Eight-Treasures Mandala Dedication for the New Moon on the Start of the Fasting Month.

5 May 2019

Seeing corn and various grains on altars as gestures of thanksgiving to the divine always comforts me deeply for reasons I’m not entirely sure of. (Maybe I’m quietly pleased that birds and other small animals might have something to eat when the ceremony’s over 😉)

The 8 auspicious grains in this new moon mandala offering are pearl rice, glutinous rice, oats, corn, red beans, black rice, red peanuts and red kidney beans. They make a good porridge that has health benefits too.

Likewise, as we care for our body & soul, may our heart be nourished by the new moon’s faithful light.

And may treasuring our own lives awaken us to treasure the lives of others.

Niq’s Concerns

18 April 2019 (Good Friday Eve)

“If I’m there, I will shoot them with my gun,” Niq announced what he’d do to the crowd that mocked Jesus as he carried the cross on his way to the crucifixion.

Niq strokes Ollie. (April, 2019)

We were having one of our Sunday spelling, cat and book sessions.

I explained to him that even though he meant well, Jesus might not agree with his actions.

He became thoughtful. There was a penetrating light in his eyes as he grappled with the idea of remaining peaceful even in the face of injustice.

I also told him I had never met Jesus in person but I’ve seen lots of paintings depicting him. Artists portrayed him based on what they learnt from the bible, the same source where I read about Christmas and now Crucifixion.

At the part where Jesus was crucified, Niq who was till then very focused on the nails, suddenly blurted out anxiously, “Then Mother Mary how?”

The late Kitty resting under the painting of Mother Mary & Baby Jesus.

When I told him that Jesus entrusted his mother to the care of one of his friends, John, before he died, the young boy gave out a soft sigh.

So this is how an 8-year-old boy who could narrate the story of Baby Jesus just last December, now learns that love is not always about feeling nice. And this Easter he sees that to be able to suffer without becoming bitter is a sign of power.

Each time Niq sees a picture of Kitty, he puts his face next to it. Kitty passed on in August 2018.

Sweet Moments

31 March 2019

This morning the chinese language radio deejay invited callers to describe a sweet moment in their lives.

Children can & do appreciate intangible gifts such as your time and presence. Niq explains to Sherlene, a designer volunteer at the 9 Lives Exhibition his drawing on the visitors’ mural. He hugged & thanked her when it was time to say goodbye.

Many recounted episodes of warmth and tenderness shown to them by adults of their childhood.

A male caller shared that he would always remember that morning when his dad saw him off at his primary school.

After the caller had walked a little distance, he turned around to wave at his dad one more time. His dad beckoned him over.

When the boy returned to his dad, the man went on his knees to match his little boy’s height and adjusted his son’s shoe lace before sending him once again on his way.

So many years have passed since then, but that moment with his dad at the school gate was sweeter than his first kiss.

People may forget the occasion or the presents they receive. But they will always remember the way we make them feel.

I’m certain if we give ourselves time to feel and to recall, the sweet moments of encounters with grown ups during our childhood will surface.

And when we honour the memories of adults who treated others kindly even when times were hard for them, we too may be inspired to be kind especially when we’re tempted to be unkind.

Niq and Sam the Cat Mascot. Niq’s hugs turned fr playful to tender when he realised the person inside the costume had been at work welcoming guests since morning.

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.

Making the Old, New

6 Feb 2019 – 2nd Day of Lunar New Year

I wore an old blouse for the second day of the lunar new year. It is 12 year old to be precise.

This clothing item has survived many rounds of decluttering episodes because it sparks more than joy. It sparks mystery.

Power Dressing: When I put this on, I’m carrying highly stylised symbols of transformation & abundance created by ethnic artists of long ago.

The ethnic Miao (Hmong) motifs of centipedes, butterflies, birds and fishes on the fabric appeal to the animal soul in me.

I bought this book from PageOne Bookshop at Vivo City. The level of Chinese in this book is too high for me but the pictures make me very happy.
Only much later I learnt that these patterns are not randomly assembled. They are auspicious symbols of transformation and abundance. They are also graphic records of the natural world as seen through the eyes of fabric makers who were word illiterate but no less spiritual or creative.
The humble handmade buttons had helped mothers and grandmothers put food on the table and sent kids to school. I hope a revival of this skill will take place.

As I was pushing the red handmade knot into the loop to secure my blouse, flashes of my youth helping my grandma button her blouse came to me. I was so impatient with her then.

What I wouldn’t give now for a chance to help her put on her blouse without being unkind.

The fabric bag with me was bought at a Chiangmai market in 2014 when El arranged for us to visit the Elephant Nature Park. Each time I use this cloth bag I felt connected to Chiangmai and her elephants again.

Yesterday over coffee at the Botanics Gardens I asked Ron if he recalled giving me this blouse. He couldn’t, for over the years he & El had bought me far too many things to remember.

I told Ron that he was attending a teachers exchange programme in north-east China that year. It was winter and he had dumplings and a bottle of beer for $1.50 at a little cafe. Oh! He remembered. It was 12 years ago.

I think ever since I started observing the new moon and full moon, I’ve also develop the stillness to see newness in old things.

As unpredictable as life is, I’ve been granted a 12 year grace to see beyond the materiality of a blouse.

And in this age of easy discarding & speedy consumerism, relationships have also become highly disposable.

So to be able to wear this old blouse in the presence of its giver, and to celebrate our relationship under an old tree on the Lunar New Year, gives me a sense of newness that is uniquely mulled by the passage of Time.

Ron got me this indigo blouse 12 years ago when he was on an exchange programme in North-eastern China.

Spring Clean

2 Feb 2019

An elderly feeder of street cats invited me into her one bedroom rental flat once.

While I was there, her window panes that faced the common corridors were discreetly angled to allow for air ventilation, but deter neighbours from peering into her living room, where her 5 cats roamed free.

The cat feeder works as an office cleaning lady by day. On her way to work she checks on her street cats. In the evening, equipped with a shopping trolley laden with cat food and medicines, she goes out to feed homeless cats, and medicate the ones that are injured or sick, while nursing her own arthritic knees.

Her flat is sparsely furnished to allow for easy cleaning. In her living room are 2 chairs and 1 small coffee table. In her kitchen is a one burner stove by the sink. There’s a washing machine by the balcony. Against the wall old newspapers are neatly bundled with raffia string and stacked up. The newspapers are shredded to be used as cat litter for her cats.

Each day before she leaves her flat, she makes sure to keep a trickle of water running from the tap by the kitchen sink. This is so that in the event that she meets with an accident on one of her feeding rounds or at work, and had to be hospitalised, her house cats would at least have access to drinking water till help comes.

It was a privilege sitting on her linoleum lined floor and taking in all the simple details of her spartan abode. Every item in her house was streamlined to facilitate cleaning ease & maximise comfort for herself and her cats.

Such single-mindedness of intention has given this elderly woman’s one room rental flat an almost shrine-like ambience. Being in her space put me in an almost meditative state.

In a couple of days, the Chinese Lunar New Year of the Boar will be upon us.

Many families are cleaning their homes to get rid of the old in order to usher in Spring, which is the Chinese Lunar New Year. “Spring Clean” or “Spring Cleaning” describes the various activities of cleaning & replacing to welcome Spring.

As I listen to intense discussions on making new curtains, or replacing a piece of furniture, the humble flat of this elderly cat feeder in Lengkok Bahru comes to mind.

In her purpose built life and home, she has nothing much to throw away, and nothing much to replace, because her house is spring cleaned every day.