Although I grew up watching my Kinmen grandma cross stitch elaborate & perfectly symmetrical patterns on fabrics, I was miserable at sewing lessons in my primary school days.
I was very dependent on the teacher marking out where the cross stitches should be.
Once towards recess time, she coldly warned me that I woudn’t get my break unless I could sew the cross stitches diagonally across a square fabric. I panicked.
To my 7-year-old self then missing recess was unthinkable for two reasons. Firstly, I would miss the delicious food which I was thinking about all morning. Secondly, to be stuck in the classroom to struggle with sewing felt like the ultimate betrayal by an adult for whom I had the highest regard.
So I had a meltdown.
A classmate’s mom came to my aid when I was hyperventilating and trying to thread the needle through tears at the same time. Till this day I can still recall my rescuer’s hairstyle, her facial features and her gentle voice. A couple of her teeth were capped in gold.
In my childhood, lots of women could stitch & sew. Their sewing skills put food on the table and their kids through school. So I have deep respect for women and later on men, who can sew and cook, long before social media & celebrities make these skills trendy.
Years later after that episode I would develop a special fondness for the cross stitches and indigo prints of minority people in China, Northern Thailand and Vietnam.
And each time I wear something handmade by women I’ve never met, I feel the collective power of all our female ancestors and the kindness of my classmate’s mother all over again. ❤️😊
“Solstice” means the Sun stands still. In the north, it stands for the symbolic death of the Sun, only to be reborn in 3 days’ time.
Although it is endless summer in Singapore, Winter Solstice is celebrated as “Dong Zhi” (冬至) by south-east asian Chinese who inherited the practice from their east asian ancestors.
In about 11 days’ time, on 22 Dec 2022, the winter solstice will be upon us.
To mark the occasion, matriarchs of the family, either the mother or grandma will gather the children around the kitchen table to make glutinous rice dumplings that symbolise the sun, reunion & rebirth.
These days, readymade dumplings of various colours and fillings from supermarkets have rendered the above practice redundant.
Recently I was only too delighted to be invited to make the spherical shaped dumplings from scratch in a friend’s newly moved in apartment.
Just imagine, on a high rise floor up in the sky, and surrounded by the latest state-of-the-art home gadgets, two English speaking persons of Fujian ancestry participating in a food making ritual that originated in ancient times.
As we ate the creation of our hands cooked and sweetened in a herbal concoction of lemon grass, honey and flowers, our friendship deepened in silence.
So as the Solstice approaches and year end celebrations beckon, I hope we can choose to do less but put in more time & effort, and not feel pressured to fall into the trap of convenience, trying to do everything and ending up with nothing.
Wishing all friends & sentient beings a healing time as we follow the Sun. 🙏
Twenty years ago during World Cup 2002, I had a picture taken with the match schedule at HardRock Cafe Beijing not because I understood soccer, but because Tiger Beer, a Singapore brand was featured.
I felt honoured that our beer from our tiny island was the chosen beverage for watching & celebrating an international sporting event in a gigantic country.
I’ve never known a sport that can unite and divide with such vehemence like soccer. I’m always cautious when asked which team is my favourite. My inquirer’s face morphing from friendly interest to utter disdain in a matter of seconds tells me not to drop team names casually.
One year on a crowded street in Piccadily Circus in London, a total stranger high fived & hugged my travel mate as if they were long lost relatives because the latter was spotting a certain soccer jersey.
This tribal loyalty is too much for me so I stay clear of soccer politics. But soccer uniform designs, soccer boots & related training gears continue to fascinate me deeply because they celebrate the power & grace of the human form.
I love watching the moves but I don’t like the anger and violence of the crowd when players don’t perform as expected.
So as World Cup 2022 starts in Qatar today, may our human nature evolve to meet the standards of this beautiful game called soccer, and may all sentient beings be blessed.
Years later I would learn to my great sorrow, that some hosting countries cull street animals as part of their attempts to clean & beautify locations chosen for such high stakes sporting events.
So as the World Cup opening ceremony begins in Qatar today, may our human nature also evolve to match the qualities promoted by this beautiful game called soccer. May all sentient beings be blessed.
A young girl from a dysfunctional family cut out a picture of a boat she found in a magazine and put it on the wall. During episodes of domestic violence, she would cope by imagining herself taking her younger brother with her and getting on that boat.
