Strong winds this morning toppled the pot of fern that has been with me since 2012.
Even in their fallen state, there was a certain elegance about the ferns.
I trimmed off the bits that had broken off and put them in the little bronze vase from Nepal. Then I arranged the leaves into a mandala for the full moon, with a painted pebble from New Zealand in the centre to represent animate and inanimate beings.
May the fullness of the moon inspire us to see wholeness even in broken things, to feel belonged even when alone and to be kind even when we’re not in the mood to be so.
Today is new moon and also World Turtle Day. A critically endangered hawksbill turtle was sighted coming onto Singapore shore to lay her eggs.
She spent about 2 hours on the East Coast Park beach before covering her contributions with sand and swimming out to sea.
This evening I received gifts of fruits, bread, noodles & soup.
Around this time in 2011, Ron and I took our first trip to Nepal.
It was the mango season then.
It is not something to be taken for granted that the same friend who lugged mangoes back to our hotel that day sent me mangoes this evening 9 years later.
I remember vividly Ron & I eating mangoes by the dusty window of Hotel Harati in Thamel in silent gratitude as cars honked madly on the street below.
This stay home imposition has provided me the grounding I need to recall & process lots of stuff.
May the new moon open our eyes to see our own buried past clearly, so that we can gather compassion & wisdom to move forward. And as the scales fall off our eyes in the new moon light, may we develop the courage to look at our own movies, instead of just the ones on Netflix.
May the new moon also refresh our ears even as our mouths are masked shut, so that we can listen better to ourselves and to others, before we speak.
All our lives, we wear masks to gain acceptance, to show compliance and to hide what we dare not see, or don’t want others to see.
So why is it that when it comes to wearing a mask to protect ourselves from the pandemic, so many of us fight against it?
For one, our facial bone structures, skin sensitivity, breathing capacity and tolerance for having our face blocked for an extensive period of time differ from one another.
Some people can go into a minor panic attack during beauty treatment when a facial mask even with gaps at the nostrils and mouth to accommodate breathing is put on them.
I know of a friend who couldn’t complete his scuba diving certification despite his love for undersea adventures because somewhere along his training, he also developed a phobia of having his face completely covered.
These days when it comes to wearing disposable masks as required of us, bespectacled folks like me have to adjust our masks periodically to prevent our breaths from fogging up the lens and compromising our vision. And believe it or not, the fogging always seems to happen at times that puts us at potentially risky situations – midway on a moving escalator, facing incoming/ outgoing lift passengers, dodging the cleaners’ trolley etc. 😄
Health workers who can be masked up for hours on end and still perform their duties calmly must have a physiology very different from the rest of us.
And for elderly folks who already don’t see so well or can’t balance properly, wearing a mask is an added challenge because the top of the covering can interfere with their line of vision, especially when they try peering down into their bags to fish for coins or ezlink cards etc.
Coupled with their stiff joints which limit their neck and finger mobility, the mask is really a hindrance. And yes, even if their lives depend on it, masking takes some practice.
It is very necessary & very good if we could comply with the guidelines so that we can survive this pandemic. But it is even better not to feel morally superior or more enlightened just because we are capable of following all the rules.
Consider the masked grandma, huffing and puffing from the walk and the weight of her groceries, which could very well be just a bottle of soya sauce and a can of baked beans, and looking resignedly at the rows of cordoned off benches as she tried to catch her breath and cope with her aching back.
If we could see what others have to overcome in order to stay united with us, maybe we’ll be less inclined to get annoyed with those who cannot seem to toe the line.
The feeling that we’ve got it all together is very delicious. And it is very tempting for those who can, to stew in self righteous anger underneath their collective masking, against those who can’t, while unmasking their barely containable pent up feelings as they pounce on the next mask-less person whom they perceive to be not doing his part to fight the pandemic.
Last September, a packet of Taiwanese Tea was given to me at our first meeting with Selina Lin, who keeps a lovely bookshop called 旧事书坊 (La Meme Histories) in the old city of Houpu on Kinmen Island, where my grandmother was born.
I didn’t use the tea leaves soon after I got back to Singapore because firstly I didn’t own a tea pot and secondly such a present deserves an occasion.
A few days ago I bought a glass tea pot from IKEA.
Today Krison dropped by my home with tea snacks from Joo Chiat. There were savoury “soon kueh” (turnip & bamboo dumpling) and “png kueh” (glutinous rice dumpling), as well as Malayan sweets of “ondeh ondeh,” “lapis sagu” & “kuih seri muka,” all full of palm sugar and coconut goodness.
