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. 🙏😊

World Cup

20 Nov 2022 (World Cup in Qatar)

Twenty years ago during World Cup 2002, I had a picture taken with the match schedule at HardRock Cafe Beijing not because I understood soccer, but because Tiger Beer, a Singapore brand was featured.

I felt honoured that our beer from our tiny island was the chosen beverage for watching & celebrating an international sporting event in a gigantic country.

I’ve never known a sport that can unite and divide with such vehemence like soccer. I’m always cautious when asked which team is my favourite. My inquirer’s face morphing from friendly interest to utter disdain in a matter of seconds tells me not to drop team names casually.

2014 World Cup fever reaches the landlocked Nepal. We were on our way to Nagarkot and saw this street lined with flags of partipating countries.

One year on a crowded street in Piccadily Circus in London, a total stranger high fived & hugged my travel mate as if they were long lost relatives because the latter was spotting a certain soccer jersey.

This tribal loyalty is too much for me so I stay clear of soccer politics. But soccer uniform designs, soccer boots & related training gears continue to fascinate me deeply because they celebrate the power & grace of the human form.

I love watching the moves but I don’t like the anger and violence of the crowd when players don’t perform as expected.

So as World Cup 2022 starts in Qatar today, may our human nature evolve to meet the standards of this beautiful game called soccer, and may all sentient beings be blessed.

Years later I would learn to my great sorrow, that some hosting countries cull street animals as part of their attempts to clean & beautify locations chosen for such high stakes sporting events.

So as the World Cup opening ceremony begins in Qatar today, may our human nature also evolve to match the qualities promoted by this beautiful game called soccer. May all sentient beings be blessed.

The Trash that Made Me

1-11-22

At different times of my growing up years my dad was welder, printing worker, fishmonger, market stall assistant and even seller of coconut juice.

My dad as a welder.

At the printing factory, he rescued rejected calendars, faulty books & wrongly paginated planners from the trash & brought them home for us.

Things that didn’t clear QC scrutiny were perfect for me. I was just a kid then so wrong dates or wrong colour tones didn’t bother me.

The condemned calendars featuring geishas in opulent kimonos while holding painted paper umbrellas under blooming sakuras opened my eyes to Japanese fabric & flower aesthetics.

Standing next to our English Teacher with classmates under the Acacia Tree. (1971)

The abandoned books meant for the incinerator would fuel my life long delight in looking at fonts, feeling the textures of paper and hearing the rustle of flipping pages.

Years later when I travel, I save hotel paper stationery & maps even in languages I cannot read, perhaps as gratitude to my dad for showing me respect for words, pictures & paper.

A beautiful map in French. Travelling down the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean to reach the Society for the Protection of Working Animals in Rabat, Morocco.

With the faulty planner, I had hours of fun pretending I was an adult. One day I was a visiting village nurse noting down a baby’s weight, and asking the imaginary mother if he had a cough. Another day I was a doctor prescribing medicines.

Hotel paper stationery and maps of places I visited! ❤️

All that make believe exchanges were documented in the doodles of a girl who would one day work with young people and be involved in bringing medicines to animals in need.

Yesterday was Halloween. Contrary to popular beliefs, Halloween is not so much about dressing up & partying, but more about recognising there are other worlds beyond our material one.

Today being All Souls’ Day, and also Medicine Buddha Day, may I wish everyone a peaceful time honouring the people in our lives who have given what they could salvage to develop us.

And if we have past grudges or present traumas because we were given harmful things, may the medicine of compassion & wisdom heal us.

Love Sustains All

28 Oct 2022

My reflection is captured by the broken heart cradled in the arms of Mother Teresa by Eleanora Artglass. (Marina Bay Sands, Exhibition Hall C, 27 Oct 2022)

Eversince they did a comprehension cloze on the significance of Kit Kat chocolate wafer in Japan, my 11-year-old tutees have been periodically asking for Kit Kats.

Kit Kat from Japan bought at Don Don Donki Supermarket in Jcube, Singapore.

One week after another passed by while their requests marinated in my mind. Going to the supermarket or mall these days feels like a huge undertaking.

But yesterday after an artglass exhibition at Marina Bay Sands, I decided to drop by Don Don Donki supermarket at my default shopping mall, JEM, to fulfill the children’s wish.

Mother Teresa humbly works the ground even in artistic form.

As I got onto the cab, the thought of navigating the cavernous JEM to reach my prize suddenly felt very exhausting. And then it struck me that JCube, a much smaller mall in the same area, also has a Don Don Donki!

The driver fulfilled my wish for a destination change & spared me from incurring extra charges by not requiring me to reroute my booking.

While on my Kit Kat quest, I stopped by briefly at a spectacle shop. After answering my queries, the sales staff who served me asked where I got my cane accessories from. Her dad uses a cane too. Her parents live in the eastern part of Singapore, while she now lives in the west, having gotten married recently.

