Joyride

1 Dec 2022

Yesterday we went to bid farewell to a 52-year-old park that holds a special place in our heart.

A Flight to Remember on 30 Nov 2022. A tourist from Hong Kong helped us so that we could all be together in this frame.

The Jurong Bird Park which opened on 3 January 1971 will close on 3 January 2023. Its feathered residents will be relocated to Bird Paradise in Mandai.

The mindful pace of the flamingoes remind us to take our time. Photo credit: SH Ng

In the sweltering Sg heat, the cooling breeze on the tram ride was a life saver. For families with very young children and for the mobility challenged like me, it enabled us to take in 20 hectares worth of sights & sounds of the old Park without feeling drained or left out.

The blistering heat and high humidity of the Singapore weather make every step a test of endurance & will power.

My difficulty in getting on the ride was noted by our tram captain who promptly produced a supportive accessory to facilitate my ascent.

The highest manmade waterfall in the world behind us may be nothing to shout about now, but it was a big deal half a century ago. And it still is a structure of affection for us locals.

He then communicated with his colleague from the next station who was on standby to assist me by the time we arrived.

He did this for me on top of having to navigate the vehicle, watch out for passenger safety and wipe down a seat that someone had spilled a drink on when it was explicitly stated “No Food & Drinks on Tram.”

I used to think able-bodied people had it easier. I’m sometimes quick to join in berating them for lacking empathy towards the disabled or for not being inclusive enough.

But yesterday after witnessing what a man had to do cheerfully in order to earn his keep, I feel that my comparison was groundless.

That encounter also helps me see that some physical problems are not readily visible to the ones who don’t have them. If we’re looking for help, it is also our responsibility to explain our needs, so that people can choose their responses.

My friends and I cannot recall what we were looking at or smiling about in this shot taken at the Jurong Bird Park yesterday, but we sure can’t fake joy like this.

The joy is all the more precious because we can’t recall what we were looking or smiling at.

As we bade goodbye to the Bird Park on the last day of November and welcome the start of December, may I take this chance to wish readers of this post the peace that comes from accepting what cannot be changed, and the joy for the support that eases our ride on our journey ahead. 🙏😊

Gifts from an Unknown Horse

16 Nov 2022 (World Horse Day)

The refugee horse I saw in 2001 on the news would lead me to this book in Annapurna Bookshop in Pokara, Nepal in 2011.

In 2001 while following news on the aftermath of 911, the footage of a horse straining under the load strapped tightly to his/ her back while making the mountainous crossing between Afghanistan & Pakistan would forever be soldered onto my brain. It was one of those “once you see it, you cannot unsee it” moment for me.

Taoist prayer papers featuring horses of the Gods. I love the graceful lines by which horses are depicted, almost childlike in their simplicity while deeply evocative.

That TV encounter would lead me to learn more about the suffering of packed animals & support efforts devoted to improving their conditions. In my attempts to raise funds for them, I read up as much as I could. Soon my affinity with writings & artworks that featured horses, donkeys & mules also grew. A trip to Morocco to visit the Society for the Protection of Working Animals Abroad (SPANA) opened up.

And all the above had been bestowed upon me by a nameless horse shivering in the winter cold of armed human conflicts.

Recently a former student was heading to Nepal. By way of wishing her a trip filled with pleasant encounters & learning ease, I gave her a handmade card featuring a mythical horse.

Handmade card using Lokta paper. These are the remaining 3 in my collection after giving 1 to my former student heading to Nepal.

Mythical horses or Windhorses (Lungta) are carriers of auspiciousness in Tibetan and Mongolian cultures.

Windhorse prayer flags.

One of the things the young lady did when she reached the Boudha Stupa was to take out her windhorse card and take pictures of it with the prayer flags.

My former student, Cheryl Lee, and her windhorse card at Boudha Stupa in November 2022.

I have this belief that even if we cannot change the fate of working animals directly, treating representations of them or thoughts associated with them kindly has power.

May the gesture of a girl circumabulating the Stupa with the windhorse card under her jacket, bring better treatment to all working horses and animals.

Cheryl holding her card to the prayer flags.

May our aspirations for better days for ourselves and others never cease regardless of outcomes. 🙏

Dog sleeping underneath the prayer flags at Boudha Stupa, Nepal. Photo credit: Cheryl Lee.

Mustangi Magic

20-10-22

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. 🙏

Only in Sg

15-9-22

My brother and I had Halal food at Fortune Centre in Middle Road today. The proprietress of Syam’s Corner served her padang dishes with delight. She was pleased when we asked her for sambal belachan.

After lunch I dropped by a vegetarian dry goods shop owned by a lady from Yunnan. There are 26 tribes in the place she was born. She climbed up a chair to bring down cups of sweet & sour vermicelli to show me the difference between that and mala noodles.

Carrying papadums, pumpkin crackers and cup noodles, we went to greet the deities at the Hindu temple and the Buddhist temple outside Fortune Centre.

We had been talking about this outing since 2020 but kept postponing it because of safe distancing measures.

Today we finally made it.

I couldn’t resist having pictures taken with Hanuman and Garuda no matter how many times I had seen them. They are ageless, but I’m not.

A soft spoken lady from Thailand approached us to take a picture of her and her mom. We had a great time helping them to strike a pose.

In a short span of a few hours and within a few hundred square meters, we interacted with people from different cultures and faiths and experienced architecture that went back hundreds of years.

And only after 50 plus years I noticed that my brother enjoys padang food, just like the way our father did.

