Portals to Calm

29 Apr 2021

May this film on the significance of rituals which I’m happy to be part of energise you and enhance your equanimity.

In my experience, rituals are series of deliberate steps undertaken to invoke an internal order through external actions.

They can be personal & non-sectarian such as making tea or lighting a candle in the privacy of our home. They can also be public & religious, involving the community in specific locations.

When performed with focus & intention, a simple act can become a ritual.

In the absence of full participation with our senses, a ritual becomes a routine.

Conversation with El on rituals at a temple celebration.

So central to all rituals I believe is the mindful enacting of gestures to invoke a sense of order & strength within to manage the turbulence without.

When a child has a chaotic day at school and coming home to the sight of a loving adult making tea and arranging biscuits on a plate for him for the thousandth time since he started kindergarten may have a calming effect on him. And maybe then he will have the courage to share his thoughts.

Unfortunately more and more of us are just too knackered to initiate any kind of ritual with our children. Some of us abdicate our role as ritual masters in our kids’ life to therapists, counsellors or even strangers.

The adult working world can be unforgiving& unpredictable. So having some place to be still or set the table even if it’s just to eat a simple meal of porridge, may provide a moment of peace to our battered being.

In short, rituals sustain us and lend us the motivation to give whatever we’re trying to accomplish another shot.

The pandemic has generated wave upon wave of unease & difficulties. Distrust among nations and between citizens and their governments prevail even with the availability of vaccines.

While pharmaceutical developments race to keep up with the virus, and authorities we count on are understandably none the wiser, we need to look within for that sense of balance.

And the cure that keeps us from the panic that causes harm to self and others, might just be invoked through the discovery of new healing gestures or the enacting of old restorative.

A handcrafted incense holder in the shape of a dragon used by a priest. Dragons are associated with water and change.

Cars & Ganesha


My second younger brother, Andrew, and I at Boudha Stupa in 2011.

Of all birthday observations, a sibling’s birthday is unique. Our brother or sister has been with us long before any BFFs, BFs, GFs, partners or spouses appear.

When I was younger, I saw my siblings through my parents’ eyes. Their disappointments or happiness in my brothers became mine.

Aging helps me to individuate, separate and differentiate, so that these days if I have any opinions or views on anyone, they are strictly mine. And as they’re ONLY my views from a limited mind, there’s no need to hold on to them so tightly.

Because my brother was not academically inclined, his childhood fascination with cars and all things mechanical & electronic were seen as purposeless and a waste of time.

With our dad before heading to Italy for his training under Ferrari.

Fortunately, cars have always been his first true love, so his dream of caring for cars in a workshop which he can be proud of didn’t die.

Giving thanks at the temple during lunar new year.

About 10 years ago, I bought a Ganesha figurine made of resin from the Tribuhavan Airport in Nepal.

It was love at first sight for my car mechanic brother when I placed the pot bellied elephant deity in his palm.

My brother with Ganesha in bronze at Hotel Harati in Kathmandu.

6 months after that, my brother would accompany me to carry medicines to street animals in Nepal. He also brought along his resin Ganesha on our trip to give thanks.

We stayed at Hotel Harati in Kathmandu where he met Ganesha in bronze, and Park Village in Budanilkhanta where we stopped to say hello to Ganesha in clay each morning.

My brother as a 5 year old in one of the few family outings my dad had the mood & means to take us.

Today this little brother who needed me to take him to Jurong Bird Park for a primary school art contest is now in his late 40s.

Fixing cars has opened up numerous new paths not only for my brother, but for others as well.

And on his birthday today, I wish him good health and peace to keep cars safe on the road.

May his reverence for Ganesha also make him wise and keep him grounded, even as he deals with speed & energy everyday. 🙏🌈🐾

My brother selecting incense holders in a little shop in Thamel, Kathmandu. He is wearing a G2000 jacket I got him when he headed to Italy years ago for his car apprenticeship. Although this is an old photo, the vibes it gives out are always fresh.

Holding Space

22 March 2021

These boys have become men, holding jobs and being responsible sons and partners.

In my teaching days working with male students, I regularly got complaints from mothers that their sons often kept them in the dark about issues that they were facing.

Whether it was about learning challenges or relationships, these boys seem unable to share their burdens with those who loved them most.

Some parents wondered if there were special communication or questioning techniques they could use to help their sons share with ease.

But the reality for me was, boys probably told me stuff more easily because I did not have emotional attachment to them. This emotional distance allowed me to let them talk without offering solutions, or feeling the urge to “set things right,” for them.

To grow into women of means & balance, lovely girls like these need to be given safe spaces to sort out whatever growing pains they encounter.

See, if you are a boy or a girl, and, having a tough time in school, the last thing you need after telling someone at home about your trouble is having to manage their upset reactions. And even worse than a parent going to school to “solve your problem,” is being told that you should have done this or that, or that the problem you speak about is all in your head.

I’ve learnt not to offer unsolicited advice when a young person speaks to me.

