattering of English. In Nepal, many young people study and work at the same time. She was just delighted to show us how the chubas for men and women should be worn, without expecting us to buy more stuff or even tip her. There is much power in her gaiety & service! 😄

Little did I know that a month after that purchase, Covid-19 would affect all human interactions & put a stop to trips abroad. In Singapore the Circuit Breaker measures kept people housebound, affected jobs, schools and gatherings of all sorts.

It looked like my chuba from Boudha wouldn’t be required for a while I figured. But I was wrong.

This May I received my first ZOOM birthday celebration invitation. The birthday celebrant is an avid traveller & photographer. Travel restrictions had affected her birthday plans.

Celebrating our friend’s birthday via ZOOM with her parents, dogs and even her Korean film idol in life sized paper cut out. The human mind has no boundaries!

So that night holed up in my little flat with my cats, I put on the chuba as it was purposed for.

And the birthday lady, being the good sport that she is, turned up on ZOOM in lapis lazuli blue and a strand of turquoise around her neck.

As the fireworks went off in her living room, while her parents looked on in amusement, her dogs in puzzlement, and ZOOM guests cheered, I felt that although we were physically “grounded,” our spirit was free.

The chuba from Boudha has also become a pleasant reminder that the darker the times are, the more brightly we can try to shine, and the less we have, the more deeply we may experience abundance.

Of Turquoise & Rainbow

12 Feb 2020

The turquoise stone necklace from Nepal. Turquoise is cherished among Tibetans, First Nation Peoples, Egyptians and many old cultures for its many healing & spiritual purposes.

Today I wore my necklace of turquoise stones from Nepal to an animal shelter in Singapore. My friend had invited me to join her for some volunteering work there.

Turquoise is called the Sky Stone by Tibetans. It has many healing properties. By having turquoise on me, I wanted to remind myself to constantly project vibes of health & vitality, and not pity on the animals that I saw or touched. And of course I also wanted to look good and dress up for the cats and dogs.

Like most animal shelters, this one is located in a fairly remote part of Sg. Volunteering is a commitment that requires planning, time and travelling.

Not one to take such an opportunity lightly, we decided to dedicate today’s work at the shelter to my friend’s late brother. He had set an example of kindness to animals for his younger sister during their growing up years.

When he was studying in JC (Junior College), he rescued a kitten. He was the first in her family to persuade their parents to adopt a dog. And because of him, their home has become a refuge for a number of animals over the years.

Upon our arrival at the shelter we met a young man who was there on his own. Daryl had just completed JC and wanted to spend his time helping animals.

When my friend’s brother rescued his first kitten years ago, he was around the same age as this volunteer, Daryl. ♥️

So the morning went by with us unwrapping metal frames, hooking them to each enclosure to increase vertical space for the cats, and slipping pillow cases over the frames to form beddings for the feline occupants to sleep comfortably above ground.

“Hurry up, housekeeper! Make my bed!” Miss Tortoiseshell urged.

Our labour gave the shelter operator who is on 24/7 a bit of rest, and freed up time for the more experienced volunteers to tend to the cats’ feeding & cleaning needs.

A few were trying to climb onto their midair contraptions even as their “housekeepers” were still making their beds.

When the beddings were secured, the cats took to their mini airmocks with gratitude.

A very talented dessert chef also came to make the beds for animals! She brought SWEETNESS to the shelter.

Meanwhile, the rain came, followed by the glorious sun.

This little calico girl demanded cuddles from everyone.

Towards tea time, every single cat that was visible to us was acknowledged. Eye contact, smiles, head rubs, cuddles and wishes of healing were given & received.

This shy one came closer and put her face against the wire netting for some contact after hearing the steady intonation of the prayer of compassion.

This ginger baby and his mom were rescued from culling at a resort. May business owners be kind and wise to all sentient beings, not just to the ones that can talk and pay.

Even the more nervous kitties stood their ground, calmly facing us as we spoke softly to them.

