Intentional Giving

27 Sep 2021

Handstamped envelopes & cards for my tutees taking their first national exam (PSLE).

In 3 days’ time 12-year-old primary school children across Singapore will be sitting for their Primary School Leaving Exam (PSLE).

Yesterday was my final English practice with the exam candidates. A few of them had worked with me since last year.

Towards the end of the session, I told them I had prepared a well wishing gift for each of them.

Friendship bands from Nepal

“I still have the friendship band you gave me last year,” the boy who tied the handwoven fabric to his key chain said proudly on ZOOM. Another told me that the gift from Nepal that had travelled 3000 KM is always in his pencil case.

I had given them the friendship band from Nepal at the beginning of last year when they were in Primary 5. I had wished for these children to be hardy and resourceful like the people and land where their gifts came from.

This time I selected decorative paper clips as part of the farewell gift for my tutees. Enclosed with a card in a handstamped envelope I wish the children peace & joy, and the ability to hold their knowledge with ease for their own benefit, and to benefit others.

Doraemon, the cat from the future to accompany the kids taking their exam.

Rabbit Lantern for Mid-Autumn

20 Sep 2021

The rabbit lantern of my childhood is alive & well. Pic source: shanghai.com

Of all the lanterns that were bought for me in my childhood, I remember the rabbit lantern best for the following reasons:

Firstly, my dad bought it. Secondly I was born in the year of the hare. Thirdly, its frame was wrapped in shredded white crepe paper to simulate fur. Fourthly, and most importantly, the whole lantern was set ablaze as soon as the candle that was meant to light it from within tilted, causing fire to meet paper.

Did the wire holding the candle in place not do its job? Or was my dad too clumsy in the lighting ceremony?

You can imagine the shock & pain of a 5 year old seeing her beloved rabbit lantern which she had been hugging all afternoon going up in flames and turning into ashes in seconds.

Me at the age where a paper lantern rabbit was my whole world. (1960s)

I was inconsolable. My young dad was traumatised.

In the mid-autumn festivals that followed, he would buy only battery operated lanterns for my brother and I. And no more crepe paper rabbits!

This evening I was pleasantly surprised to find that the lantern design that I loved half a century ago still exists!

The current model now has wheels, presumably for greater stability to minimise accidents like mine.

Come tomorrow night, I’m sure somewhere in some homes celebrating mid-autumn, paper lanterns will still catch fire and go up in flames.

There will be tears over the destruction & loss of a much loved and perhaps even irreplaceable design, but that shall not keep us from seeking solutions to continue the celebration.

Mid-autumn full moon in Taipei (2019)

Dressing Up for World Peace

14 Sep 2021

This pink cotton *qipao that took me to the Great Wall of China was bought at a market in Beijing in the summer of 2002. The young chinese woman behind me kept telling me how “可爱” (ke ai) meaning endearing I looked in it. We made each other’s day.
The green watch on my wrist was bought by my second younger brother on his first trip to Moderna, Italy.

*qipao – dress with mandarin collar and slits at the side modified from clothes of manchurian people.

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 talented friend draw this portrait of me in green qipao surrounded by my dog, Shoya, and my 10 cats in 2007.

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.

Blessed Ganesh Chaturthi

10 Sep 2021

I just learnt that today is the start of *Ganesh Chaturthi.

My first eye to eye contact with the elephant headed deity was in Nepal in 2011.

Ganesh Shrine at Park Village Resort within the Shivapuri National Park, Budanilkantha, Nepal.

Now, 10 years later, the symbol of resourcefulness and wisdom continues to inspire me to take things as they come without fear or resentment so that I may see clearly and dance lightly through all obstacles.

And while wondering how I could mark the occasion without leaving home, a dancing Ganesh pendant from my brother given a year ago and a recent hand drawn sunflower from a student combined to fulfil my intention.

Dancing Ganesh pandent given by my brother last year sits on a sunflower mandala drawn by a young student this September.

Here’s wishing all friends, family & strangers the blessings of Wisdom & Resourcefulness to meet challenges with ease like my favourite Hindu deity.

Om Gam Ganapateya Namaha! 🙏

*Ganesh Chaturthi marks the anniversary of his arrival from Mount Kailash.

Finding Our Way

10 Sep 2021

My brother guiding his son on the singing bowl.

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.

Finding My Way

Each step out of my flat, presents enormous potential to make peace with obstacles.

Ganesha in dancing pose is thus my favourite posture of the deity for obvious reasons. 😄

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.

New Moon Sunflower Mandala of Light, Minerals & Millet.

7 Sep 2021

Recently, a child who loves her late cat dearly drew this sunflower. Mrs Ghosh of Harmony Gems gave me the tourmaline, clear quartz & selenite to bring to the shelter cats & dogs on my next visit. A friend taught me to make delicious millet porridge like hers. The plate that holds all these gifts together belonged to my late dog who loved EVERY single meal of his life till the end.

May the new moon tonight refresh our mind and heart, to see clearly & love deeply, regardless of how fleeting our experiences may be.

Ollie and the sunflower mandala for new moon.

Sunflowers & Children’s Heart

6 Sep 2021

Flowers have short life span, yet they have a permanent presence in my heart.

Flowers from a young girl on Teachers’ Day.

Homemade cards are generally inexpensive to make, but you can’t put a price on the time, thought and details given to turn a piece of blank paper into a gift.

Handmade cards from a primary 6 and primary 4 tutee.

I’ve kept a card which was handmade and carefully wrapped in sandwich bag plastic by its secondary one maker for 19 years. 😊🙏

This card has been with me for 19 years.