Passports

8-8-22 (National Day Eve)

“You have trekked so far, Bhaktaprasad, and today you may have understood you can travel far and not arrive, and not travel at all, but still arrive.” –

– Adventures of a Nepali Frog by Kanak Mani Dixit

In secondary 3, I was the only student in my Art Club ECA who couldn’t go on a school trip to Baguio, Philippines, because my dad couldn’t cough up the $300 required to pay for the already subsidised trip.

I don’t recall feeling very sad about it but I think it must have hurt my dad. Years later he would tell me lacking the means to let us take overseas trips like some parents did, made him feel inadequate as a provider.

With my dad at Westlake Chinese Restuarant when I was in my 30s.

In my early 20s as a working adult, when I made my first ever overseas call from Europe to Singapore, it was my dad who picked up the call. He reminded me not to spend money on souvenirs but to keep my luggage light so that I could move easily and take in all the sights.

Recently the news of ICA rejecting passport photos of smiling applicants prompted me to check my old passports.

And among the expired little red books, there was my dad’s passport. He was 58 years old when he made that passport to visit Malaysia with my mom and her siblings. I am now his age as I get ready to renew my passport for the 5th time.

In his passport photo, my dad wore a blue & white batik shirt which I bought with my first teaching paycheck. Tucked within the passport’s protective covers were currencies that he had collected from years back. A wish to visit these countries one day perhaps?

Passport and notes

The fear of being called a frog in the well may have prompted some of us to look to travelling to broaden the mind. But travelling without knowledge or due preparation can also reinforce pre-existing prejudices.

So I hope my dad knows that even though he couldn’t afford to take us overseas when we were kids, his lifelong interest in books, music, plants, cultures and documentaries would influence my future travelling choices which money cannot buy.

And today as we look to Singapore’s 57th birthday celebration tomorrow, and enjoy the travelling ease which our red passport brings, may we also honour the foremothers, forefathers and the ones who have made sacrifices and remained island bound, so that others can go farther. 🙏

A $3 per head day trip to local places of interest organised by the Residents’ Committee was all it took to make my late dad happy. My mom continues to delight in her temple jaunts and visits to Chinatown on a regular basis.

A Heritage of Peace

3-5-22

This morning, decked in traditional finery that spoke of ethnic pride & brimming with benedictions fresh from morning prayers, First Tutee touched the back of my hand with his forehead to wish me peace.

First Tutee is now taller than me. I’ve known him before he entered Primary One.

For the past few years, my home has been his first place of visit after prayers at the mosque on Hari Raya mornings.

A little boy and his cat friend on Hari Raya morning a a few years back.

This year he brought a friend with him. He wanted to show him how to interact with Oliver the Cat.

First Tutee supervising his friend’s first contact with a cat.

First Tutee explained to his little friend how he used to be scared of cats before he met Oliver.

He then taught him how to sit still while waiting for the cat to approach, and how to offer food respectfully to the animal.

Showing his little friend how to approach a cat & feed him respectfully.

“Don’t touch him when he’s trying to eat cos it makes him nervous,” said the older boy to the younger one.

While they were sitting by the window, First Tutee pointed out the direction of Batam, Indonesia, to his fascinated guest. He also told him the body of water he saw was called a reservoire, not a swimming pool.

Two Muslim boys looking out of the window at the world while the prayer flags flutter above them.

Although First Tutee and I are not related by blood, and these days we don’t see each other much, he seems to have taken after me in the way he explains things. And now & then when he spots a full moon, he’ll send me a picture of it.

While we make material provisions for our children, showing them how to live peacefully with all despite our differences could give them the wisdom & compassion to journey further & do better under all circumstances in life.

“Unity doesn’t have to mean uniformity” – Palki Sharma, news anchor of WION.

“Know Your Role!”

14-1-22

Getting in and out of a vehicle for me require a certain level of coordination & focus.

One day I hailed a cab along the road. When the cab driver slowed down for me, the bus driver behind us sounded the horn while I tried to get onto the cab as swiftly as possible.

In the calm cocoon of his seat, the thin & bespectacled driver with his praying mantis liked arms must have picked up my panic of not being fast enough and getting in the way of the bus.

“Miss, please take your time and get onto my cab safely,” the cab driver alerted me authoritatively even as the horn continued to blare.

As he drove on, he continued, “We all have our jobs to do. Your job is to get on my cab safely. My job is to take you to your destination safely. If the bus driver can’t wait & decides to blast his horn it is his right to do so. And maybe he’s in a bad mood. But you don’t have to let the sound make you frighten & lose your balance, and I musn’t drive recklessly because I’m irritated by the driver.”

Last week the young boys at the tuition centre asked me if I knew who The Rock was. It was their way of checking if someone of their grandmother’s generation knew anything about their interests.

“Know Your Role!” –
The Rock ( Dwayne Johnson)

To their amusement, I not only could tell them The Rock’s real name but also put on one of his signature poses. One boy chortled admiringly when I bellowed The Rock’s famous slogan , “Know Your Role!” 😂

Recalling The Rock’s, “Know Your Role,” brought back memories of the cab driver’s insightful lesson on what doing our job, fulfilling responsibilities & expressing our rights can mean.

So regardless of how long it takes or how hard it is, if it’s a path that we’ve chosen and a role we’ve taken on, we must play it out faithfully, even if someone else’s role is to specialise in derailing us by placing obstacles in our way.

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. 🌈🙏🐾