Almost Full Moon in Kinmen


The evening before we flew back to Taipei, we sat on a stone ledge near Grandma Ongg’s (翁奶奶) house in Kinmen Island and watched the moon rise. I was back to 5 years old again.

Grandma Ongg’s house is behind the stone ledge we sat on.

Some tourists passed us by. Too bogged down by their shopping bags and a bit anxious to locate their homestay houses they didn’t notice the Moon glowing benevolently above them.

The Moon wasn’t full yet, but her brilliance wasn’t any less because of that.

84-year-old Grandma Ongg had spotted us from the entrance of her 400-year-old house and decided to join us for a bit of moon watching.

We chatted in low tones and looked to the Moon as she weaved in & out of the clouds, her circular outline gaining prominence while we waited for her in the gathering dusk.

How often in our struggles with life we insist that we gotta be this or that in order to feel complete, when perhaps we are essentially complete. We just need time & space to notice it.

Grandma Ongg’s ancient house had been bombed 4 times. Each time it was bombed, they picked up the pieces and repaired the damages.

Like the almost full moon in Kinmen, we can still shine even if we’re chipped around the corners, or frayed around the edges by life’s challenges.

Extravagant Impermanence

4 Sep 2019

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.

Changing narratives

25 August 2019

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.

My paternal uncle, Ong Cheong Lock (王章乐) as a teenager. He is now 80 years old.

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.

My mom and her sister on a Batam kelong in 2018.

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.

My mom, her siblings and their spouses having a laugh outside the temple which her late father cared for.

Turning 76

24 Aug 2019

My mama turned 76 yesterday.

She still works part time in the factory she’s been employed since she was 16.

My mama (R) and her teenage buddy Auntie Moi (L).

As a result she has friends, both the young & the aged, despite not having access to social media.

My mama (background) and my second aunt during a sibling outing to a kelong in Batam Island, Indonesia in 2018.

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.

My mama on her wedding day.

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.

My mama makes water offering to Lord Ganesha whenever she visits the temples at Waterloo Street.

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.

My mama in her 20s. I was about 3 or 4 years old. I looked worried in this picture cos she had caught me cutting my own fringe. Her smile says, “I’m gonna kill you when we get home.”

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. 😆

The display reads “寿桃 (shou tao)” meaning longevity peaches. Longevity noodles from Kinmen were added.

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.

My mama at 76. (Tung Lok at Central Mall 20 Aug 2019)

Happy Birthday Mama! 😊

Love in Absentia


My late dad with newly rescued Kitty Hawk in my brother’s workshop bedroom in Batam Island.

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!

Seedling from my father’s chiku tree today. 4 Aug 2019

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.

My dad as a young man in Zion Rd area and as an old man in Arab Street.

Happy Birthday, Dad! Thank you for being the best father you knew how to be despite being fatherless yourself.♥️

One Lunch

6 July 2019

Bastet, Cat Goddess of Courage, and Ganesha, Giver of Wisdom.

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.”

Ah Ong (my dad) and Andrew (my brother) in the late 90s.

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.

This “Roadrunner” card was drawn and given to me by my brother when he was in kindergarten. As an adult his work continues to deal with speed & precision.

Lion-hearted Honesty

20 June 2019

The elderly man who sold me these clay wind lion figurines on Mofan Street (模范街)Kinmen Island, was tall & bespectacled.

Now and then when he spoke or laughed, a single incisor would peep from the upper corner of his nearly toothless mouth.

After I had selected the pieces from the display set , he took out the boxes that held the new ones.

Then very methodically, he opened up each box and took out each lion to scrutinize for cracks and workmanship defects.

Pleased with the outcome of his inspection, he then wrapped and put back each piece into the designated boxes again.

Only after that, he noted down the prices and billed me.

This man must have loved his wind lions more than money, to make sure that I didn’t take home any broken souvenirs.