Today being a high holiday, I thought it’s good to raise a new set of windhorse prayer flags. They are called lungta in Tibetan & originated in the shamanic cultures of east asia.
Each coloured flag representing each of the 5 elements has a horse and prayer inscriptions printed on it.
Blue for the sky, white for air, red for fire, yellow for earth and green for water.
One of the beliefs regarding the purpose of windhorse flags agrees with my practice. And it is that as the prayer flags flutter in the wind, all the auspicious words printed on them are carried by the windhorse energy towards all sentient beings in all directions.
I started raising these prayer flags in hope of blessing & protecting homeless dogs & cats living in the industrial areas near my home.
Later on I started dedicating prayers of safety to their human feeders as well.
On the recent reunion dinner evening, an elderly feeder was busily cooking for “her” factory dogs when I dropped by her home to hand her a small donation.
Her home was beautifully decorated to welcome the Year of the Rat. This dog feeder has a husband, grown up kids and grandkids. She thinks cooking to feed the factory dogs is as important as cooking the reunion dinner for her family.
Her dedication renewed my interest in prayer flags.
There are also slaughter houses near my home. It is my intention that the consciousness of each duck, each chicken, each pig, each goat, each lamb each cow and each animal being that is killed be free from terror as the windhorse guides it towards an auspicious beginning.
And may the windhorse prayers also lead us to act kindly, wisely and calmly as we learn to placate the flu elements without causing further harm to ourselves and to all sentient beings.
Each lunar new year for as long as I can remember, I have to go & see two friends.
When I was young, these friends didn’t ask about my school results.
When my lack of mobility kept me from childhood games, I often leant on one of them or sat at their foot while others in the courtyard played.
When I entered my 20s, they didn’t care if I had a boyfriend.
When I got older, they were not bothered that I was unmarried and living with cats.
Over the years as my hair turns grey, their magnificence gains significance even while the panels they were painted on are splintering at the bottom.
This morning as I gushed about this pair of painted temple door gods to my cousin’s lovely wife as she indulged me and graciously took our pictures, a temple visitor’s interest was piqued.
The man took out his cell phone and started photographing my ancient childhood friends. I smiled gratefully.
Running my fingers over the patterns on their robes and the outlines of their accessories, I felt their total acceptance of me.
My relatives are often amused and slightly puzzled by my almost compulsive need to take pictures with these silent sentinels of an old temple, year after year.
Besides honouring the pair that had watched me grow up and now growing old, these yearly pictures with them is perhaps my response to impermanence.
For how could I assume that this temple will always be here, or even if I will get to visit it next lunar new year?
And because temple drawings are usually too massive and too complex to be easily replicated or casually replaced, the temple guardians have also become visual markers of my private journeys, just like two trusty childhood friends who are there for you, regardless of what you have become.
For the first time as the youngsters gathered around me to pose with my oldest childhood friend, I wished that they may also find the silent support and grounding they need in their life’s journeys.
Last Saturday a birthday dinner hosted by my former student, Jonathan Leong, for his wife and his father included me in the celebration as well.
This was my first sighting of a birthday cake with 3 names – Joseph (Jon’s father), Jeneen (Jon’s wife) and Miss Ong (Jon’s teacher, me).
I’ve known Jon since he was in his teens, taught him Macbeth, cheered for him when he entered Singapore Idol, and celebrated his wedding to Jeneen.
And I’m forever indebted to Jon’s mom, Mary and dad Joseph, for giving rescued dog, Toto, a loving home, when he had no place to go.
The familial touch at the peranakan dinner setting was further enhanced by Jon’s secret invitation of his parents’ childhood friends and their offspring.
So there we were, parents, grandparents, fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, baby and teacher from different dialect groups, faiths and ages gathered as a family to give thanks for the smooth passing of the year and for the year ahead.
As expected of a chinese peranakan eating place, conversations happened at random over the aromas of lemon grass, blue ginger, spices & chillies.
Like a typical matriarch, Jon’s mom’s, favourite command was, “Eat more!” as she piled food on the plates of those seated closest to her.
The 11 month old baby guest from across the table beamed like a little Buddha each time I made eye contact with him or waved at his chubby presence. Baby guest’s grandpa told us proudly that anyone can hold his grandson who accepts all cuddles without a fuss.
I felt very welcomed & included although I was the only unmarried person at the dining table, with no real blood ties to the two Catholic families.
And Jon’s birthday gift to me was an artwork of the Dalai Lama rendered in black ink by a long time friend of his.
Seated next to me, Jon’s wife, Jeneen spoke softly as she recounted her animal sightings on an African safari trip last year. Her eyes lit up when she recalled the magical moments of holding her breath as an elephant approached them.
Despite lots of dining noise and waiters moving around us, I could hear every word she was saying, as if I too was in Africa. There were the leopard, the twin lions, the impalas, the giraffes, the lioness who failed to catch her prey, and the heavy African clouds that seemed to cocoon them in an entirely different universe.
She beamed lovingly as she showed me pictures of Jon cuddling the cat that visited them each morning when they were staying at a vineyard, and another of her husband touching nose with a donkey.
