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.
Last week we had lunch at a restuarant in a shopping mall by the Singapore River in an old part of the city where my mom grew up.
The wait staff got us a table where we could look into the river as we chatted & ate in airconditioned comfort.
As the brightly painted tourist bum boats passed us by, my mom commented on how dirty the river used to be during her childhood & my childhood.
But filthy as the river was then, it was a lifeline to thousands of illiterate people and one of my paternal uncles. I still recall this uncle in a white chinaman t-shirt and cotton shorts of indigo blue. He carried a hook with a wooden handle to pick up gunny sacks of grains to hoist onto his shoulder. Sack by sack, he would carry these food supplies from boat to warehouse from dawn to dusk.
Somedays when he came back to our extended family, I could see his face, neck and shoulder all badly burnt from the scorching sun. There was no sunscreen in those days. But he would always have a smile for me as he took out the little trinket or sweet he had just bought on his way home with his coolie pay.
Now the river is all clean and green. My uncle is now 80 years old and a grandfather. My own brothers are very fond of him. They see bits of my late dad in him I guess.
My uncle is always very happy to see me at ancestral prayer meets. I’ll always be his “first child” from his bachelor days in my grandma’s home.
My mom also recalled how her dad, my late maternal grandpa, would trudge throughout the river neighbourhood collecting kitchen scraps from households to feed his livestock pigs at home. He did so for many years before he became a temple care taker.
We both agreed that my late grandpa would have been happy to know that 70 plus years later, his daughter and grand daughter would be sitting & lunching in a fairly high end restaurant on the very street he used to walk barefooted to seek for leftovers to feed his pigs.
So birthdays to me are no longer personal. It is also not about counting the years or planning for botox treatment. It has now become an integral part of honouring the ones older than us and sacrifices made for us so that our current life is worth celebrating.
And as we trade stories of past hardship or regrets, we can do so with a spirit of gratitude & respect. And this mindset may embolden us and give us reasons to laugh and to care, without reservation for the days ahead.
She still works part time in the factory she’s been employed since she was 16.
As a result she has friends, both the young & the aged, despite not having access to social media.
Her weekends are precious with temple visits, visits with friends & siblings, visits from her grandchildren and the occasional shopping for gifts to give to young colleagues leaving their company.
Mundane tasks such as cleaning, cooking and feeding people & animals anchor her & give her a sense of control & pride, even as she complains about having to do them.
Over the years I’ve learnt not to over analyse things with her. Most grudges with her are easily resolved by a bowl of prawn noodles or a shared concern over the welfare of another person or animal.
I may have a university education, but it’s my illiterate mother who has taught me not to be afraid, and to hold onto my visions, even at times when I cannot read all the signs on my path.
It’s August and Momo ( Peaches) Season in Japan & Taiwan. So the day before I bought what I believe to be the most expensive peaches my mother has even eaten in her life. 😆
Peaches are the favourite fruits of the Monkey King. They confer longevity and alacrity. So I wish for my mama and all who are mothers, on her birthday and the days ahead, the same gifts of longevity & alacrity.
Around February this year I placed some chiku seeds in different pots by the window of my home. The chiku fruit was from a tree planted by my dad when he was hale and hearty.
Weeks past, some seeds turned moldy and had to be discarded.
Recently, in the midst of my fading enthusiasm, one of the seeds sprouted!
Today my dad would have been 81 years old.
This morning my brother & I dropped by the columbarium to place a marigold by his picture and by the picture of his father, who passed on when my dad was less than one year old. We placed one marigold for our dad’s single mother too.
Happy Birthday, Dad! Thank you for being the best father you knew how to be despite being fatherless yourself.♥️
One day an elderly client came to the car workshop to pick up his Mercedes Benz from my brother.
Benz owner then took a drive together with the mechanic to become better acquainted with the car’s personality.
As my brother was describing some of the finer details of the car during the ride, the old man suddenly asked if he was related to a person called “Ah Ong.”
He had been watching my brother, and found his mannerisms reminding him of an old friend whom he hadn’t seen for years.
“Ah Ong” happens to be the name by which my late father was frequently addressed by relatives and friends.
It turned out that the old man knew our dad.
My brother then told him that “Ah Ong” had passed on a few years ago.
When the car ride ended, the elderly Benz driver said to my brother, “Your father bought me lunch when I had nothing. Everyone is scared of poor people, except your old man. If you’re ever in need of food, just call me. I’ll buy you all the meals you need.”
My brother thanked him for remembering our dad and agreed to keep in touch.
My dad wouldn’t have expected or known that the ONE lunch he had bought for someone facing hard times years ago, would end up contributing to the future livelihood of my brother and turn into promises of food relief should the need ever arise.