My Oldest Childhood Friends

25 January 2020

(First Day of the Year of the Rat)

Each lunar new year for as long as I can remember, I have to go & see two friends.

With a trusted childhood friend whose fierce appearance dispels all impurities.

When I was young, these friends didn’t ask about my school results.

When my lack of mobility kept me from childhood games, I often leant on one of them or sat at their foot while others in the courtyard played.

When I entered my 20s, they didn’t care if I had a boyfriend.

When I got older, they were not bothered that I was unmarried and living with cats.

The silent support of my childhood. I often sat at the foot of this temple guardian diety or lean on him. (25 January 2020)

Over the years as my hair turns grey, their magnificence gains significance even while the panels they were painted on are splintering at the bottom.

This morning as I gushed about this pair of painted temple door gods to my cousin’s lovely wife as she indulged me and graciously took our pictures, a temple visitor’s interest was piqued.

The man took out his cell phone and started photographing my ancient childhood friends. I smiled gratefully.

My childhood exposure to temple door deities has caused me to feel immediately at home in any temple anywhere in the world as soon as I meet their temple guardians at their door.

Running my fingers over the patterns on their robes and the outlines of their accessories, I felt their total acceptance of me.

My relatives are often amused and slightly puzzled by my almost compulsive need to take pictures with these silent sentinels of an old temple, year after year.

Besides honouring the pair that had watched me grow up and now growing old, these yearly pictures with them is perhaps my response to impermanence.

For how could I assume that this temple will always be here, or even if I will get to visit it next lunar new year?

And because temple drawings are usually too massive and too complex to be easily replicated or casually replaced, the temple guardians have also become visual markers of my private journeys, just like two trusty childhood friends who are there for you, regardless of what you have become.

For the first time as the youngsters gathered around me to pose with my oldest childhood friend, I wished that they may also find the silent support and grounding they need in their life’s journeys.

With my oldest childhood companion and the younger generation for the first time. (25 Jan 2020)

Every boy is our nephew, and every girl our niece.

17 Jan 2020

This afternoon, the pet supplies arrived. There were kibbles, canned food and pee pads for the feline mob I share my home with.

If I’m not home, the goods will be discreetly stacked outside my door till I return.

Today I was home. So I gave the delivery boy a small tip by placing some money in a red packet that has 4 gold characters 一帆顺风 on it. They wish the recipient great ease in all undertakings .

As I handed the non-Chinese boy the red packet I took care to explain to him what the characters on it meant. Then I wished him smooth travel and safe driving wherever he goes in the course of his job.

He was very touched by the gesture. Delivery staff often brave crazy traffic, & tight deadlines, not to mention bearing the brunt of clients’ anger when the delivery goes wrong.

My nephews and their mom at the temple on Chinese New Year in 2018.

I have 2 nephews. In a few years’ time they’ll enter the workforce.

I make it a point to address service staff respectfully and look them in the eye. Xiao Wang (小汪)of Pan Pacific taught me how to book ferry tickets to Kinmen. (June 2019)

I believe when I’m kind to other people’s sons and daughters, my nephews will meet kind people too. So I needn’t worry about who they will meet, because everyone has the potential to be kind.

Celebrating Chinese New Year in 2018 with a group of daughters.

To give or not to give

13 Jan 2020

It had been on my mind since last December to contribute to the veterinary bills of a shelter dog called Dahua.

Because of my other long term financial commitments in animal relief, I wasn’t sure if I have enough to make a small once off contribution to her vet bills that have amounted to slightly more than 5k.

On Boxing Day 2019, this 9-year-old girl dog survived a surgery to remove a growth in her spleen. The next day she had two cardiac arrests and she was gone.

Dahua was the sole survivor of dog poisoning that killed her mom & siblings. Although much loved by her rescuers and shelter caregivers who took her on adoption drives, she never got adopted.

The shelter has been posting appeals for donation to cover Dahua’s vet bills. I wanted to help but was unsure if I should since I only have a part-time income.

So I made a wish as my birthday was near. I wished that whatever cash gifts I get, they will go to animal relief work.

But I would have to give first.