Krison boiled water and brewed the Taiwanese Tea, while I got the mostly Daiso crockery ready. I believe Queen Elizabeth 2 would have approved of our old school gestures of tea serving even though her tea & crumpets are served on silverware & Wedgwood china.
Facing the flowers of the red radishes, we savoured our local snacks and sipped the Taiwanese Tea slowly, as our hunger eased while our senses relaxed and came alive from the warmth & aroma of the beverage.
The tea had a sweet milky aftertaste, although no sugar was added to it. It also didn’t turn tart after successive brews or when its temperature dropped.
Then the wind rose, lifting the windhorse prayer flags hanging outside the sparkling windows and scattering tiny petals of pink and white on our “tea set.”
It felt like a miniature Hanami (sakura viewing season) moment was taking place right in the living room of a Singapore flat.
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;”
– part of “St Francis & the Sow,” poem by Galway Kinnell
I found this poem years ago in Oprah’s magazine. When it was time to discard the magazine, I removed the page that featured Kinnell’s poem & used it to dress up the cover of my journal.
Since childhood, I had compulsions to touch tree barks and flowers, and greet them. Warnings about getting bitten by insects on the vegetation, or simply that they were “dirty” kept me from acting out my fantasies.
Galway Kinnell’s poem liberated me. 😊
And now I’ve even got a cat to join me.
So here’s wishing the gift of self-blessing on all my friends. May our flowering from within grant us the capabilities to help others from without to flower.
Yesterday afternoon I took a quick picture of the building that used to house the photo studio in which my parent had their wedding pictures taken over half a century ago.
It was the cheapest studio that my 25-year-old dad and 20-year-old mom could afford at that time.
My mom is now a grandmother with grown up grandkids. But still she has the habit of pointing out the now non-existent studio along Outram Road that took her picture when she was a young lady.
It pleases her to be reminded that the cheap studio has given her some really good pictures that have lasted all these years. 😄
And so when we look back on the past, be it through a building, or a picture, it’s not about trying to hold onto youth or to find fault, but it’s more about understanding our circumstances so that we can set the past free to merge with our collective sacred memory that inspires further journeys.
The humble leeks that I paid $1.40 cents for had travelled from Cameron Highlands to Sheng Shiong Supermarket before they ended up in my kitchen as lunch.
The roots have to be chopped off as they are inedible and trap soil. And even as these roots belong to the same species of vegetable, they differ in thickness, length and their curling angles.
Like the discarded portions of the leeks, the relevance & diversity of our origins that anchor us are often hidden or even when visible, are considered cumbersome in our rush to seek surface acceptance.
I think the neglect of our roots, whether by choice or circumstances, can also make us incredibly ignorant or hypersensitive to any comments or questions on race, colour, and even the pronunciation of cultural and ethnic terms.
As we step into the last two months of 2019, may we find time & space to seek and arrive at the grounding and sense of belonging that come from recognising and acknowledging our roots. Perhaps then we will feel secure enough to respond to the dynamics of life without causing harm to ourselves or to others.
The owner of the cafe tucked in the alley behind the military headquarters(总兵署) was very detailed in giving us directions to Wu Miao (武庙), the temple that we needed to locate in order to be at Houpu Teahouse (后浦泡茶间).
He taught us two routes to our destination: one for the local people and the other for visitors like us. And he was fairly insistent that we took the latter because he didn’t think we could read the landmarks meant for the locals.
We took his advice & had a great time.
The next day El suggested that we took our dinner at the cafe as a gesture of gratitude for the owner’s kindness.
When we arrived, the local patrons chatting with the cafe owner immediately offered us their table in the courtyard because they believed their position was the coolest and nicest part of the cafe on a hot summer day.
The cafe owner’s wife gave us our evening meal of cooked rice, slowly braised dishes, lightly fried cabbage & pickled vegetables.
When we complimented the wife for her amazing food, she smiled & told us her secret ingredient was time.
She said what we just had were ordinary produce braised in soya sauce with a bit of sugar over slow fire for 3 hours. Some dishes were cooled and then chilled in the refrigerator in order for the flavours to gather & settle.
And so what we ate was essentially Time, as she revealed with glowing pride.
This morning as I was sipping my coffee, a vision greeted me.
It was a new leaf bearing all the glory of Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”
Indeed “Nature’s first green is gold, her hardest hue to hold.”
As I studied the leaf up close I felt humbled.
Its luminous beauty & delicate veins reflect a creator of extravagance, and all the more so considering “it’s only a leaf” and will wither and die soon.
If Nature bothers to put in such exquisite details in a little leaf that might even go noticed, then giving my best to what I do however impermanent the outcome, will truly be an act of freedom & generosity to myself.