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.

Mid Autumn Full Moon in Taipei.

13 Sep 2019 (八月十五)

It was my first mid-autumn full moon observation away from Singapore, my home.

In the morning we visited Taipei’s 200-year-old temple dedicated to the Mother Goddess and received her blessings on behalf of all sentient beings, especially the animal rescuers and their animals.

After that we headed to an old part of town to meet a seal maker who has been in the engraving practice & trade since he was a teenager.

His explanations on font selection & placement according to the purpose for which a seal is made deepened my respect for the written characters.

And I began to understand why I’ve always been able to sense the subtle energies emitting from the characters I see in my surroundings.

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.

Lion-hearted Honesty

20 June 2019

The elderly man who sold me these clay wind lion figurines on Mofan Street (模范街)Kinmen Island, was tall & bespectacled.

Now and then when he spoke or laughed, a single incisor would peep from the upper corner of his nearly toothless mouth.

After I had selected the pieces from the display set , he took out the boxes that held the new ones.

Then very methodically, he opened up each box and took out each lion to scrutinize for cracks and workmanship defects.

Pleased with the outcome of his inspection, he then wrapped and put back each piece into the designated boxes again.

Only after that, he noted down the prices and billed me.

This man must have loved his wind lions more than money, to make sure that I didn’t take home any broken souvenirs.

Passport to Freedom

4 June 2019 (Last day of Ramadan)

My day began with catching a ride from a friend to the ICA Building on Lavender Street to collect my mom’s new passport. He had a class on in town and wanted to spare me the cab fare. Grace!

At the ICA counter, the officer attending to me wore a dark blazer and spotted a pair of gold rimmed spectacles. Her surname was “Angullia” as shown on the name plate sitting solidly on her desk.

I told her this was my very first encounter with an actual person bearing her surname. I wondered if she was one of the descendants of the builders of the Angullia Mosque in Little India (opp Mustaffa Centre)

The Angullia Mosque in Little India, Singapore. Courtesy of Holidify

“Yes, that’s our family mosque,” she beamed as she answered. Her ancestors were Gujarati merchants who built the mosque. I could feel her pride and happiness about her Angullia ancestry.

After she cleared the administrative protocol she handed me my mom’s new passport.

“What happened to your leg?” Mdm Angullia asked quietly. There was a look of genuine concern and interest on her solemn face.

I explained to her how I had contracted childhood polio despite having access to vaccines. But I was quick to add that I bore no resentment for what happened. Polio had already crippled one of my legs, and the last thing I needed was for it to cripple my soul as well.

On my way home on the MRT I recalled how my childhood disease had divided my family and put my mother & late grandmother on a constant blame battle & guilt trip.

When misfortune strikes, feeling bad or sorry, attributing blame and to some extent, seeking compensation or apology can trap us in a state of eternal victimhood. It is as if an invisible cord ties us to the cause of our suffering, and in my case, the disease that has brought much grief.

So while the adults were still fretting over how to disguise my limp (as if it could be done), or to protect me from comments, I actually had to face the world all on my own, on one leg. Alone.

In retrospect, this isolation has given me lots of practice to be unafraid if I don’t fit in.

But precious time had been wasted on pitying me. Precious tears were shed for not looking normal. And precious efforts were squandered on overcompensating for my disability as I lived in fear of not being good enough.

Thus forgiveness, for whatever wrong or tragedy one has endured, even without the promise of an apology or hope of justice, is really the passport to freedom.

Cat siblings, Bella & Topaz lost their mother when they were still nursing, saw their brother, Amber, and a fellow community cat, Silver maul to death by dogs. Who could they have sought justice from, having no speech and being just animals?

Fostering Strength

26 March 2019

Sharonne and I became friends in our late teens in 1983 when we were studying in NUS. We’ve always lived on opposite ends of the island. Her home is in the east and mine in the west.

Foster’s Steakhouse was established in 1960, before the both of us were born. The cosy ambience of its interior enhances our appreciation for the vibrant greens and lively goldfishes outside.

After we graduated, we went on our different paths. Of course there were the occasional meetings during celebrations, yogas and sometimes, bereavements.

Recently we met for tea at a cafe in Holland Village. Foster’s Steakhouse was established in 1960, before we were born.

The auctioned rabbit that travelled all the way from Europe to Singapore. Who knows? It could have once be part of a cherished collection in another person’s home.

