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.

Gifts from an Unknown Horse

16 Nov 2022 (World Horse Day)

The refugee horse I saw in 2001 on the news would lead me to this book in Annapurna Bookshop in Pokara, Nepal in 2011.

In 2001 while following news on the aftermath of 911, the footage of a horse straining under the load strapped tightly to his/ her back while making the mountainous crossing between Afghanistan & Pakistan would forever be soldered onto my brain. It was one of those “once you see it, you cannot unsee it” moment for me.

Taoist prayer papers featuring horses of the Gods. I love the graceful lines by which horses are depicted, almost childlike in their simplicity while deeply evocative.

That TV encounter would lead me to learn more about the suffering of packed animals & support efforts devoted to improving their conditions. In my attempts to raise funds for them, I read up as much as I could. Soon my affinity with writings & artworks that featured horses, donkeys & mules also grew. A trip to Morocco to visit the Society for the Protection of Working Animals Abroad (SPANA) opened up.

And all the above had been bestowed upon me by a nameless horse shivering in the winter cold of armed human conflicts.

Recently a former student was heading to Nepal. By way of wishing her a trip filled with pleasant encounters & learning ease, I gave her a handmade card featuring a mythical horse.

Handmade card using Lokta paper. These are the remaining 3 in my collection after giving 1 to my former student heading to Nepal.

Mythical horses or Windhorses (Lungta) are carriers of auspiciousness in Tibetan and Mongolian cultures.

Windhorse prayer flags.

One of the things the young lady did when she reached the Boudha Stupa was to take out her windhorse card and take pictures of it with the prayer flags.

My former student, Cheryl Lee, and her windhorse card at Boudha Stupa in November 2022.

I have this belief that even if we cannot change the fate of working animals directly, treating representations of them or thoughts associated with them kindly has power.

May the gesture of a girl circumabulating the Stupa with the windhorse card under her jacket, bring better treatment to all working horses and animals.

Cheryl holding her card to the prayer flags.

May our aspirations for better days for ourselves and others never cease regardless of outcomes. 🙏

Dog sleeping underneath the prayer flags at Boudha Stupa, Nepal. Photo credit: Cheryl Lee.

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.

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

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)

My Dad Speaks to Me All the Time

17 June 2022

I asked a highly articulate 12-year-old in my tuition class where she had learnt to converse like that.

“Oh, this I will have to credit my dad…my dad speaks to me all the time,” the raven haired girl explained with a smile.

Whether she’s listening or not, the father reads aloud news and offers his views to his young daughter.

As a result, I have a student who not only answers questions very fluently, but also asks insightful questions and initiates new ideas in classroom exchanges.

Her wit & confidence may make her appear domineering, but she’s always the first to collate worksheets for others and ease new tuition mates to lesson routine.

Often in sundresses or tank tops and denims, she’s equally at ease in *shalwa kameez if tuition is preceded by a temple trip.

“Look, Ms Ong! This top used to belong to my great grandmother. My mom gave it to me. Can you imagine how tiny girls in those days were?” my little goddess opined, as she pointed to her richly coloured tunic that united 3 generations of women in her family.

The natural trend setter frequently carries her tuition homework in an NTUC jute grocery bag, and sometimes wears a pair of rugged denim shorts to contrast with a cardigan of lavender purple that sparkles with bits of sequins.

The little hair clip she uses to tame her obsidian locks looks way too tiny to do its job, but hey, it works!

Sunday tuition for her is also about sauntering down the row of shop houses with her dad to pick up Peranakan sweets and savoury dumplings before heading home.

Zooming with youth.

There’ll come a time when daughters and sons outgrow their need to be taken around and have their snacks paid for, but they’ll always need to hear from their dads no matter how old they get.

And even when some of our fathers can’t be with us, their words will continue to sustain us through shared moments and their personal belongings.

So here’s wishing a “Blessed & Delightful Fathers’ Day” to all Dads, Appas, Pappas, Pappis, Babbas and Otuo-sans for being present and accessible, especially in our growing years.

🙏May all parents be healthy and happy for your children’s sake, because they will mirror you whether you wish for it or not.

A picture taken outside a Hindu temple to honour the girl student who inspired this post.
  • shalwar kameez – ethnic clothing of knee length tunic and pants.

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.

Safe Space for Youth

16 May 2022

A young girl from a dysfunctional family cut out a picture of a boat she found in a magazine and put it on the wall. During episodes of domestic violence, she would cope by imagining herself taking her younger brother with her and getting on that boat.

When she went down on her knees to scrub the kitchen floor, she imagined herself wiping the deck of her boat & making it shine.

This vision sustained her for many years, and kept her from developing self-destructive behaviour.

She would grow up, make something of herself & eventually owned a real boat!

This story has helped me in my dealings with young children, especially those from desperate circumstances when immediate escape was not possible.

I once gave a friendless young boy in a foster care facility a palm sized cat plush toy. It had travelled a long way from Finland to Singapore and got tossed about before it reached me, I told him. So whenever he felt lonely, he must remember to look at the toy to remind himself that he too would survive the hardship because there were people caring for him even if he couldn’t see them.

Findus to journey with a primary 5 boy in foster care facility.

The next day when we met, the boy told me he had hidden the cat plush toy inside his pillow case so that it would be safe.

He drew a card to help me remember him too. ❤️

The one needing protection had become the protector!

As I was searching for pictures to accompany this post, a former student texted to say she has been accepted into a summer programme at a reputable university. She thanked me for writing her the letter of recommendation.

The girl who once needed a simple letter to help her get started will be studying & writing scores of far more complex materials to bring about a better world for herself and others.

So here’s wishing all adults to use whatever limited means we have to create safe spaces for our youth, and wish them well, so that unlimited and unexpected good may come through.

When I see the potentials in these youths, I’m motivated to do what I can within my limits to facilitate their paths. (Primary 5 2021)

Radiance

5-5-22

Yesterday (May 4) I saw a young man walking most inelegantly in the Botanics Gardens.

In each of his hand was a walking aid which wobbled with each step he took. Two persons were holding to the straps attached to a girdle around his waist to keep him from falling over.

He was probably in post-surgery mode or suffering from something. His walk didn’t look easy or comfortable. But boy, could he smile!

He didn’t care who was looking at his struggle or how ungainly he looked to others. With each clumsy step he took, he was radiating joy.

One of the members in his entourage must have noticed my awestruck state and smiled warmly back at me when our eyes met.

He was a vision. I’ve rarely seen a beautiful smile like his on many intact, clean limbed & youthful bodies.

Is this what it means to rise above all circumstances?