The Goddess at Orchid Gardens


16-6-2021

“You walk very well,” the lady on the motorised scooter addressed me heartily when I greeted her.

We were on our way out of the orchid gardens when we met. From a distance she looked like a pink blob.

But upclose, she was fully coordinated spotting a face mask and comfortable cotton frock of bandung pink while her thick silvery hair was held in a neat bun by a pair of pink tiger lilies clasp. A circular brooch of antique gold resembling a Flower of Life caught the morning sun and sparkled attractively atop her shoulder.

I felt like hugging her. But in the current climate I wasn’t sure how my gesture would be perceived.

“Thank you! You look amazing!” I said to her, hoping she could pick up the sincerity in my voice.

Earlier on in the pavilion, a soft breeze had risen as I offered the bottled coconut juice which was given to me to the Sky and Earth first before I took my sip. (I saw this practice in a mongolian documentary)

As the pink vision receded steadily from my view under the wide open sky, I had the feeling that I did not just compliment a handicapped lady, but a goddess on her chariot making the rounds in her gardens.
❤️😊

A Flowering From Within


1 June 2021

Orchids blooming by my window. 1 June 2021.

The elderly man had been taking drink orders from table to table.

When he came to me I asked for kopi-o, meaning black coffee with added sugar.

Perhaps there were too many orders to hold in his mind so he asked me again. He repeated my order after me like a child willing himself to memorise the multiplication table without understanding.

Sensing his slight panic as he struggled mentally to collate his orders, I casually said, “Don’t worry, uncle. Just bring me what you can remember. I’ll drink it even if it’s the wrong one.”

Upon my words, a look of relief unfolded across his face like a flower blooming.

The peace radiating from his shrunken frame was quite unmistakable. Till this day I can recall that peace at will.

Every encounter is an opportunity to learn to be at ease.

When I rid the elderly coffee shop worker of his anxiety, I also released me from the fixation of having my order obeyed in certain ways.

So I learnt that when we allow others to breathe, we can also breathe.❤️

“What you seek is seeking you.” -Rumi, 13th century Persian Poet

9 April 2021

Be it material or spiritual attainments, it’s natural for us to seek the best. And when it comes to viewing highly elusive creatures such as birds, we earthlings strive for the closest distance to catch a glimpse of them.

We were assigned to sit 2 rows from the bird show space.

At the “King of The Skies,” show at Jurong Bird Park yesterday, we had been assigned seats that would bring us up close and personal with raptors, vultures, eagles and kites.

My friends gave up their choice seats to be with me so that I needn’t take so many steps.

But noting my walking cane, the young usher kindly suggested that my friends and I took the upper tier of the spectator stand. The “good” seats would require us to descend a number of steps.

I took the usher’s advice and my friends gamely gave up their choice seats to join me.

And this was how we came to settle under a beautiful tree whose emerald branches laced the sky of azure blue.

I remember thanking the tree silently as I took pictures of my friends smiling against his verdant backdrop.

When the show started, one by one, the Brahminy Kite, which was one of my friends’ favourite birds, flew from their handlers and came to perch on the branches right above us!

Brahminy Kite’s underbelly is a gorgeous sight!

Raising my face, I saw the underbelly of the Brahminy Kite. Holding my breath, my eyes drank in the distinct markings of warm browns, black linings and pristine white torso of the creature.

We couldn’t have gotten better seats than these, I screamed inwardly.

Over the years, my weakened leg has taught me to see clearly and not to feel bitter or shortchanged by the limitations that come along with it. Speed is important, but it’s not the only thing or everything to worthwhile living.

As the ancient poet Rumi says, “What you seek is seeking you,” and in my case, regardless of physical barriers, has happened to me many times before, and yesterday at the Jurong Bird Park again.

And because I’ve experienced the grace of this particular Rumi wisdom, extremes such as the fastest, and the latest or even the best cannot make me feel unseated easily.