Red winged starling perching on my hand. (18 March 2021)

Often times, like birds needing a temporary perch to stand and rest their tired wings, people just need a safe space to bring up what’s hurting them. That space enable them to call up all the hidden demons and laid them out in the light to rest. And we know Light brings clarity and healing.

So as our offspring, nieces and nephews enter Term 2 of the school year, and the older ones take on internships and industrial attachments or even a first job, may we have the wisdom and discipline to hold safe spaces at home for them to articulate the difficulties they meet outside, so that all the aspirations of benefits for themselves and others may take flight.

Red-winged Starling taking flight to reveal the fire under the wings.

Doorways to Wholeness

24 Feb 2021 (Day 13 of CNY)

“May your paths be smooth,” says the chinese blessing. These red temple door panels are more than 100 years old. My brother and I used to take turns to lock up the doors when the temple visiting hours ended.

I love taking pictures with doors and gates. They are symbols of invitation and transition.

Many years ago in a cab turning into Clementi Ave 6 on my way to work, I spotted a homeless dog lingering at the back gate of Park West Condominium.

I saw much longing in the way the animal tilted his/her head at the slip gate, as if hoping for someone to open it to let him/her in. I might be projecting my own need to belong on the dog. But till this day I continue to send prayers of comfort to the dog whenever my cab exits at Ave 6.

For as long as I remember, I rarely enter or exit a doorway mindlessly. In my childhood, like many kids, I could sense energy at doorways. I was a fairly sociable kid, but there were instances I felt great unease & reluctance to enter the homes of perfectly fine people.

“May you meet Happiness when you exit this door,” the chinese blessing says.

The only doorways I could enter with ease then were the ones leading into temples. I took and still take great delight in lifting one leg after another to cross over the raised temple threshold (门槛)that separates the secular world from the spiritual world.

Perhaps in sacred spaces of worship at some temples, churches and mosques, I feel complete as I am.

A photograph that captures a moment between 20 Chinese New Years for my young cousin and I. She has taken on the duty of photographing CNY moments ever since she acquired her own camera.

To be able to stand at the temple doors of my childhood year after year for 50 plus years, and feel its centering energy calling back all the fragments of my life is a blessing I’ve never taken for granted.

So may I take this chance to wish all friends and sentient beings, their very own special doors to wholeness & healing. 🙏

This picture of my cousin and I is very special to me because the photographer is my brother’s son. When my nephew was born, my sister-in-law invited me to name their child. That was 23 years ago. And this is the very door where my brother (the photographer’s dad) and I played at in our childhood. 😊

Enduring Presence

22 02 2021

Each year on the 9th Day of the Chinese New Year, old folks turn up at the temple to observe the birthday of the Heavenly Deity.

They come from the neighbouring housing estates. Like members of a spent army which has braved too many wars, these silver haired devotees trudge on unsteadily and sometimes painfully, to celebrate and to give thanks.

Their uncompromising grit inspires younger devotees to rush to their aid. Someone offers to steady a tottering grandpa, and another helps a granny too shrunken to reach the urn to place her incense sticks.

This pair of Father and Son has been celebrating the Heavenly Deity’s birthday yearly. This year, the son has become a first time dad, making his own father a grandpa!

We are familiar with the adage that children are our future. However, it has to be the enduring presence of older folks who have lived through life’s every imaginable challenge and still remain thankful, that gives the younger generation guts to flourish in the future.

Muruku Magic

19 November 2020

Muruku made by Suruthi.

Between the ages of 7 and 15, I always ate homemade murukus, especially during Deepavali season.

The fragrance of cumin and carom seeds in these deep fried dhal delights are unique to my chinese nose. In fact muruku and pappadum preceded pringles potato chips in my introduction to snacks beyond my culture.

3 distinct cultures bonded by English Language, Curry and Rice.

Last week 40 plus years later, I had the chance to taste homemade muruku again. My host even insisted that we took bags of my childhood snacks home! Of course I was more than happy to oblige.

Here’s giving thanks for the aromas of homemade snacks and massala tea as they perfume all gatherings of diversity. 🙏🌈🐾

The future is diverse, not homogenous.

Truthful Thursday

29 Oct 2020

Years back through an English assignment, a young boy revealed that he came from a single parent household. His father had been incarcerated for various offences.

“Are you sure you want to read your story to the class?“ I asked him to consider some of the more specific details he had written.

The boy who identified strongly with American gymnast, Simone Biles’ childhood said he wanted to go ahead. The class was very quiet after listening to him.

When everyone had left the room, the 13 year old boy smiled gently. His eyes glowed softly as he said quietly, “Now I don’t have to lie about my mother’s divorce and make up stories about my father anymore. And people can stop asking about my father during PTM (parent-teacher meeting).”

He also revealed that his father used to burn him with lighted cigarettes. The mother’s shame did not allow her abused child to speak ill of his abuser.It was their neighbour who called the police.

The boy and I agreed that because he could share the truth of his background, he wouldn’t have to be constantly on the lookout for people finding out.

After that episode, he put in extra effort in his writing, and often came up with new words to express his thoughts. Free from the fetters of shame and secrets, the boy’s mind flourished with new energy and he found his voice.

