Niq’s Concerns

18 April 2019 (Good Friday Eve)

“If I’m there, I will shoot them with my gun,” Niq announced what he’d do to the crowd that mocked Jesus as he carried the cross on his way to the crucifixion.

Niq strokes Ollie. (April, 2019)

We were having one of our Sunday spelling, cat and book sessions.

I explained to him that even though he meant well, Jesus might not agree with his actions.

He became thoughtful. There was a penetrating light in his eyes as he grappled with the idea of remaining peaceful even in the face of injustice.

I also told him I had never met Jesus in person but I’ve seen lots of paintings depicting him. Artists portrayed him based on what they learnt from the bible, the same source where I read about Christmas and now Crucifixion.

At the part where Jesus was crucified, Niq who was till then very focused on the nails, suddenly blurted out anxiously, “Then Mother Mary how?”

The late Kitty resting under the painting of Mother Mary & Baby Jesus.

When I told him that Jesus entrusted his mother to the care of one of his friends, John, before he died, the young boy gave out a soft sigh.

So this is how an 8-year-old boy who could narrate the story of Baby Jesus just last December, now learns that love is not always about feeling nice. And this Easter he sees that to be able to suffer without becoming bitter is a sign of power.

Each time Niq sees a picture of Kitty, he puts his face next to it. Kitty passed on in August 2018.

New Moon Seeing

5 April 2019

Wind Lion Guardians from Kinmen Island where the original story known as “两碗粥” by Sophie Hung was featured in

A woman on a visit to her birthplace after many years took her daughter to the shop where she used to eat porridge in her youth.

Delighted, she found themselves a table while her daughter was still browsing in the shops nearby.

The porridge business owner took her order & said calmly that there would be a 20min wait for her childhood porridge. And no, her request to split a bowl of porridge into 2 portions for sharing would not be possible because it was not their business practice. (The man couldn’t have known that his customer had taken her breakfast earlier on in the hotel.)

Mid way, she was also told that if she was in a hurry, she could go elsewhere for her porridge because there were other shops serving similar fare.

As she waited, the woman came to realise that her porridge memory had no meaning to the porridge seller or even to her own daughter. It was hers and hers alone.

So when the porridge finally arrived, she asked for it to be packed for takeaway.

Our tribal disposition & survival needs tend to cultivate the illusion that the strength & validity of what we feel, think and experience depend on the amount of support we receive when we share them. But the reality is, even with the closest of friends or kins, every thing we experience is still private.

And perhaps if we learn to accept this, we’ll feel less afraid if no one understands what we’re going through, and less lonely if no one celebrates our happy moments with us.

In seeing that all memories, pains and joys are deeply personal, no matter how much or little they can resonate with others, we might then see things as they really are, before we move on to see things as we wish them to be.

This Mandala was dedicated to the safety of Karuna, a dog who took a very long flight from Kathmandu to Frankfurt for the chance of a better life. Lots of things could have gone wrong for her all alone in the animal cargo cabin of the plane. But she made it.

Sweet Moments

31 March 2019

This morning the chinese language radio deejay invited callers to describe a sweet moment in their lives.

Children can & do appreciate intangible gifts such as your time and presence. Niq explains to Sherlene, a designer volunteer at the 9 Lives Exhibition his drawing on the visitors’ mural. He hugged & thanked her when it was time to say goodbye.

Many recounted episodes of warmth and tenderness shown to them by adults of their childhood.

A male caller shared that he would always remember that morning when his dad saw him off at his primary school.

After the caller had walked a little distance, he turned around to wave at his dad one more time. His dad beckoned him over.

When the boy returned to his dad, the man went on his knees to match his little boy’s height and adjusted his son’s shoe lace before sending him once again on his way.

So many years have passed since then, but that moment with his dad at the school gate was sweeter than his first kiss.

People may forget the occasion or the presents they receive. But they will always remember the way we make them feel.

I’m certain if we give ourselves time to feel and to recall, the sweet moments of encounters with grown ups during our childhood will surface.