Our mutual friend MG had bought Sharonne and I each a porcelain rabbit at an auction in Holland. The 3 of us were born in the Year of the Rabbit.

MG had handed her gift to Sharonne to be handed to me as her short visit in Singapore during the Chinese New Year season didn’t give us the chance to meet up.

I arrived earlier at Foster’s before Sharonne. I wanted to sit by the door where I could see her coming from the streets.

The elderly waiter in red polo t-shirt and black pants suggested gently that I sat further in where I would not be disturbed later on. He then ushered me to the seats by the big window where I could “talk to the fishes,” and admire vines hanging outside if I wanted.

So there we were, Sharonne and I, two elderly Rabbits amidst the very English setting of Foster’s, munching on freshly baked scones and gushing over the REAL paper doily that lined the plate, while the delicate antique rabbit that had travelled all the way from Holland to Singapore looked on quietly.

Tea snacks arranged on real paper doily, a touch of class from the bygone era of our childhood.

A young waiter took a picture of us upon our request and observed that my porcelain rabbit fitted right in with the figurines on their mantelpiece.

When the tea ended, we thanked the wait staff for keeping Foster’s in such a charming condition.

Then we walked down the street lined with old trees where Sharonne took pictures of wild orchids hanging from the branches to show her husband.

Wild orchids

Not long after our meet up, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a picture via whatsapp of Sharonne and her family fostering family ties on the outdoor deck of Foster’s.

Sharonne’s family fostering ties at Foster’s.

In our country that is constantly exhorting its citizens to reinvent themselves in order not to lose out, and where food business is notoriously difficult to maintain, Foster’s simple scones that have withstood the onslaught of colourful cupcakes, snazzy dough nuts and various food trends remind me that every thing has its rightful place in the sun, especially if it has the audacity & patience to buck the trend.

$29.90 To Return To My Childhood

3 March 2019

Many evenings in my childhood home near Zion Road during the 1960s, 2-3 families would gather outside our house. The adults would have done all their household chores for the day. The kids would have been washed, powdered and dressed in clean cotton pyjamas.

My grandmother would take out her radio in its black protective coat and placed it on a bench made from a fallen tree trunk. She would turn it on, tune it to the right frequency and all of us would huddle around to listen to the story being broadcasted for that evening.

During the broadcast, there was very little talking because everyone was listening. Any occasional comment would be quickly hushed up lest it interrupted the story.Fidgety kids or crying babies were quickly banished. For us kids, to be allowed to sit among the semi circle of adult listeners meant we were almost grown up and that we had self control.

When the story ended, there would be a post mortem of sorts as the adults shared their thoughts & predicted upcoming turns of events. Us children just listened & observed.

The transistor radio created a sense of community among grown ups and initiated children into their world via sounds.

Even after we relocated to public housing flats in Alexandra Road, and abandoned our village and our night radio gathering, the radio continued to play an important role in my life.

My dad would flood the mornings with classical or folk songs from the radio in our flat like he did back in the old days. I never paid much attention to the lyrics but the sounds assured me that all was well.

The Indian neighbour opposite our unit had their radio belting out Tamil songs all day long. Having been relocated from a predominantly Chinese village, it was our first time living so close to an Indian family. I didn’t understand Tamil but the songs told me Asha’s home and I would be invited for tosai soon.

And during the 70s and 80s, hearing Tamil songs at the void decks for us Chinese kids could only mean ONE thing … And that is, there’s a “mama” ( transl: Uncle in Tamil) shop nearby with promises of ice cream, biscuits, plastic toys and bubble gum!

In the early mornings of my secondary school days, Malay songs coming from the canteen meant that the mee siam stall’s open! Yay!

So last week I bought myself a transistor radio from the NTUC supermarket for $29.90.

The radio’s simple appearance with its basic on/off , volume and tuning functions brought me back to my primary school days straightaway.

The crackling noises it makes during change of location or frequency made me smile as I recalled how they used to annoy me.

Tuning onto the Tamil channel brings me back to Asha’s kitchen. The Malay DJ’s bantering transported me to my meesiam and nasi lemak mornings. And the late night Chinese oldies call me back to my dad sitting and reading in our wooden house by the dirty canal.

With this battery operated radio, there’s no wifi to look for, no password to recall and no say in what tracks I get to hear.

Yet with this humble device, I can go back to different places in my life anytime.