When the evening ended, I felt very hopeful on behalf of animals, that someone as gentle and delicate looking as Jeneen would travel a long way from Singapore, take multiple domestic flights and obey all the safari rules just so they can see animals living free.
And this feeling of hope that youngsters after me are caring towards animals also counts as birthday gift to me. ♥️
This afternoon, the pet supplies arrived. There were kibbles, canned food and pee pads for the feline mob I share my home with.
If I’m not home, the goods will be discreetly stacked outside my door till I return.
Today I was home. So I gave the delivery boy a small tip by placing some money in a red packet that has 4 gold characters 一帆顺风 on it. They wish the recipient great ease in all undertakings .
As I handed the non-Chinese boy the red packet I took care to explain to him what the characters on it meant. Then I wished him smooth travel and safe driving wherever he goes in the course of his job.
He was very touched by the gesture. Delivery staff often brave crazy traffic, & tight deadlines, not to mention bearing the brunt of clients’ anger when the delivery goes wrong.
I have 2 nephews. In a few years’ time they’ll enter the workforce.
I believe when I’m kind to other people’s sons and daughters, my nephews will meet kind people too. So I needn’t worry about who they will meet, because everyone has the potential to be kind.
But there was this Chinese magazine that I wanted badly, but couldn’t get hold of or subscribe to because of my weak command of the Chinese Language.
This elusive magazine is known as 金门文艺 or Kinmen Literature. It is a collection of mostly Kinmen inspired literary and art pieces published bi-annually by people who are determined to promote & preserve Kinmen’s intangible heritage.
I like the artistic layout of its cover page, and the feel of its paper quality. I cherish the chance to have a glimpse of the Kinmen spirit through the poems, essays, artworks, photographs and even advertisements of Gaoliang wine that appear in the magazine.
But mostly I’m in love with this magazine because Kinmen is where my grandma was born.
As a Chinese woman who makes a living teaching English Language and Literature, I felt that an annual subscription of Kinmen Literature would let me stay connected to Kinmen while honoring the team behind this labour of love.
Last September in 2019, on the day we were flying out of Kinmen to be in Taiwan for our flight back to Singapore, I saw copies of the 67th edition of Kinmen Literature at the airport reading lounge.
Should I just “take” one copy to Sg as a souvenir? Who knows when will I be able to return to Kinmen again?
And after all there was no cashier counter where I could make payment for the copy even if I had wanted to, the thief in me reasoned.
Furthermore there was no sign saying that the magazine had to be returned, the justification for dishonesty strengthened.
But then again there was no announcement anywhere that said the magazine was free either, a sliver of light broke through my muddled mind.
Pre-boarding, my thoughts continued to oscillate between keeping the magazine which was actually stealing, and letting it go.
Finally at the last moment, I decided to return it to the shelves where I found it.
But not before taking many many shots of the copy next to my walking cane as if the magazine was a person.😊
In mid-November 2019, a couple of months after I triumphed over the temptation of taking what’s not mine in Kinmen, an Facebook friend from Taiwan asked if we could meet up. She was in Singapore for a very short visit.
Miao Ling (陈妙玲)had read my Facebook posts about my grandma’s childhood and my journeys in Kinmen for her. Even though Miao Ling knew I wasn’t proficient in Chinese and might not even get to to meet up with her, she decided to bring a copy of the latest edition of Kinmen Literature for me!
At the Nanyang Cafe in Chinatown Point on 16 Nov 2019, I received my very own copy of the literary magazine from Ms Chen Miao Ling, who was also on the editorial team of the magazine that I coveted.
Miao Ling indulged me as I gushed in a mixture of English, Chinese and Minan Dialect about my encounters with Kinmen Literature, including the attempt to steal one from the Kinmen Airport.
And so there we were, two modern day Kinmen daughters exchanging information of our family histories.
As we spoke, we felt the fears & tears of daughters before us in olden times, many as young as 7 or 9 years old, forced to be sold, abandoned or fostered by near strangers because of changes in their family fortunes brought about by upheavals in politics & wars.
Before we parted, Miao Ling & I took some pictures together. A Filipino lady from across our table helped us to record this meet up that started a century ago, in 1914, the birth year of my grandma.
It’s now 2020. Last week I learnt that my grandma’s love for Kinmen and my visits have found their way to Kinmen Daily (金門日報) and Indonesian- Chinese Daily (印華日報) through Miao Ling’s writing.
In her essay, Miao Ling likened the 108 chimes of the temple bell in her childhood to my grandma’s constant pining for her birthplace.
She communicated poignantly my attempts to sync with Kinmen and my grandma’s 3 phrases of attachment to her birthplace that she recited like a mantra throughout her life.
Miao Ling’s publication in the newspaper has enabled an unknown 7 year old girl, born more than a 100 years ago in Kinmen, to return to the embrace of her birthplace.
Love can really cross oceans and seas, transcend histories and navigate round all kinds of logistical & language difficulties.
Our duty is perhaps not to be disheartened or feel silly, and talk ourselves out of loving.