This year I’m thankful to add a couple more to my collection of children’s handmade cards since the 90s.

With or without flowers, it’s a joy to be part of these children finding their voice through language learning & mastery. ( Teachers’ Day 2021)

Try To Remember

1 Sept 2021

This morning for the first time the two warring cats in my home stood very close to each other to receive pats without erupting into a fight. Normally I have to stroke them separately if I don’t want to lose my eyes.

Emmanuel gives Oliver a brief sniff after the latter licks him a couple of times on the forehead.

For a few minutes I had one jealous cat purring on each side of my face within striking distance, while I calmly reminded them what good boys they were when they were kittens.

Against his territorial instincts and to my surprise, Oliver even gave a stunned Emmanuel a couple of licks on the forehead! And Emmanuel returned the favour by sniffing him briefly.

Perhaps they remember what it feels like not to be constantly on guard. And maybe they recall the peace that comes with trusting another.

“Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh, so mellow
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow…” goes the song by Harvey Schmidt & Tom Jones.

This song and “Bavarian Gentians” by DH Lawrence made September my favourite month of the year.

As September begins, may we try to remember all the good that we’ve received, so that we can be promoters of peace even as we’re often enticed to be agents of hostility. 🙏

Words of My Father

4 Aug 2021

Celebrating my dad’s birthday in Westlake Restaurant 23 years ago.

I was 9 years old when I wrote my first letter. In Chinese. It was addressed to my dad who was then working in Bali. The letter was full of mundane details of school & home.

And my dad would write back in his beautiful handwriting in bright blue ink.

I didn’t understand everything he wrote, but I could touch his words and feel them by running my fingers over the paper. For my dad wrote with a heavy hand, causing the chinese characters to sit solidly on the faint blue lines of the airmail letter paper.

Was he writing with a BIC ball point pen? Did he pen his thoughts to his daughter during his day off in the workers’ quarters?

And the content of his letter? Equally boring instructions that a primary 3 kid can understand – study hard, listen to your mom & grandma, don’t quarrel with your brother etc.

But my dad also wrote simply about the beauty of paddy fields, the volcanoes, buffalo horn carvings and promises of gifts upon his return.

The buffalo horn carvings of ornamental birds from my dad in my childhood would start a lifelong appreciation for bovine accessories such as these in my adult life.

I believe those words of my father had forever ignited in me a sense of wonderment for peoples & cultures beyond my ethnic group and landscapes outside Singapore.

My appreciation & appetite for pratas, naans, chappatis, aloo, curries & briyanis started with our dad buying these meals for us when we were kids. (Mustaffa Centre, Syed Alwi Rd, 2018)

Even though my dad’s letters were lost years ago to overly zealous spring cleaning, his words of lapis lazuli blue continue to dance in my head till this day.

A few weeks back, my brother showed me a picture of the moth that he had picked up from the floor. He thought the moth’s colours were really unique. I thought they reminded me of our dad’s batik. 😊

Batik of auspicious clouds. My dad was very fond of wearing batik shirts. He would buy and send batik fabrics and beaded slippers from Bali to Singapore for our family & relatives.
My dad wears one of the many batik shirts bought for him in an outing.

Today my dad would have been 83 years old.

Sometimes we remember our elders not for the inheritance or titles they can bestow, but for simpler gifts such as letters or even fabrics that evoke childhood memories of care & innocence.

Grooming Divina

3 Aug 2021

Divina, the aging shelter cat always perks up when visitor approaches her enclosure.

Divina aka Hoonie, remains keenly interested for company even when the grooming session has made her comfortably sleepy. Her medical conditions require her to be isolated from the rest.

It doesn’t matter that her fur is unkempt and her whiskers are snotty.

A portion of the offending clumps that weighed on her shrunken frame.

She’ll make an effort to totter from her sleeping space towards anyone that stops by her enclosure without any idea if you’ll still be there by the time she makes the distance to say “hello.”

The life force emanating from this cat’s shrunken frame is unmistakable. It has so far attracted a regular visitor who has a Phd to give her special attention even as he’s charmed and surrounded by many cuter and fatter kitties.

Yesterday Divina’s love for life attracted a professional groomer to drop by.

Groomer being escorted by the charming and fat orange cat, Tenzin, in the morning light, as she went to greet the cats from enclosure to enclosure.

Moved by her gentle spirit, and encouraged by the glorious morning sunlight, the groomer felt that it was the right time to give the old cat her well deserved spa. Permission from her caregiver was sought and given.

Manicure and pedicure are part of the cat spa package.

Deftly & decisively, matted knots and dead skins were removed, and dirt filled nails threatening to maim were trimmed.

Shampoo and warm shower followed to wash off all offending residues that had weighed her down. At the sink, I found myself giving thanks to Mother Water.

“I want spa package like Divina’s!” – demanded a sweet Calico that managed to squeeze into the bathroom from a gathering of curious cats peeping from outside.

Back to her enclosure, the ancient cat purred and closed her eyes in dreamy bliss as she was being fluffed & towelled dried.

Divina’s fluffy fur and clean nails after the spa session. With or without the cleaning, her spirit is pure & loving.

Yesterday was the Groomer’s day off. And she had chosen to spend a part of her rest & play to serve someone who cannot pay.

I believe with or without the cleaning, Divina’s spirit is pure and loving.

But in the grooming of Divina, I felt we’re in some ways grooming ourselves to be free from impediments & judgements. 🙏

One more cuddle till the next visit. (3 Aug 2021)