Mustangi Magic


In 2011, at the Annapurna Bookshop by Lake Phewa in Pokara, Ron pointed out a book sitting on the top shelf to me & I bought it.

“Horses Like Lightning,” by Sienna Craig documented an American veterinarian’s journey & spiritual growth as she cared for horses in Mustang.

The making of a Juniper smoke offering by local Mustangi people to complete each animal treatment struck a chord in me. I think that was the specific moment that sealed my understanding of medicines & healing having a spiritual dimension.

When we got back to Kathmandu, I couldn’t put the book down. Each night by the window of Hotel Harati in Thamel I would read the words slowly, dreading the time when I would arrive at the last page. I also started wondering what Juniper incense smell like since it was mentioned frequently in the book.

Finally at Boudha Stupa, I came face to face with Juniper in its raw & incense powder form. When lit, it released a scent that was both foreign and yet strangely familiar to me.

The aroma of Juniper incense permeates the air at Boudha Stupa at all times of the day.

While some find Juniper incense smoke dense & yeasty smelling, I find it comforting. It always reminds me of forest & yogurt. (Ikr, I’m never far from food. 😄)

It’s been 10 years since my fascination with Juniper started. Last month my friend, Sharonne and her husband, Khorn, visited Nepal to begin her 60th birthday celebration.

My friend of 40 years, Sharonne, & her spouse, Khorn, kickstarting her Super Sixty Birthday celebration in Nepal.

In the midst of visiting sacred sites and shelter & street animals of the Himalayas, the couple found time to replenish my Juniper incense supply from the same shop facing the Stupa.

Sharonne & Khorn arrived in Nepal on new moon of the 9th Lunar Month and brought much needed medical supplies for street and shelter dogs.

Moving onto higher grounds, Sharonne picked a sprig of Juniper from a tree that grew in the temple compound of Muktinath in Mustang, a faraway location that is difficult for me to reach but has benevolently decided to visit me. 🙏

The temple where the sprig of Juniper berries came from. (Muktinath, Mustang)

“I got us some wild flowers from this monastery! Breathtakingly beautiful views. I could sit here all day breathing it all in!” says my friend of 40 years as she approaches her superb 60th year. ❤️😊

In a few days’ time the Juniper’s green will go, but her history of having travelled from Mustang at 3800m above sea level, and flying 3800km to reach Singapore will always remain. 🙏

Planting Dignity

12 July 2022 (eve before full moon)

Yesterday I stood next to a yam plant that was taller than me. I couldn’t resist having a picture taken with it. I wanted to hug the leaves or put my face against the cool green, but they looked very expensive. 😄

Yam plant being next to me at the nursery. (July 2020)

My first Tree friend was the Acacia Tree in the carpark of my primary school.

Years later I told a bunch of secondary one boys that I regretted not saying goodbye to the tree after my PSLE. Over the weekend, one of the boys would climb over the neighbour’s fence to pick a handful of the crescent shaped leaves that the Acacia is well known for and bring them to school for me. ❤️

Trees are teachers of silence & acceptance. Nowhere is this lesson more hauntingly demonstrated than during forest fires, storms, landslides and wars. Whether standing stoically in flames and molten lava, or facing screaming hurricanes with silent defiance, trees accept their fates.

Yet, as immovable as they are, and as vulnerable as they look, many trees have also outlived bombings & disasters.

Coming to 120 years old, this Banyan Tree has witnessed military affairs, human histories and bombings. (Kinmen Island Sept 2019)

The banyan tree in my grandmother’s city of birth is coming to 120 years old. It has witnessed thousands of soldiers passing through and experienced explosions brought about by ideological differences.

Banyan Tree from my grandmother’s birthplace as seen from the window of a tea house that has been relocated.

Once I thanked the trees growing on a 700 year old ruins in Morocco for providing shade for the cats and their elderly feeder. A wind rose after that, sending the canopy in waves of circular motion. The movements then stopped abruptly, as if I had imagined the whole encounter.

As a kid with physical mobility problems, I was always anxious of not being fast enough and being left behind. Fire drills depressed me as I was always one of the last to make it to the reporting venue. As an adult, the “Run, Hide, Tell,” response offers me little assurance in the event of a terrorist encounter.

But trees show me that accepting the inescapable enables me to plant my feet firmly on the ground, and cultivate a dignified response that can only grow from the soil of no choice.

Freedom is to lean my face against a tree and have no fear of contracting ANYTHING. (Japan 2006/7)

Family Tree


One of our black cats used to climb on these branches and increased his endearment quotient with my first & second uncle one million times.

My dad grafted this Chiku Tree, and my grandpa attended to her while she was taking root.

Come Lunar New Year, my youngest uncle prunes her to renew her, and my mother and her sisters dress her in red khata and red lanterns to celebrate Life.

Being in the backyard & surrounded by forgotten articles have not diminished the Chiku Tree’s significance in our family one bit. .

Over the years this Tree has given many of her fruits, enough for the birds and humans to enjoy. There is no conflict. Cats file their claws on her trunk & branches. There is no complaint.

On New Year’s day, my brother pointed out the budding shoots that were emerging from the nodes on branches.

Budding shoots to welcome Spring.

I sat under her newly trimmed branches to speak to my dad and my grandparents, and to thank the Chiku Tree for staying alive so that our family members may gather under her numerous loving arms year after year.

The peace found under a tree is available to everyone regardless of economic status.

Lunar New Year Ease


Over the years visiting the temple of my childhood on the first day of Lunar New Year has gained significance for me.

With the painted temple guardian since I was 5. (1-2-22)

The familiar aroma of incense, dancing flames from red candles, bold calligraphy in red or gold welcome me.

And despite their silence, the temple guardians painted on red doors tell me I’m home.

With the other painted temple guardian. (1-2-22)

Relating to things is easier than relating to people for me because the former encourages contemplation while the latter depends on listening skills of both parties.

Greeting the Tiger deities on the New Year of the Tiger. (1-2-22)

With people, I have to tread cautiously lest any comment or question on my part sow the seed of discord or open a floodgate of criticisms and complaints.

My brother took this picture of me standing under the Chiku Tree planted by our late dad. The tree is still going strong because it’s being cared for by many all these years. (1-2-22)

Perhaps that is one of the reasons why taking pictures to capture moments of affection whether it’s with a door, a tree or a human being mean so much to me.

My cousin Michelle and I took our first picture at this door when she was just 8 years old. For the past few years we had been doing this obligatory Chinese New Year pose. I hope we can keep taking pictures to capture this moment of affection between 2 cousins from different generations for as long as possible. (1-2-22)

The Goddess at Orchid Gardens


“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.