And when we honour the memories of adults who treated others kindly even when times were hard for them, we too may be inspired to be kind especially when we’re tempted to be unkind.

Niq and Sam the Cat Mascot. Niq’s hugs turned fr playful to tender when he realised the person inside the costume had been at work welcoming guests since morning.

Fostering Strength

26 March 2019

Sharonne and I became friends in our late teens in 1983 when we were studying in NUS. We’ve always lived on opposite ends of the island. Her home is in the east and mine in the west.

Foster’s Steakhouse was established in 1960, before the both of us were born. The cosy ambience of its interior enhances our appreciation for the vibrant greens and lively goldfishes outside.

After we graduated, we went on our different paths. Of course there were the occasional meetings during celebrations, yogas and sometimes, bereavements.

Recently we met for tea at a cafe in Holland Village. Foster’s Steakhouse was established in 1960, before we were born.

The auctioned rabbit that travelled all the way from Europe to Singapore. Who knows? It could have once be part of a cherished collection in another person’s home.

Our mutual friend MG had bought Sharonne and I each a porcelain rabbit at an auction in Holland. The 3 of us were born in the Year of the Rabbit.

MG had handed her gift to Sharonne to be handed to me as her short visit in Singapore during the Chinese New Year season didn’t give us the chance to meet up.

I arrived earlier at Foster’s before Sharonne. I wanted to sit by the door where I could see her coming from the streets.

The elderly waiter in red polo t-shirt and black pants suggested gently that I sat further in where I would not be disturbed later on. He then ushered me to the seats by the big window where I could “talk to the fishes,” and admire vines hanging outside if I wanted.

So there we were, Sharonne and I, two elderly Rabbits amidst the very English setting of Foster’s, munching on freshly baked scones and gushing over the REAL paper doily that lined the plate, while the delicate antique rabbit that had travelled all the way from Holland to Singapore looked on quietly.

Tea snacks arranged on real paper doily, a touch of class from the bygone era of our childhood.

A young waiter took a picture of us upon our request and observed that my porcelain rabbit fitted right in with the figurines on their mantelpiece.

When the tea ended, we thanked the wait staff for keeping Foster’s in such a charming condition.

Then we walked down the street lined with old trees where Sharonne took pictures of wild orchids hanging from the branches to show her husband.

Wild orchids

Not long after our meet up, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a picture via whatsapp of Sharonne and her family fostering family ties on the outdoor deck of Foster’s.

Sharonne’s family fostering ties at Foster’s.

In our country that is constantly exhorting its citizens to reinvent themselves in order not to lose out, and where food business is notoriously difficult to maintain, Foster’s simple scones that have withstood the onslaught of colourful cupcakes, snazzy dough nuts and various food trends remind me that every thing has its rightful place in the sun, especially if it has the audacity & patience to buck the trend.

Margo’s Mandala for Full Moon Tonight

21 March 2019

I met Margo, then a stray dog, seeking shelter in a bus stop in Taman Jurong on a stormy evening like this. The year was 2004.

One night I saw her lounging quietly in the moonlight while the tree branches above her swayed.

“Margo in the Moonlight” came to mind as her body seemed to gleam amidst the vast darkness of Jurong Park. This is how the dog found her name.

Later on, Margo was to face danger from some park goers who found her “dangerous”. Once she was even caught, thrown into a gunny sack and taken to be drowned in Jurong Lake.

Old men frequenting the park to chat or play chess came to know of the scheme and intervened.

The one who loved Margo most when she was living in the park approached me to find a proper home for his “Ah Girl.” He was ready to lose Margo’s companionship in exchange for her safety.

Shortly after Margo was adopted, her parents invited the old man to come & visit Margo so as to assure him that his “Ah Girl” is in good hands. (6 Nov 2004)

That was how Margo came to be my friend, Lily and her husband’s beloved doghter for the next 15 glorious years.

I remember the day Lily gently leashing Margo in order to walk her to the waiting car. One of the old men spoke with a ritualistic air in the cantonese dialect to the collared dog, “Henceforth you are wearing a gold chain and have no need to roam or be hungry again.”

