Walking Our Paths

1 August 2022

Two days back I lit a butter lamp at the temple for my Christian friend to honour his departed soul. Light is a universal medium of blessing at all stages of life. It does not discriminate between life or death, happy or sad.

Dedicating the butter lamp before the lighting.

My late friend was a man of few words and not given to outward display of emotions.

Some years back, he quietly fed the cat taking refuge under his Volkswagen at his condo. He named him Winfred, and defended him when the neighbour accused the feline of spoiling the paintwork of his Mercedes Benz.

My friend took Winfred to the vet when he was ill, sheltered him when he needed a place to recover, and buried him in a safe place when he passed away so that the orange tabby would never have to stray.

Yesterday I made a donation in my late friend’s name to an animal shelter. He who made us sandwiches on long days at work and allowed me to ransack his work station for snacks & meji biscuits would have approved of money going to the dogs & cats too.

After helping the shelter, the thought of a specific animal rescuer who would appreciate some help came to mind. But I too have a budget to stick by.

Late last night I received a text message from a Catholic friend. She did not know of our Christian friend’s passing nor my wish to help the Muslim lady who works two jobs to help animals.

“Don’t know why but I suddenly had a feeling that I urgently need to transfer some money to you to help some animal,” she texted.

And the sum that my Catholic friend wanted to give away was the exact amount that the Muslim rescuer needed to cover some of the care expenses for an aging dog.

Aging dog can no longer walk. The factory compound where she used to seek refuge under heavy vehicles is not safe for her. Hence her feeder decided to put her in boarding where she can be cared for till the end of her natural life span.

So today on Chokhor Duchen which marks the day when Buddha gave his first teaching, I want to share magic, generosity, kindness and trust in people around us and the ones who have gone before us.

Regardless of our heritage, may our life’s choices put us on the path of compassion & wisdom, for our benefit and the benefit of all sentient beings. 🙏

Happy Solstice!

21 June 2022

The crystal on my necklace sparkled with joy at the June Solstice offering of vegetarian spring rolls at our pre-solstice lunch at Whole Earth.
(20 June 2022)

Yesterday we had pre-solstice vegetarian lunch at a place called Whole Earth, where some years back I had dinner to mark my 50th year on earth.

With the pandemic & politics forcing many food businesses including the iconic ones to go under, the ones that stay afloat have become symbols of hope.

In the midst of unrelenting changes, I feel a great sense of grounding in the old and the ornate.

The dragon calligraphy above us in birthday photos year after year at our favourite Hokkien restaurant, Beng Hiang, tells me that if a piece of painted paper can survive, so can I.

We never get tired of celebrating birthdays at Beng Hiang which has been serving Hokkien food for the past 40 years.

And last week at the TWG Tea Salon I enjoyed a tea spread which even the Queen & Paddington Bear would have approved. I sat by the window like I did in my 30s & relived my canefree days when the tea house used to be called Royal Copenhagen Tea Lounge.

At TWG for a tea spread specially chosen for me. (16 June 2020)🙏

Solstice in the Latin Language means the Sun stands still. May our observation of the solstices, equinoxes, and natural phenomenas help us create havens of stillness to mitigate feelings of fear caused by man-made madness.

May Light from the past give us the grounding needed to launch courageously into the unknown.

Solstice Sisters to welcome the blessings each changing season brings.

Happy Solstice, one and all! 😊🙏

Releasing our Enemies

18 May 2022

This morning while making a sage smoke offering, I looked up. A straight line of clouds had formed in the sky, as if extending the smoke from the scallop shell in my hand to the heavens.

My prayer this morning was to be free from past hurts and wrongs, that we have experienced since childhood, whether we deserve them or not, and whether we’re conscious of them or not.

Working closely with youth & young kids allow me to see that hang ups, if not managed wisely, can ruin relationships with ourselves & others.

Disappointments in warring parents can result in trust issues and constant craving for assurance.

Humiliations suffered in the classroom or family can lead to overcompensation at work, fixation for validations & hunger for vindications.

All these cravings and fixations drain us, while leading us to attach ourselves to entities, people & organisations that can cause us further damage.

So this morning at 4am, the cats meowed, the moon blasted her light on my face and together they forced me out of bed to play the Ganesha mantra to let Wisdom in. And I finally understood “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” has such a centering effect on me because it’s an invitation to release my enemies.

The cloud extends beyond the picture frame, as if facilitating my intention to let my enemies go so that I no longer become prisoner of fear & pain.

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.

Grace under Pressure

11 April 2022

My little Kitty Hawk loved lying under the picture of Mother Mary and Baby Jesus.

A young girl harboured a mixture of hatred and pity for a bad tempered older sibling who would hit her regularly.

At the time when we met, she was seeing a counsellor. Her family dynamics were also volatile.

As she ranted on, I realised she not only needed protection from her brother’s beatings, but also from her own fears & what she might do to him. She was an alert and well built girl whom I believed would have no problem picking up a sharp object and plunging it into her attacker if she was provoked beyond her tolerance.

After learning that she could recite the “Hail Mary,” prayer by heart, I asked if she would consider invoking Mother Mary’s help as soon as she sensed a conflict brewing.