Yet this morning at the ATM, I hesitated. I wanted to transfer $200 to the shelter for Dahua, but ended up giving $130 instead, for fear of not having enough for myself.

After that I did some grocery shopping, making sure I bought just what I would eat. I did however, buy 4 red Chinese radish to welcome Spring. 😄

Ollie welcomes the red chinese radish.

On my walk home from the supermarket, I stopped by the park bench for a rest & saw a mynah picking up twigs to build her nest. The bird got me thinking of the pregnant mouse found by May Sarton, still holding in her paws bits of straws for her unfinished nest as she lay dead from ingesting poison laid out by farmers. My thoughts went naturally to Dahua again as she had been poisoned when she was a puppy.

What humans casually consider as pest or strays have very real life & death struggles of their own.

As I was sitting there thinking about these animals’ often unseen and hard lives, I received a message from my bank:

“So-and-so would like to send you SGD 200.00. Use the passcode provided by him/her to accept this amount at…”

Is this a hoax?

I texted my friend whose name was on the bank’s message for confirmation.

Indeed the SGD200.00 was from her. She wanted me to use the money in any way I deemed fit for animals.

I was teary. Less than 2 hours ago, I was lingering at the ATM, wondering if somebody like me with reduced earnings, and aging, was still in the position to donate $200 to help an animal.

“God told me to send the money,” my friend texted. She had been very busy at work. But divine intervention had led her to make the money transfer at the period when I was asking if my giving would deplete me.

My friend and I are from different spiritual backgrounds. She’s been questioning God’s existence and the teachings of her religious community. She felt that her role in the giving episode was a gentle reminder that her faith hasn’t been in vain and her relationship with the invisible God is real.

And I learnt now faith is not really about the absence of doubts nor the presence of unquestioned obedience. Or feeling capable and being in-charge.

Faith for me is perhaps the constant practice of testing & forging ahead, guided by the practice of kindness to the most vulnerable, despite the doubts & uncertainties at the back of my mind.

Dahua trusted her caregivers, and in faith they had put her through the surgery.

The dog’s physical life may have ended on 27 December 2019. But less than a month later on 13 Jan 2020, she has become the portal through which two friends felt the giving hands of the Divine.

What a well-lived life!

Dahua being loved and giving love.

OM in black for the Full Moon

9 Jan 2020

Black is accommodating.

It hides what is not ready to be seen.

Black is giving.

It stays in the background to allow others to shine.

May the full moon tonight bless our mind with wisdom, so that we can see beyond our emotions, and learn to rely on the comforting presence of darkness to recover, for our benefit and for the benefit of others.

Light to help us befriend not dispel Darkness, so that we can heal.

First Word of 2020

3 Jan 2019

There are several understandings of “OM”. My favourites are “OM” is the first sound of creation and has the ability to neutralise pride,the cause of fear and jealousy.

I spent the 1st day of 2020 in relative silence while practising to write OM in the Tibetan Uchen style for the first time.

“Start writing OM,” has been on my mind the past few years but I never got round to it because I was waiting for the “perfect” timing, “perfect” video and “perfect” calligraphy book to get started.

In Nepal, the book sellers in Thamel & Boudha that I checked with didn’t seem to sell the practise book that will show me the sequence of the strokes that I needed to see before I could write the character. Did such a practise book even exist? I only started to do online searches for it after my failed attempts in Nepal.

And during the search I indulged in almonds. So over the last few days leading to this new year I developed a sore throat.

That was how Silence descended. Seclusion followed quickly as the need to rest my voice caused me to abstain from all social gatherings. Together, they created the space I needed to pursue the long awaited OM.

“Please let me just know how to write OM, everything else will be a bonus,” I thought to myself as I viewed the video of Tashi Mannox writing the mantra of Great Compassion (OM MANI PADME HUM).

I’m a slow learner. I need to see the strokes in slow-mo if possible, run them through my head & be allowed to copy stroke for stroke before I can do it on my own. Many videos were too fast for me.

But Tashi Mannox’s video did it with his calm voice and deliberately unhurried movements.

So that was how I learnt to write my first word on the first day of 2020.