When she went down on her knees to scrub the kitchen floor, she imagined herself wiping the deck of her boat & making it shine.
This vision sustained her for many years, and kept her from developing self-destructive behaviour.
She would grow up, make something of herself & eventually owned a real boat!
This story has helped me in my dealings with young children, especially those from desperate circumstances when immediate escape was not possible.
I once gave a friendless young boy in a foster care facility a palm sized cat plush toy. It had travelled a long way from Finland to Singapore and got tossed about before it reached me, I told him. So whenever he felt lonely, he must remember to look at the toy to remind himself that he too would survive the hardship because there were people caring for him even if he couldn’t see them.
The next day when we met, the boy told me he had hidden the cat plush toy inside his pillow case so that it would be safe.
The one needing protection had become the protector!
As I was searching for pictures to accompany this post, a former student texted to say she has been accepted into a summer programme at a reputable university. She thanked me for writing her the letter of recommendation.
The girl who once needed a simple letter to help her get started will be studying & writing scores of far more complex materials to bring about a better world for herself and others.
So here’s wishing all adults to use whatever limited means we have to create safe spaces for our youth, and wish them well, so that unlimited and unexpected good may come through.
On the first full moon of the Year of the Tiger, a new supermarket opened one unit away from the tuition centre where I work.
Heritage, as the supermarket is named, is a paradise of instant massala tea of my favourite brand, spices that evoke memories of my first & only Indian neighbour from my childhood, and lentils of every colour and size.
But most of all, this little supermarket unlike its larger competitors, allows customers to buy their potatos, tomatoes, onions etc in small quantities.
Big grocery stores pre-pack perishable goods to prevent customers from damaging them. This practice also drives sale and gets rid of stocks fast. However, pre-packing of fixed quantities can also cause customers to buy more than they need and eat more than they should, while leading to food wastage when expiry dates dawn.
It is perhaps not enough to harp on food wastage while others starve, and expect our relationship with food to improve when packing & unit measurement practices to justify costs to consumers are not taken into account.
Also food wastage for me is a kind of disrespect shown to natural resources & the human labour behind their cultivation.
Whenever I’m required to buy 6 carrots instead of 2 at bigger supermarkets, the cash strapped person who can really only afford to pay for 2 comes to mind.
Thus I’m grateful to all the little supermarkets and provision shops that allow me to buy just what I need. In return, I will handle their produce with care and promise not to quibble over prices.
May Goddess Laskhmi bestow great prosperity on the proprietors of Heritage and small businesses, so that nobody goes hungry and nothing is wasted.
Bare faced and spotting a short bob, the harbour staff assigned to assist me on wheelchair to the ferry boarding gate looked like a student.
It was June 2019, and I was crossing from Kinmen to Xiamen for my flight back to Singapore.
Harbour Girl addressed me as “Ah Yi,” meaning aunt in mandarin and asked kindly if I would like to use the washroom or buy souvenirs before she took me to the boarding gate.
When we passed the windlion display, I asked if she could take pictures of me with Kinmen’s Mythical Guardian.
Her unease at my request looked as if I had asked her to perform a brain surgery on me. I learnt that she had been told that she couldn’t take nice pictures.
“Don’t worry. I’m very beautiful. You simply cannot take a bad picture of me!” I assured her in my desperation to have my last shots with Kinmen’s ancient mascot.
Upon my very ridiculous claim, Harbour Girl burst out laughing. Her hesitation evaporated.
So she took my phone and started snapping non-stop. As she trained my phone camera on me, while moving around freely, I felt her gaiety.
By then it didn’t really matter how the pictures turned out.
Till now, I still keep the 22 shots she took. I have no intention of deleting them. They were the last pictures of me before I left Kinmen. But mostly because they remind me of a very lovely & happy Kinmen daughter.
Her parting words when she walked me up the ferry were,”Ah Yi, I’m very happy to be of service. When you visit again, I will look out for you. I will remember you.”
As a noun, the harbour is associated with safety and shelter. As a verb, it has a negative connotation of keeping a dark thought or feeling over a long period of time.
Harbour Girl guided me safely to my boat. May her enthusiasm to indulge an old lady’s wish to take pictures with the windlion free her from all doubts that she might be harbouring about her capabilities. 😊🙏
Like the shell’s iridescence remains unaffected by its outward cragginess, may the full moon lend us her light so that the benefits of deeds performed in honesty and with wisdom will continue to shimmer long after the performers are gone. 🙏
Some years back when I was feeding homeless cats, I noticed that neighbourhood bullies who harassed cat feeders were cautious with me.