And the kitties in hiding would have felt our goodwill, for the whole shelter was bathed in a golden afternoon light when our mission was completed.

After the shelter, we stopped by a cafe for some needed hydration & reflection. The cafe was located in a garden nursery with very strong balinese landscape features.

We took pictures with the balinese stone carvings of dancers and frangipani, and the Rainbow showed up to join us. Of course there are scientific and technical explanation for its appearance in the photos. But we were thrilled with the unexpectedness of it all, as if we had been bestowed some divine blessings even as we were simply having fun.

The Rainbow is a much loved symbol in many cultures. It is ever present even if we’re not consciously seeking it.

When I got home later in the evening I checked a text that was sent from Nepal during our time at the shelter.

The text came with a picture.

“Lisa, what’s this?” Reena texted. I lost this turquoise earring in the hills of Hatibaan. We searched outside and inside of Reena’s car. Her driver nearly took the car seats apart. But the earring refused to show. Now months later, it appeared.

It showed my Nepali host, Reena, holding on her palm, one half of the turquoise earrings that matched the necklace I wore today. I had lost that earring last December in Nepal.

And just this morning I was wondering if I would ever see the missing half of my earrings again.

The surprise emergence of a little turquoise after being lost for months seemed to be showing me that what is spoken or thought of with love can never be completely lost.

And this thought encourages me to dedicate whatever remaining time and energy I have to seemingly “lost” causes.

It also strengthens my habit of performing deeds of relief in the name of people and animals that have left this earthly realm.

Like the Rainbow that arches over us, we are constantly held and supported by the sacred presence of those we love.

“Run to the Rescue with Love, and Peace will follow.” – River Phoenix, the late brother of Joachim Phoenix.

Cold Man

23 Dec 2019

Tribhuvan Airport on 7 Dec 2017

This December was our 8th year at the Tribuhvan Airport to catch our flight from Nepal to Singapore.

After a long day of queuing & waiting, we finally made it to the gate where we would be bussed to our plane.

It was evening. It had been drizzling all day. I was looking forward to the comfort of a SilkAir seat when a young woman from the ground staff appeared in our transit area.

She announced nervously that our flight was cancelled. The incoming flight crew had exceeded the stipulated flight time. For safety reasons, the flight had to be rescheduled to the next day, and the timing was still unknown.

Like a movie on rewind, we plodded out of the transit room and trudged back to the counters to have our pass ports stamped “Flight Cancelled” and dragged ourselves to the dreaded check-in counters to return our boarding passes.

Passengers with connecting flights from Singapore were understandably more vocal in expressing their anxieties, but most of us were able to contain our frustrations.

More standing followed as we waited for clearance and further instructions. Some staff were on the phones, some staring at computer screens, and all trying their best to avoid eye contact with irate passengers, and clearly no one was in charge.

In the midst of all the above, a young man, maybe in his late twenties, left the counter where all his colleagues seemed to be milling about and walked among us.

Handsome Ben Ben from Zen Teahouse, Boudha. He is an aloof looking cuddle bug.

He was a good looking man, but he had an arrogant air about him as he looked at people as if through his nose. But he seemed the only one who was actively managing the queues. When he saw me, he pointed to the chairs & said softly, “You can sit. Sit down.”

For a moment I couldn’t match the kind tone to the cold face. On hindsight, I think appearing detached could just be a defence mechanism when facing a bunch of tired & tense people.

Some time later he came to ask me to sit down again.

When the buses to take us to the Crowne Plaza Hotel where we would spend the night arrived, they were quickly filled up.

A group of us had to wait for the next one.

By now, night had deepened, we hadn’t taken dinner and the winter drizzle seemed to be gathering power.

The light in me greets the light in you.

As I was wondering just how long more we had to stand in the open cold, I saw Cold Man speaking animatedly to his suited superior standing by a hotel van, presumably to ferry business class passengers.