Learning from a Flower the Discipline for Joy

5 March 2021

Desert Roses in full bloom on 5 March 2021.

The pot of desert rose plant I brought home on 1st February is in full bloom.

Desert Rose plant on 1 Feb 2021.

A month ago, to manage my expectations, the seller told me that desert rose plants are hardy but their flowering depend on other factors.

I assured her I would be grateful if it survived my care. The flowering would be a bonus. I paid her $18, carried the pot and made the short walk home.

Except for the knowledge from google , I have little experience in desert rose care.

So even when it started budding around mid-February, I didn’t dare expect too much for fear of disappointment.

And bud by bud, the desert rose came.

Desert Roses on 1 March 2021.

The whole experience has given me the chance to face my fear of disappointments and living things dying on me.

While searching for a quote to honour this plant’s teaching, I came across catholic writer, Henri Nouwen’s writing on the discipline of being surprised by joy.

After reading his thoughts I realised in bracing myself for disappointments and suffering, I have forgotten about joy! And being joyful is as much an effort as being able to handle pain.

I shall close this post with Nouwen’s quote in full to do justice to the man’s profundity and the desert rose’s inspirations within a month of being with me.

“Learn the discipline of being surprised not by suffering but by joy. As we grow old . . . there is suffering ahead of us, immense suffering, a suffering that will continue to tempt us to think that we have chosen the wrong road. . . . But don’t be surprised by pain. Be surprised by joy, be surprised by the little flower that shows its beauty in the midst of a barren desert, and be surprised by the immense healing power that keeps bursting forth like springs of fresh water from the depth of our pain.” – Henry Nouwen

Letting Light Through

13 November 2020 (Eve of Deepavali)

To be like these leaves, solid enough to withstand the elements, yet translucent at the same time to let Light through might be how glowing softly from within looks and feels like.

Emerald and jade jewellery have to be cut & polished before they can shine.

Likewise our pride needs to be broken before we can listen. Our thoughts need to be polished before they can be spoken. And maybe after all these, there may be space for Light to pass through, and we acquire the assuring glow of the leaves.

Fallen Ferns for Full Moon Mandala

4 Aug 2020

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.

New Moon Mandala of Mango & Jade on World Turtle Day

23 May 2020

Today is new moon and also World Turtle Day. A critically endangered hawksbill turtle was sighted coming onto Singapore shore to lay her eggs.

Hawksbill Turtle laying eggs at East Coast Park on 23 May (World Turtle Day) Pic courtesy of NParks.

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.

Greeting Ganesha at Harati Hotel in the morning before we set out and in the evening when we returned.

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.

A rushed life makes it hard for us to find grounding. And because of our inability to ground, we collect links and connections, hoping they can somehow protect us even as we get entangled by our attempts. (Street scene in Thamel, Nepal)

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.

Unmasking

22 April 2020

The mask painting unleashed the girls’ flamboyant energies.

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.

A present from a boy who was in Venice for a break from his studies in Cambridge.

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.

An unexpected gift from Venice from a boy who didn’t seem to care about Shakespeare.

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.

A hand painted mask from Venice, given by a lovely girl who has the bearing of a young queen.

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.

A Very Special Tea

21 Feb 2020

Selina Lin (林秀惠), founder & owner of La Meme Histories (旧事书坊) gave me my first Taiwanese Tea when I visited her bookshop at Houpu (后浦) city, on Kinmen Island. My grandmother was born there.

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.

Selina bidding me goodbye last September. I was making sure the packet of tea was properly kept. Above me was one of the many red lanterns that had “Houpu” 后浦 written on it. Who knows? My grandma could have walked on the very spot I was standing on.

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.”

Pink & White 4-petalled blossoms from Red Radish 1 (Revival) & Red Radish 2 (Numen).

It felt like a miniature Hanami (sakura viewing season) moment was taking place right in the living room of a Singapore flat.