And true to the blessing bestowed, Margo lived the life of a princess after she left Jurong Park.

Earlier this evening, this brave girl who had overcome the perils of homelessness to live a life of loving & giving, transited into Light.

As the rain lashed at my window and the full moon rose, I dedicated a mandala on Margo’s behalf.

Margo’s Mandala for Full Moon.

15 years ago Margo appeared to me in a rain storm and gained her name in the moonlight.

15 years later, wind and rain escorted her as she left us during the full moon. Margo’s life has indeed “come full circle,” as her mom observed.

May all sentient beings have the good fortune of Margo to live a full life.

May all elements assist to facilitate an auspicious transit into Light when the time comes.

New Moon Mandala of Old Coins on Oxidized Copper.

7 March 2019

New Moon Mandala of Old Coins and Oxidized Copper.

May the new moon guide us to old wisdom, for our own growth and for the benefit of all sentient beings.

May these old coins minted in 1968 and held by ancestors who had overcome all kinds of hardship encourage us to draw on their wisdom and courage, even as we meet new challenges of our own ahead.

Wind Lion Deity of Kinmen Island to Mediate the Winds of Change.

May news of conflicts in politics and governance inspire us to look toward the faithful moon for clarity and calm, so that we may soar above all fears as we rise to meet her.

May the new moon guide us towards old ancestral wisdom & courage for changes ahead.

$29.90 To Return To My Childhood

3 March 2019

Many evenings in my childhood home near Zion Road during the 1960s, 2-3 families would gather outside our house. The adults would have done all their household chores for the day. The kids would have been washed, powdered and dressed in clean cotton pyjamas.

My grandmother would take out her radio in its black protective coat and placed it on a bench made from a fallen tree trunk. She would turn it on, tune it to the right frequency and all of us would huddle around to listen to the story being broadcasted for that evening.

During the broadcast, there was very little talking because everyone was listening. Any occasional comment would be quickly hushed up lest it interrupted the story.Fidgety kids or crying babies were quickly banished. For us kids, to be allowed to sit among the semi circle of adult listeners meant we were almost grown up and that we had self control.

When the story ended, there would be a post mortem of sorts as the adults shared their thoughts & predicted upcoming turns of events. Us children just listened & observed.

The transistor radio created a sense of community among grown ups and initiated children into their world via sounds.

Even after we relocated to public housing flats in Alexandra Road, and abandoned our village and our night radio gathering, the radio continued to play an important role in my life.

My dad would flood the mornings with classical or folk songs from the radio in our flat like he did back in the old days. I never paid much attention to the lyrics but the sounds assured me that all was well.

The Indian neighbour opposite our unit had their radio belting out Tamil songs all day long. Having been relocated from a predominantly Chinese village, it was our first time living so close to an Indian family. I didn’t understand Tamil but the songs told me Asha’s home and I would be invited for tosai soon.

And during the 70s and 80s, hearing Tamil songs at the void decks for us Chinese kids could only mean ONE thing … And that is, there’s a “mama” ( transl: Uncle in Tamil) shop nearby with promises of ice cream, biscuits, plastic toys and bubble gum!

In the early mornings of my secondary school days, Malay songs coming from the canteen meant that the mee siam stall’s open! Yay!

So last week I bought myself a transistor radio from the NTUC supermarket for $29.90.

The radio’s simple appearance with its basic on/off , volume and tuning functions brought me back to my primary school days straightaway.

The crackling noises it makes during change of location or frequency made me smile as I recalled how they used to annoy me.

Tuning onto the Tamil channel brings me back to Asha’s kitchen. The Malay DJ’s bantering transported me to my meesiam and nasi lemak mornings. And the late night Chinese oldies call me back to my dad sitting and reading in our wooden house by the dirty canal.

With this battery operated radio, there’s no wifi to look for, no password to recall and no say in what tracks I get to hear.

Yet with this humble device, I can go back to different places in my life anytime.