I explained to her that some things in life are beyond logic, and there is a limit to what external intervention can do for us. Prayers are needed to do the inner work of calming hearts and deflecting blows.

Shortly after that, the girl told me that one weekend her older sibling was having a meltdown again.

This time instead of feeling scared and anticipating a fight as he moved towards her, she just looked at him and recited “Hail Mary” silently.

“My brother was walking towards me when he suddenly stopped, turned and left my room ,” the girl narrated the episode with a mixture of awe & gratitude.

Sister & brother would also begin talking after that encounter.

To some, the girl’s offering of a prayer to diffuse a potentially explosive situation could have been coincidental, but the benefit of knowing that there are other ways of facing difficulties in life besides hating those who cause us pain, must have been such a relief for that young lady.

Yesterday was Palm Sunday and in a few days’ time it’ll be Good Friday. On this day the mother of Jesus would witness attacks on her son. This may be why the memory of a young girl invoking the help of Mother Mary has come to me, for they are quintessential examples of grace under pressure.

May all who suffer from war, sickness & separation be delivered from fears & pain. And may all who engage in hurt & harm be touched by grace & awakened by wisdom.🙏

May the Divine Mother come into our midst to comfort us during wars, sickness & separation. ❤️

Happy International Women’s Day!

8 March 2022

Women Past & Present

Yesterday I completed a recommendation letter for a young girl applying for a summer programme in one of the Ivy League universities. Given her impressive academic credentials & balanced disposition , I think she’ll be accepted regardless of what I wrote.

Nonetheless, when I recalled the limited options available to girls & women of my grandmother’s generation, I wrote that letter with extra care & gratitude for this young girl who was born a 100 years after my grandmother.

This matriarch is in her 80s. She shares the same surname as my grandmother. She’s been through war, hidden in bunkers, raised 10 children and now continues to host friends and visitors in her 400 year old ancestral home. Her well kept wedding picture taken when she was 17 is a testament of her tenderness and tenacity.
(Kinmen Island 2019)

So my wish on International Women’s Day is for all female children to be raised fairly & firmly, so that they can determine the trajectory of their lives with tenderness & tenacity.

For it is easier to build a well-adjusted child, than to fix a broken adult.

This precious little girl stands proudly in her school uniform. I was once her age too. (Nepal, 2013)

A Sweet Reunion

2-2-2022

First Tutee and his uncle meet Ollie for the first time in 2 years today. (2-2-2022)

First Tutee and his uncle dropped by with Nasi Lemak today to wish me Happy Chinese New Year.

First Tutee is now nearly 11 years old, as tall as me and seeing Ollie for the first time since 2020.

Pleased that Ollie still remembered him, and that the scene outside the window where he used to sit to practise his spelling and writing, had remained unchanged, he gushed shyly about spotting his childhood sweets on my dining table.

First Tutee’s childhood sweets, White Rabbit.

I asked him to help himself to the White Rabbit Milk Candy pieces. I had prepared a new bag of them for him to bring home later on.

As he unwrapped the candy, he mentioned several times that White Rabbits were his favourite childhood sweets and that he was also born in the Year of the Rabbit.

First Tutee’s delight at seeing Ollie and recalling the names of Hakim, Kitty & China Black who have since passed on, his smiling at the sweets of his childhood and feeling right at ease in a space where he started his preparation to enter primary school showed me a reunion doesn’t always have to revolve around a big meal.

First Tutee with Kitty in 2018.

Food & drinks aside, a reunion is also about returning to the people & place that make us feel supported.

Same cane chairs, different occupiers. First Tutee is now going on 11. (2-2-22)

And if reunions are meant to evoke memories to embolden us to move forward, then it is wise that during that encounter we refrain from fishing for details in someone else’s personal life unless they are offered on their own accord.

Going home for reunions is such a big deal across cultures & evokes many conflicting emotions in some. May each reunion be a time of reconciliation and mutual support like the one that took place with First Tutee today.

Feeding Ollie his favourite snack.

Lunar New Year Ease

02-02-2022

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)

“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.

Blessed Scarcity

29 Dec 2021

Today I offered the last spoonful of the incense powder purchased at Boudha in 2017. This concoction of herbal wonder was unceremoniously scooped and dropped into a plastic bag for a few rupees.

The last spoonful of juniper incense bought from Boudha in 2017.

Having limited mobility & lacking confidence in my online shopping capabilities have strengthened my appreciation of resources. I learn to use every thing sparingly regardless of its price or how it comes to me. For me a bottle of soya sauce from the local supermarket has the same status as a bottle of truffle oil from a specialised store. Both are precious.

Boudha Stupa on the full moon day of Dec 2017. I took this picture without making any special effort and it turned out so beautiful. Each time I look at it I feel Buddha smiling at me.

Today’s incense from Nepal is the last of its lot that I personally bought.

Despite its age, it seems to have gained potency as its wafting fragrance triggers many pleasant thoughts & memories.

As I watched Fire transform the juniper into healing aromas through the dancing smoke, I sent wishes of goodwill to all sentient beings. Among which was just as we aspire to abundance, may we also be able to accept scarcity for its hidden blessings.

Incense from a little shop facing the Boudha Stupa. I gave some away and kept a couple of packets for my own use. Yesterday was the last spoonful from this lot bought in 2017.