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.

To Arrive Where We Started

28 July 2021

In my checkered pinafore and stockinged feet 36 years ago. (The Central Lending Libary of National University of Singapore, 1985)

In my youth, stairs & steps gave me anxiety attacks not just because they were hard to ascend, but also because I was ashamed of how ungraceful I looked when I climbed. It did not help that my campus was built on Kent Ridge which follows the undulating terrain of the landscape.

I used to joke that NUS stood for University of Steps.

Yet, despite my dread for steps and slopes, Providence gave me a job as student assistant in the Central Lending Library I was waiting for my letter of acceptance/rejection from the university.

Each day I would report to the Senior Librarian, Ms Susan at 9am. My job was to manuelly cut and paste selected news articles on A4 papers to be turned into microfilms for archival purposes.


This went on for a few months. By the time I matriculated, I knew every floor and every corner of the library. I even knew which desk by the window received the best natural lighting at different parts of the day.

By the time I became an undergraduate, the senior librarians and deputy directors were familiar faces that evoked feelings of discipline and kindness. They were nothing like the grouchy librarians depicted in movies.

I found this picture of Mrs Lee-Wang (first lady on the left) and her colleagues on the Hon Sui San Library write-up.

Years after I became a teacher, I paid the staff, Ms Hema and Mrs Lee-Wang a visit to thank them for their powerful and nurturing influence over me. Ms Namazie had retired by then, but it was from her I learnt that a hard boiled egg and some salad made a good lunch.

The Central Lending Library as it was called in my time not only supported me financially, but also emotionally & academically.

The Central Lending Library today. (July 2021)

In between lectures when I had no one to hang out with, the library was my friend. When lectures ended early and I did not want to go home to face family dramas, the library had me.

And if I liked a particular author that was in my required reading list, I would seek out all his or her other titles and read them obsessively sometimes literally from dawn to dusk.

Each day after the library closed, I would make my way slowly from the administration block to the Pasir Panjang bus stop. The long walk down the tree lined slope gave me time to mull over what I read and rest my eyes.

Some nights when I looked up, I could see the full moon weaving in and out among the tree branches like a shy protector who didn’t want me to know she was there for me.

With or without the pandemic restrictions, my compromised mobility makes me very conscious of where I go and allows me to develop very strong attachments to locations and buildings.

Last week I had a picture taken of me outside the library just like I did as a young girl decades ago.

The time lapse of 39 years being in the same space that has meant so much to me felt as if I was on an overseas trip.


In “Mango Dreams,” the onset of dementia prompted a man to travel over 400km to his childhood home before the disease robs him of his most cherished memories.

Perhaps while waiting for travel restrictions to ease, we could consider visiting local places that have made us who we are and given us the means to travel far.

That day at the library as a woman of advanced age in my leopard print capri and holding my walking stick, I truly felt T.S. Eliot’s, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

My affinity with this library started when I was 18 years old, 39 years ago. (NUS Central Library, Hari Raya Haji Holiday 2021)

So here’s wishing all friends the good fortune to arrive at where they started and without having to go too far.

Finding Our Path

26 May 2021 (Vesak Day)

This is the main entrance to the Boudha Stupa. Yesterday my friends at Street Dog Care posted this picture. Road repair works have begun.

Since 2011, I’ve stood at this entrance to the Boudha Stupa 8 times. I’m so grateful to have visited Nepal at every chance I could before this pandemic.

I’ve stood at this entrance 8 times in my life.

Each time when I looked at the Stupa for the first time, I would feel tears welling at my heart and making their way up my eyes.

At the same time in the midst of the surrounding chaotic traffic & commercial activities, I would also experience a profound quiet that was unshakeable.

“You saw your mind,” my Taiwanese friend who lives at Boudha told me when I narrated my encounter to her.

She went on to elaborate that when the mind is unfettered by judgements or desires, it is clear and free.

So perhaps I had tears in my eyes because at the Stupa entrance I caught a glimpse of how my mind could have been were it not shackled onto fixed patterns of ignorance & pride.

My first stupa dog, Sam, on a full moon evening before the lockdown.

These days I think I learn to suffer less because I try to watch my mind before thoughts become words and deeds.