I could tell from the few words she used to describe her dad that she worried about him. When I listed the places where she could help her dad explore mobility aid options, she noted the details like a student. Not having to wear a mask also meant I could articulate the sources of relief clearly.

Recalling my reflection in the broken heart held in Mother Teresa’s hands, it feels like my compulsion to get Kit Kat for the kids, the driver’s grace to me and my mitigating a daughter’s concerns have been written all along & sustained by LOVE. 🙏❤️

My late cat, Kitty Hawk, in deep thoughts.
Kitty Hawk resting on “Come be My Light,” a biography of Mother Teresa. (Christmas 2015)

Delightful Deepavali

24 Oct 2022

Over pineapple tarts from a Hindu parent, rempeyek fried by a Muslim friend, and store bought Massala Tea, two Chinese women who have known each other for more than 40 years caught up during this Deepavali public holiday.

Catching up over store bought massala tea, pineapple tarts & rempeyek on Deepavali / Diwali 2022.
From teenagers to senior citizens

They had met in their teens. One was from St Margaret’s Secondary School and the other from Crescent Girls’ School. And even when one left to study & work overseas for a number of years, there is no sense of separation or gaps in their communication. They speak in a mixture of English, Singlish & their home dialect like many Singaporean siblings do.

Today in Nepal, dogs are honoured in a festival called Kukur Tihar. Marigold flowers, incense, tikka & food are offered to street dogs & house dogs in many neighbourhoods to thank the canines. My dog, Shoya, earned his angel wings in 2014. But his qualities of loyalty and non-judgement for human frailties continue in his two cat buddies, Oliver & Emmanuel.

Flowers, incense & tikka blessings for shelter & community dogs prepared by Street Dog Care e.v. in Nepal on Kukur Tihar.

Emmanuel accepts his rudrasha necklace to mark this occasion, and Oliver struts about proudly in his choker from Shivapuri Hills.

Emmanuel & Oliver spotting rudraksha seeds to mark Kukur Tihar.

May I take this chance to wish all sentient beings a delightful Deepavali regardless of the forms we take and the differences in our cultural & spiritual heritage. May all enlightened gestures made today multiply manifold, so that Light may come through us in a continuous flow. 🙏🪔

“I thought she said Kukur Tuna.” – Oliver

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. 🙏

Connecting with Earth & Sky


22 Sep 2022

https://www.nationalgallery.sg/sites/default/files/NG-Ever-Present-04.jpg

According to aboriginal artist, Michael Riley, the feather suggests a spiritual connection between the earth & the sky.

This weekend if you’re looking for a chance to ground so that you can reach the sky, please consider dropping by the National Gallery for “Ever Present: First Peoples Art of Australia,” exhibition, ending in 3 days’ time.

I rarely rave about art because firstly I’m not trained, and secondly I lack the words to do justice to works that speak to our subconscious.

But the experience at this exhibition that I visited a few weeks’ back keeps coming back to me. It was my first time consciously seeing pigments made from earth and minerals painted on barks of eucalyptus. I inhaled the paintings as it were, even as I stood & stared at the mesmerising dots, crosses, and tiny strokes that appeared so childlike and so sublime at the same time.

The embroidery by the Lanna tribe of Chiangmai resembles the Aboriginal artwork behind me in colour choices & order.

I was entranced by the Rainbow Serpent which I only read about in books rendered in floor to ceiling dimension at the exhibition. It was swimming energetically before our eyes even as it appeared to be still.

Seeing the Rainbow Serpent that I read about in books in this dimension with El is another special memory that will abide with me for a long time.

I regretted not taking a picture of the aboriginal dancer drawn in white pigment against black background. His calves were strong & elegant. And I could see the energy emanating from his stomping legs & turning torso while he held a spear and and a shield.

In these turbulent times I hope this exhibition will go to many places and bless lots of people with its ancestral wisdom and life affirming power.

Seeing pigments made from earth & minerals painted on eucalyptus barks for the first time in my life turns this gallery space into a shrine.

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.

Bearing with Impermanence

6 Sep 2022

Today I finally had a meal with my yoga teacher at Mangiamo, my favourite Italian cafe on Albert Street.

Erika, my yoga teacher, is nearing 70.

10 years ago when shoulder stands or stretches got tough, visualising the amazing thin crust pizza I would be having after class kept me going.

The healing hospitality of Eileen Sng matches the passion with which her husband puts into making food.

Life is a series of adjustments and realignments. Hair turning silver, joints & organs becoming uncooperative, and relationships changing for various reasons are part of being alive.

My first shoulder stand in 2013.

But memories of shared moments of kindness and love remain. In fact they gain significance through the passage of time.

Knowing that the person who helped me with my shoulder stand 10 years ago is still available for a meal becomes extra precious.

Knowing that the chef and his wife who bore punishing kitchen heat to feed us what we need, are still in charge is reassuring.

In the end, it is love that makes everything worthwhile, and impermanence bearable.

After a series of twists and turns, stagnant energy leaves my body.
My first shoulder stand. (2013)

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.