In the stone cold silence I still had no idea what was going on except that Cold Man kept gesticulating at me as he spoke to his mustachioed boss. When his expressions got more earnest, it dawned on my frozen brain that he was trying to get me on the hotel van so that I need not wait a minute longer for the bus!

Thanks to Cold Man’s persistence, some of us had a pleasant ride in comfort to our destination where hot showers and dinner awaited.

I never learnt Cold Man’s name, don’t know his position except that he broke ranks to make things a little easier for someone in need. And I’ll always remember how passionately he persuaded his boss on a cold rainy winter night to care.

Namaste. Indeed.

Becoming Special

20 Dec 2019

On our second day in Nepal (6 Dec) , a little vase on our table at the Third Eye Restaurant in Thamel caught our eye with its simplicity. It stood humbly among all the grander looking cuisine serving utensils.

Holding a single stalk of marigold, the brass vase reminded me of the Velveteen Rabbit which held a sprig of holly between its paws on christmas morning.

As it looked very ordinary we thought we should be able to find it at any of the shops in Thamel or Boudha.

We were wrong.

We also forgot to take a picture of it.

And in the midst of all our activities, we soon stopped looking or asking.

On our final day day in Nepal, it drizzled. After checking out of the hotel, we went back to the Third Eye Restaurant for lunch.

This time we asked a member of the staff where we could get the vase. The young lady was very happy with our interest and quickly gave us the details to the location where we could buy it.

So two hours before we were taken to Tribhuvan Airport for our flight back to Singapore, Ron & El rushed to Ason Market where the locals get their homewares. There they bought 2 pairs of the exact vases like the ones from the restaurant.

It was still drizzling when they returned from the market. I received my pair as if they were archaeological discoveries.

I know there are hundreds of such vases around. But ours will always be special because it took some effort to get them. Furthermore our enquiries had made a Nepali girl happy, seeing that her country’s traditional wares could still be so charming.

Order and Chaos; Clean and Unclean.

19 Dec 2019

With its chaotic traffic, massive swirls of wires hanging above ground, crumbling buildings and air pollution, Kathmandu is not a place that readily comes to mind when one is thinking of retreat and rest.

On my way to the washroom I looked up and saw this. El took this picture for me.

Framed by the temple door, I felt balanced and secure. (Golden Temple, Patan. Dec 2019)

Yet, in the midst of the valley’s madness, intricately carved and perfectly symmetrical woodworks & stoneworks adorned doorways and windows, creating an air of unmatched serenity and inspiring me to seek alignment from within.

From this valley of unpredictability, where power cuts happen regularly unannounced, craftsmen go about calmly setting semi precious stones against impossibly detailed & highly decorative silver works of filigree.

Perhaps this constant practice of melting, cutting, shaping and welding metals to minerals to create objects of beauty has alchemised in these workers a high tolerance for the ugliness of difficult customers, exploitative employers and other hardships.

Then there are the buddhist arts (tangka) drawn free hand in such breathtaking precision and with such a pleasing balance of colours that the seller has to keep reminding us with great pride, “this not machine made…this MADE BY MAN,” as we stared in mute wonder, at the scroll he unveiled before us while cars honked impatiently behind us.

I saw this spritely grandma circumambulating the stupa in the midday sun in 2018. This year in 2019, I spotted her among the pilgrims, but she was too fast for me to take a picture with. So I gave up the idea completely. But my wish was fulfilled when we wandered into an alley to look at tibetan fabrics and she walked right into our path!

We took tea at Jamuna’s shop at Chetraparti. This dog named Jammy came to visit when we were looking at dear Kali who is now 15 years old.

Like the mangy fur of a dog that holds a clean heart, Kathmandu has shown me that using observable evidence to appraise someone’s inner world or history may be convenient and even natural, but it’s still not the truth.

Kathmandu forces me to cover my nose, slap on sunblock, drink only boiled water and take other safety precautions, while liberating me from prejudices and insularity at the same time.

I’m deeply honoured to have been allowed to visit Nepal year after year since 2011.

Namaste. Tashi Delek.

🙏🌈🐾