While the well trodden path to Boudha Stupa is being repaired on this auspicious day of enlightenment, may I take this opportunity to wish my friends and all sentient beings divine guidance as they forge their own paths to liberation. 🌈🙏🐾

Vaccination Day

11 May 2021

“Door gifts for you!” The officer announced cheerfully after he had confirmed that I was fit to be discharged.

Vaccination issues dredge up old memories of regret & guilt about missing the one that was supposed to protect me from contracting childhood poliomyelitis.

In Singapore, many who are fit for vaccination are showing up for the jab to protect themselves and keep others from covid-19. I felt had to do my part too.

After reading up and consulting with my doctor on whether there were risks for post-polio patients, I registered to receive the vaccination.

I took a cab to the Yuhua Community Club for my first dose of vaccine.

I had lots of practice with medical appointments since I was a kid. As an adult, making them alone when I still can, is good training for old age.

Of course I had the good sense to arrange for someone to come & get me if I needed help in going home after the vaccination.

However, despite all that preparation, I still approached the vaccination venue with some trepidation.

As I trudged along the corridor leading to the registration counter, a man appeared in the opposite direction. He was wiping his face as he walked towards me.

And his built and gait looked strangely familiar. Is that my youngest uncle walking towards me? Or am I so stressed that I’m hallucinating about having a family member meet me at the centre?

Better not make a fool of myself, and go around calling strangers ‘uncle,’ I warned, even as I wished hopefully to be right. 😆

As it turned out, that man was indeed my youngest uncle! He was there to collect his safe entry token.

He was very surprised to see me in his neighbourhood. He thought I would have opted to go somewhere closer to my home for the vaccination.

My uncle showing the wood block carvings which he keeps carefully after digitization rendered them obsolete.

My uncle walked with me to the vaccination registration counter and my unease disappeared as we chatted.

Before seeing me off at the waiting area, he gave my shoulder a reassuring squeeze.

Looking back I now realised I am never alone. And the reason why someone’s built and gait could exude such strong vibes of familiarity and peace even at a distance, and even before I could ascertain his identity, was that they reminded me of my late grandfather, my uncle’s dad. ♥️

An encounter such as this is never merely just a coincidence for me. I hope by sharing this episode, those who have to do things on their own for whatever reason, will never feel alone.

Someone’s always watching over us. 🙏😊

Second flowering of orchids on Vaccination Day (eve of new moon).

Dancing Through …

(31 Dec 2020 crossing into 1 Jan 2021)

“Flamenco at 5:15” Documentary

Susana Robledo shared the following words in “Flamenco at 5:15,” with her students:

On position:

“Stand still and feel the earth’s support coming through your legs even if you don’t dance.”

On finger work:

“Reach out as if to take something, and then give it back.”

On dancing solo:

“Have the courage to dance alone.”

Two words that sum up 2020 for me are “mutation” and “isolation,” courtesy of Covid-19.

The virus’ ability to mutate in order to thrive shows that to transform, to morph, to shape-shift and to change is really part of the circle of life.

As a planning species, we think we can dictate what to change and what to keep. But Nature doesn’t discriminate.

Covid-19’s medical protocols also change my understanding of isolation.

While fretting over the inconveniences, financial & time losses brought on by quarantine requirements & stay home notices, we’re also forced to confront the reality that in matters of life & death, we’re naturally on our own.

And that no matter how loved, how popular and how powerful we think we are, no one can take the swap test on our behalf.

Perhaps if we try to dance through change and isolation, instead of staying frozen by fear, we might be able to weave a path through obstacles that lie in wait for us, like the way gypsies & displaced people stamp and twirl off all that dust.

Susana Robledo demonstrates Spanish dance at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, February 1979. 

Incidentally as I was wrapping up this post, I learnt that Susan Robledo passed away at 93 years old on 1 January 2010.

May the wisdom of all who have gone before us and lessons learnt in 2020, guide our steps through 2021 and beyond.

Happy New Year! 🙏

Different Boats, Same Journey

19 Aug 2020 (New Moon)

These days the safe entry requirements make me think twice about going anywhere.