Balinese Hindus celebrate their New Year called Nyepi by going into self imposed silence and seclusion, so that they can retreat, reflect and be renewed.

As I lack the cultural practice nor the lineage to create such a ritual on my own, the Universe has kindly turned a sore throat into an opportunity to start the year with an ancient and sacred word, “OM”.

So I wish for all my friends and all sentient beings the same benevolence that has been bestowed on me to create a positive outcome from a negative situation.

May you be kind. May you be auspicious. May you be full of grace.

Tashi Delek.

The strokes that made up OM had intrigued me for as long as I remember. They resemble a person dancing. While practising OM, memories of my secondary school bio lessons on bones came back. In those days I had a compulsion to study the bone samples from angles that were not required by the syllabus. I started seeing the bones as pillars, trees and balconies and drew them the way I saw them. My very unscientific renderings drove my Bio teacher insane, but I kept at it even when I knew my diagrams would be rejected and I would fail in that component. Perhaps those bone sketches were my early attempts to write OM which I didn’t know exist.

“I love you too.”

12 December 2019

Each visit to Nepal I look for the dogs in the places I stayed the previous year, in the same way I seek the cats that live around the blocks in my housing estate in Singapore.

And when I see the canine children braving the harsh winter wind and dust, sleeping on cold hard floors of alleys, and surviving on the smallest morsels of food and simplest of medicare offered by a small number of kind human beings, my heart fills up with gratitude and courage.

Yesterday morning before I left Boudha Stupa, I hugged a little dog called “Kanchi” meaning “little one,” in Nepali. I stroked her and told her I love her and hope to see her next year.

A cluster of local women vendors looked on as I hugged and spoke to Kanchi. They didn’t speak much English, but when they heard me saying I love you to the timid little girl dog, a chuba-clad Tibetan lady and some of her friends chorused back, “I love you too!”

That was to me the most beautiful wrap up to our stay at Boudha!

May the Compassion and Wisdom from Boudha reach all sentient beings in Nepal & beyond.

Namaste. Tashi Delek 🌈♥️🐾😊

My First Teacher on Inclusivity

26 Oct 2019 (Eve of Deepavali 2019)

When we relocated from a chinese village to a multi-racial housing board flat in the 70s, our immediate neighbour was an Indian family of four.

As the head of that household was 1 year older than my dad, my grandma told us to address him as Elder Uncle. Elder Uncle was Hindu and his wife Theresa was Catholic. Knowing that her name was too much of a challenge for our grandma’s untrained chinese tongue and for ease of communication, Theresa had kindly allowed her name to be modified into a rather inelegant sounding, “Ah Sa.”

“Ah Sa” had a key to our home and we had a key to hers.

In those days we had no telephone. If her relatives dropped by and there was no one home, we would unlock the door to “Ah Sa’s” flat on her behalf.

And if we misplaced our key to our home we need not panic because “Ah Sa” had a spare.

I loved lingering in her kitchen to watch her cook and be fed as well. I must have eaten hundreds of “Ah Sa’s” chapattis and dosas by the time I reached secondary school.

Her children, Manimaran & Selva were younger, and my mother was in love with their dark glossy hair and long eye lashes. My mother would touch Mani’s fringe affectionately and wondered aloud why her own kids had such flat hair.

Elder Uncle and “Ah Sa” were very strict parents but they had a soft spot for my youngest brother, Andrew, who was a toddler then. Elder Uncle would scoop him up and parade my baby brother around the neighbourhood like a prized pet.

Each Deepavali morning our Indian family would give us a tray of festive snacks in beautiful glass bowls covered with an embroidered organza tea cloth.

It was exquisite.

We would receive the tray with reverence and bring it into the kitchen to transfer its contents to airtight containers.

In return we filled “Ah Sa’s” glass bowls with sugar, candies and fruits to wish her a sweet and fruitful life ahead.

Years later, “Ah Sa” is the reason why I remember the names and aromas of Indian spices. She’s also the reason why I can stare at sarees and dupattas for hours and why I still tune into the Tamil radio station now & then.

I give thanks for the light of inclusivity that entered my world through this family, and hope to keep it shining in their honour.