And it wasn’t my handicap that made them decide to be kind to me. In fact my limp had on some occasions prompted people to have a go at me.
What made the bullies think twice about harassing me in my cat feeding rounds was the way I dressed.
In my teaching days I wore dresses and *qipao. And I was often still in my teaching clothes when I stopped to feed cats.
A couple of times, a person on the verge of passing some nasty remarks about animals would appraise my clothes and asked if I worked for the government. Of course I said yes with great authority since all teachers come under the jurisdiction of the MOE.
I think that was where my understanding of power dressing without brands started.
Gradually, dressing carefully so that people would back off and let a lone woman feed cats in peace evolved from a necessity to a habit.
A couple of years ago, I taught English at a centre for troubled teens.
They were an energetic bunch plagued by anger management & learning issues.
Once in the midst of an expletive storm, one of them shouted, “M’am! You look nice!” when I was spotted sitting in the garden next to their gym.
Subsequently, “M’am, you look nice,” became a regular greeting whenever they saw me.
I think each time these young men stopped to pay me a compliment, or hear their friend make one, they experienced a momentary release from the rage & vitrol that had dominated their speech.
The old belief that it’s not what you eat, but what comes out of your mouth that kills you was evident in the way one of the boys beamed when I thanked him for his gracious words.
Perhaps getting dressed could be a way of promoting peace. And perhaps dressing up to save the world may not be as far fetched an idea as it seems. 😄
*qipao – dress with mandarin collar and slits at the side modified from clothes of manchurian people.
Markers pointing to roads, exits & entrances, ramp, lift lobby and carpark pick ups are very important for someone with limited energy like me because getting lost has very serious consequences
For most people, mixing up Lobby A with Lobby B in the mall or hospital is a small matter. For me it can mean how many turns and rest stops I need to take before I find my destination.
The frustrations & exhaustion of losing one’s way is real for an ageing person even without dementia or mobility issues.
I seldom accept rides or lifts from well intentioned people because dictating where they should me pick me up, drop me off or where they should park would make me sound like an ungrateful and demanding old woman. 😄
Pre-covid days at the airport check-in counter, any departure gate from letter E onwards on my boarding pass would fill me with unease even before the flight took off. On occasions when I needed wheelchair service, I made sure to tip my airport escort handsomely.
As such I have little desire to go on pilgrimages to make peace and to learn acceptance.
Each step out of my flat, presents enormous potential to make peace with obstacles.
When I walk, there are detours needed to avoid a wet corridor or curb too high for me. When I take public transport, there’s the anxiety of whether I can find a seat before the bus or train moves and the worry of whether there’s a hand grab for support at my exit stop. Little steps which the able-bodied make almost mindlessly require the focus of a zen master for me.
Over the years, I’ve turned down invitations to meet not because the company is less worthy, but because of what it takes for me to show up.
Singapore may have good medical amenities but its population density, building configurations and fast paced living make it a challenging place for those in advancing years.
Active Aging is a good aspiration provided you have the right set ups, physical conditions and national mindset.
Even in supposedly easy to navigate places with escalators and non-slip flooring I’m either constantly dogding people who are in a hurry, or keeping a distance from those whose eyes are glued to their phone screens. The latter have the tendency to brake suddenly or back into people behind them.
That said, it is also not reasonable to expect human traffic in public places to slow down for the old.
Thus I understand why elderly folks cling to familiar places and are reluctant to move to new neighbourhoods. They would have to learn the terrain of their physical environment all over again. A ramp in their new housing estate may not have the same gradient like the one their legs have been used to in the past 40 years.
“With a click of a button,” as the catchphrase goes, we’re told that digitization has made the world more accessible to many. But precisely when everyone seems so well connected and mobile, the isolation for some feels even starker & more incomprehensible.
And thus I cherish every trip I can make to the grocery store, every step to my tuition class and on special days, a visit to the animal shelter, or a live performance venue while my body and senses do not have too many adjustments to make.
Finally for those of us who harbour thoughts that people who can’t keep up with changes are just being too stubborn, we can try giving up some of the things we’re used to, and see how that affects our sense of calm before we earn the right to call someone too rigid to keep up with time.