Two days back I was running through my mind the logistics of getting flower offerings to celebrate this new moon, and Ganesha Charthurti this Saturday. Would the florists be operating? Would the familiar short cuts I know be blocked?

I was on the verge of saying to Ganesha, “Sorry, there’ll be no flowers for your charthurti celebration this year because going to the florists is getting a bit complicated for me,” when a Muslim friend offered to drop me off at the florists in Little India.

He would settle his errands at Mustaffa Centre and come back to pick me up and send me home when I was done with my jasmine garlands and marigold shopping.

Some time back when mosques were closed because of circuit breaker measures, I was very honoured that he and his nephew conducted their prayers in my home. He also blessed my home and thanked me for facilitating their spiritual obligations.

As we seek to connect with the Divine in our different ways according to our race, culture, history and geography, may we be secure enough in our own beliefs & practices to facilitate the spiritual journeys of others.

Happy New Moon to All Sentient Beings!

May every gesture to harmonise and facilitate for the benefit of all be blessed.

Salem. Namaste. Tashi Delek. 🙏😊

My Psalm 23 Moment

10 Aug 2020

“Remember, no matter what you see, the whole thing is just up to my knee!” the kindly museum guide assured me. I was trembling a bit in my walk on the glass surface of installation art piece by Mark Justiniani.

“Stardust: Soaring Through the Sky’s Embrace,” takes the form of a bridge lined with mirrors, creating the illusion of endless depth.

Half way through the short bridge, I felt a bit sick as I peered down at the abysmal blackness beneath my feet.

But the museum guide’s voice brought me back to the reality that the nauseating depth I was fixating on was in fact only knee deep!

How often have I allowed my flawed vision to dictate what I should think or feel? How do I differentiate reality from the utterances & projections of the ego?

When I finally cleared the “depth” open-eyed without falling down, I felt immensely grateful to the museum staff, my friends for walking beside me and my cane.

And one of the verses in Psalm 23 which I learnt in my teens came to me: “…though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.“

May we be guided by Benevolence as we scale the steps of Life.

Making Way for Others

7 July 2020

I stood at the top of the steps outside Grantral Mall to wait for the rain to pass. On the last step sat a couple and a man. They too were sheltering from the rain. They were careful to occupy only the far left and far right of the steps so as not to obstruct the way.

A granny with a head of platinum silver hair approached the steps from below. She saw the couple and the man leaning on the hand rails. Then she studied the steps pensively to assess their depth.

Before she raised her foot to get on the first step, I called out to the couple, “Excuse me!”

When they turned to look up at me I explained, “Could you make way for the granny please? She needs to hold the handrail to get up.”

Immediately the man rose and led the granny to the handrail. The woman gave me an OK sign.

And I’m glad that I didn’t judge the couple, but just let them know that they were in the way of an elderly person even as they were careful enough not to block the way for others.

With the handrail for support, the granny got up the flight of steps safely. Her eyes beamed with gratitude as she showed me a thumbs up.

As she kept repeating, “You very good!” in a childlike voice, I felt Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, complimenting me. 😄

Life Affirming Ways

12 March 2020

Last week, after a dinner of porridge, we stopped by a neighbourhood housing estate to buy some fruits.

An elderly lady came by with her happy little Jack Russell on leash. I smiled at her & greeted her dog to show that I had no issue with her dog brushing against me as we crossed path.

As they walked ahead, I heard shrieks. They were from 3 young children who seemed to suddenly appear from nowhere.

In unbridled delight, the Little Humans huddled around the Jack Russell as the owner stopped in her track to let her dog meet his/her fans. Parents followed to supervise their offspring’s canine interaction .

While the adults chatted, the kids looked adoringly at the dog, each seeking for a cuddle with the Jack Russell.

After the Jack Russell, we chanced upon a Red Poodle sitting pretty like a toy in traditional wedding shop. Her tiny yelps alerted her owner, who was mending a quilt, to our presence. Not to be outdone, Red Poodle’s little sister, Snowy, joined in the barking.

We laughed in amusement at the cuddly burglar alarms taking their guarding duty so earnestly.

Seeing that we were not afraid of her dogs, the proprietress of the wedding shop, Ms Clara Pay, invited us in.