It was as if fragments of his fractured psyche were coming together. One of the words he “die die also must write” in all his essays and reflections regardless of its appropriateness and context is “beatific.”

And beatific means “rapturous joy” and “divine bliss”, his rewards for having the courage to make peace with the good and bad bits of his life.

To this day I remember the shine in the eyes of Beatific Boy as he was relieved of the baggage of lies.

May we adults try to live responsibly & truthfully to the best of our ability, so as not to burden children with our broken dreams, unfinished business and unceasing neuroses.

Flowers from Children Happy Teachers’ Day!

4 Sept 2020

Flowers not only beautify our life, but remind us to always bloom our best.

The first bouquet in my adult life was from a bunch of kids who accepted me as their teacher when I was just 23. What did I know about learning then?

Today, a bouquet of sunflowers from one of the students in the group that gave me my first bouquet arrived. ♥️🙏

A while later, a sunflower in the form of a dessert also came.

And my 76 year old mom got to enjoy the sunflower konyaku jelly with me.

I’ve like sunflowers since I was a young woman. And I’m very honoured that in my greying years, the kids have sent them to remind me to keep shining.

So here’s wishing all my friends, all the light and sweetness of life as embodied in these gifts from lovely adults who were once kids. ♥️🙏

Moving From Reluctance to Resourceful

1 Sept 2020

First Tutee visualises his Reading Mentor role with his future reading mentee, whom he has named Irfan.

“Ms Ong, my teacher asked me to be Reading Mentor to next year’s Primary Ones,” First Tutee announced, his talcum powdered face beaming on my computer screen.

“Wow! That’s a big responsibility for 2021!” I exclaimed, and asked him to give his future reading mentee a name. After some thought, he came up with the name “Irfan.”

“How would Irfan know that you’re fit to be his Reading Mentor? Do you even own books?” I asked.

First Tutee quickly got up from his chair and dug out all his books from the bookshelf behind him.

First Tutee at 9 years old now. “Navaan” is one of his favourite books.

He brought “Navaan,” to the screen and waved it triumphantly at me.

First Tutee and “Navaan,” on his first day of school in primary one. (2018)

“Navaan,” was the first book he brought on his first day to school when he started primary one in 2018.

“So you own books. But can you read?” I challenged him.

Without hesitation, he turned to the first page of “Navaan” and read aloud confidently from cover to cover. He did not skip words. He read the baby elephant, Navaan’s speeches with great animation. He was unstoppable.

“But what will you do if Irfan still refuses to read and kicks up a fuss?” I continued.

“I’ll say to him, ‘Calm down now, Irfan. We’re going to read this!’” First Tutee responded firmly, mimicking the way he was spoken to when he was once a reluctant reader.

I feel that Ganesha, the Giver of Wisdom has been accompanying First Tutee all along.

For some kids, reading happens easily, but for many, progress may be slow.

The boy who used to struggle with differentiating “him” from “his” when he was 7, has moved passed his reading challenges to take on multisyllabic words at 9. Come 2021, he’ll be guiding someone to read just as he was guided before.

First Tutee reads “Namaste” and wears a tshirt with Nepali alphabet. So glad I got these last year in Kathmandu before world wide travelling restrictions came in. Hope I get to see Nepal soon. ♥️

As we enter the month of September and into the last quarter of 2020, may I wish all adults the blessing to use their authority with kindness, and hold space for children to evolve from reluctant readers to resourceful readers.

And may I wish all struggling young readers the courage to continue trying, no matter what the result slip says. ♥️

Turning 9

15 July 2020

A couple of days back First Tutee turned 9 years old. I’ve known him since he was 6 and a half.

From being scared of cats, First Tutee now calls Ollie the Cat his best friend. He cried over Kitty’s passing last year & told me he would like to keep her ashes in his home when he buys his own place one day.

From struggling over differentiating “b” from “d”, he now learns his weekly spelling and dictation with ease. He composes his own stories by watching clouds and turns William Blake’s “A Poison Tree,” which he has memorised into a rap.

He listens to “War Horse” being read and learns to identify BBC accent from his favourite youtuber’s American accent. He likes Albert Narracourt a lot for his bravery and loyalty to Joey, his horse, and sketches out scenes from the book after his weekly reading aloud on ZOOM tuition.

On their morning rides to school, he’ll remind his uncle to slow down for pigeons, mynahs and sparrows feeding on the pavement.

I’ve always held the number 9 in high regard. In old Chinese culture, 9 is the number associated with the Emperor and longevity of all things positive. 9 in my minnan dialect shares the same pronunciation for “dog” which stands for faithfulness & abundance.

So on the morning of his birthday, I donated $99 to Metta Cats and Dogs Sanctuary in First Tutee’s name. I wished for him a healthy and happy long life, full of kingly attributes while staying humble and sharing his abundance with all sentient beings.

A while later, the shelter updated their list of sponsors on facebook and believe it or not, First Tutee was sponsor number 9!

In the evening I realised First Tutee’s full name contains 9 letters, and in his religion, God has 99 names. 🙏♥️