The Red Poodle took an immediate liking to El and had eyes only for him throughout our time there.

Snowy was a bit more selective and hesitated before leaving her basket to check us out.

Meanwhile, our eyes feasted on the splashes of red & gold of the traditional bridal paraphernalia in the shop. They had an energising effect on the viewers, and facilitated the flow of conversation between us and the shop owner.

In between asking her dogs to stop barking, Clara shared her interest in handicrafts with us and spoke candidly about her overseas travels. She visited traditional craft fairs where she learnt new skills and came home inspired.

A Malay couple passing by paused outside the shop to smile at the poodle sisters. They waved back when we waved at them.

El asked about the lacquered baskets on the top shelves and learnt that they were antique wedding baskets. Some of these black, red & gold pieces painted with auspicious symbols had found their way to Clara after their original owners who had lived a long & rich life passed on.

She restores the baskets if needed, displays them and safe keeps them till these heralds of joy find new owners who can appreciate them all over again.

On the surface, Clara may seem like an ordinary Singaporean woman running a traditional bridal shop in an ordinary housing board estate in the west.

Clara & I happened to share similar sounding Chinese names. She is 素珍 (su zhen) while I’m 淑贞 (shu xhen).

But to me she’s an important custodian of heirlooms of people unrelated to her. Her shop holds pieces of someone else’s personal histories & memories, much like how she mends and stitches together the tears on the old quilt on her glass counter top.

So even as life can be fragile and uncertain, there are people not necessarily medically trained, such as little children who gush over a Jack Russell, and Clara, who runs a bridal shop, affirming life in their own exuberant and quiet ways all the time.

Holding Hands

17 Dec 2019

I was 10 month old learning to walk on my own by holding onto the wall for support when poliomyelitis found me.

3 months of hospitalization later, I got back my life in exchange for a permanent limp. Considering many afflicted peers with paralysis that bound them to wheel chairs for life and some even needing machines to help them breathe, my crippled leg was just a slight dent on the paintwork.

After surviving polio, maintaining balance became a lifelong preoccupation that took up a lot of my energy. It is a bit like someone training to be a world class gymnast, only in my case, this wasn’t the path I would have chosen if given a choice.

I grew up envying those who could walk effortlessly, dance and skip freely, while I had to and still do, think about every step that I make.

Are there things on the ground to trip me? Pine cones? Satay sticks?

Have I missed a spot of alage on the step of a world heritage site that might cause me to slip?

Will the curb after the zebra crossing be too high for me to get onto?

Will there be steps? If yes, how many? How deep are they? Will there be a railing for me to hold onto? Is the railing sturdy enough to bear my weight or is it there for aesthetics purposes only?

Over the years these questions for self-preservation have trained me not to jump to conclusions, and not to make light of other people’s difficulties. They have also prompted me to listen for the unspoken anxieties and to observe the invisible pain of others.

A couple of months back, I was at an outing to the Esplanade with overseas students studying at a private school in Singapore.

As we were walking towards the open stage facing the Singapore River, a 24 year old student from India asked me, “Ma’am would you like me to hold your hand? You’ll feel more balanced and it’s easier to walk.”

He went on to explain that he came from a village that hosts pilgrims two to three times a year. He’s very familiar with aches and pains. So for the rest of the evening India & Singapore held hands and walked all over Esplanade, exchanging looks of amusement with each other when passers by went all judgy over a handsome Indian man holding hands with a woman of his grandma’s age. 🤣

During our Nepal trip this December, whether it was for worldly reasons such as ascending the stairs of hotels & cafes, or to meet spiritual agendas such as circumambulating the Boudha Stupa and carrying medical supplies, El and Ron took turns to hold my hands and walk with me at my pace.

Boudha pilgrims stopped to look at us but usually to smile and make remarks in Tibetan or Nepali in encouraging tones.

For many of us, having a hand to hold onto in this pilgrimage called Life is a pragmatic necessity. It is beyond romantic as popular culture would have us believed.

So I like to wish for all my friends to study and respect your hands and the hands of others, so that at the right time, they may become gateways to the Divine.

Namaste. Tashi Delek. 🙏🌈🐾