Friday Evening

28 Sep 2019

“Every Friday, go spend some time & sit at a holy place…doesn’t matter what the religion is,” was a Hindu astrologer’s parting shot to me whenever we had tea at Cuff Road.

He had since passed on but each time I pass by holy places I think of him.

Yesterday evening I got the chance to be at a holy place on a Friday while a friend was conducting his prayers at the Sultan Masjid.

My original plan was to visit the shops at Haji Lane & Bussorah Street while my friend prayed.

But in the end I was just so happy sitting on a stone bench at the Malay Heritage Centre as the Friday prayers reverberated all around me.

Sharing Privileges (Heritage)

23 Sept 2019 (Autumn Equinox)

My late maternal grandfather rarely spoke, but he was always writing or reading.

Niq having a blast with the mid-autumn full moon pomelo last week.

He would read the Chinese Language newspaper in Hokkien (Minnan) aloud while I giggled at the strange sounds.

Each year after I had purchased my new school supplies, I would put my new textbooks and exercise books on my grandfather’s desk.

He would spend the entire afternoon wrapping the covers of my textbooks and exercise books meticulously.

The whole book wrapping process was done in meditative silence. It felt like an elaborate ritual involving measuring, cutting, folding & pasting.

And if the wrapped book was a chinese language book, he would dip a brush in black ink and write my name in Chinese characters (王淑贞) on it.

By the way he protected my books and in the manner he wrote my name, my grandfather showed me reverence for knowledge and respect for a child.

And without using any grand gestures, my grandfather, a pig farmer and later on a temple caretaker who fed cats, ignited in me a love for animals, books and penmanship.

Half a century later, I would meet my First Tutee, a Malay child who would express interest in Chinese character writing even as I tutored him in English.

Ollie is officially Niq’s first cat and the late Kitty is his second. He told me when he has his own place, he’ll like to keep Kitty’s ashes with him.

As my grandfather taught me to care for cats, First Tutee also learns to befriend them.

As I was taught to revere knowledge, First Tutee learns to celebrate Wisdom too.

Bridges in the Teahouse

22 Sep 2019

Two Sundays ago (8 Sept) we called on Wang Ling at the Local Teahouse (后浦泡茶间) in Houpu, Kinmen Island (金门)

She was my first point of Kinmen contact when I was reading up for my first trip in June to seek out my grandma’s birthplace.

On this second trip I was keen to show my travel mates, El & Ron, the juxtaposition of Wang Ling’s youthful hospitality with the nostalgic ambience of the quaint teahouse setting.

Over light Taiwanese tea paired with local kinmen snacks, conversations among the four of us from different backgrounds & ages flowed effortlessly.

The Local Teahouse was set up primarily to facilitate communication & cultural exchanges among young local working adults.

Apart from serving snacks & beverages, it also has specially curated merchandise & talks that promote interest and respect for folk cultures, literature, architecture and the arts. As a result, the Local Teahouse also welcomes overseas visitors.

On this trip I was also very eager to pick up my copy of Local-M Village Live Reader, a magazine that promotes village revitalisation through music and many interesting activities.

Along with the magazine, I was very happy to receive a book by scholar ethnographer, 唐蕙韻, of the Kinmen University.

The writer happens to share the same birthplace as my grandma. Even though she was born 58 years after my grandma, her book contains precious photos of old places in Houpu that my grandma might have seen and most certainly walked in.

The passage of time is indeed relentless.

In my search to make sense of life, my trembling hands have found support and my aging feet have found bridges to walk on, thanks to the youthful vigour and compassionate hearts of the people that I’ve had the great fortune to meet.

And I wish for all youthful passions to be augmented with wisdom and compassion, so that a better world could emerge through the building of bridges, not barricades.

Holding On for Peace (为了和平)

21 Sep 2019

Kinmen Island is much more than a former military base or a war zone between the CCP and KMT.

Walking among ancient pine trees and stones felt very peaceful.

This little island that has survived the ravages of bombing also contains shrines & human dwellings bearing features of Minnan architecture dating from 600 years ago.

At the main courtyard of Zhu Shan Da Yuan. This house is at least 200 years old.

Our lodging this time was in the village of Zhushan (珠山), a short drive from the old city of Houpu(后浦) where my grandma was born.

In olden times auspicious dates & timings dictated the laying of stones, erecting of pillars & raising of beams. This could be why I felt very strong sitting in this space.

One morning as I sat gazing into the courtyard of the 200-year-old house while the birds chirped and a black butterfly lingered, I felt a deep sense of peace followed by gratitude to the Kinmen people, especially the elders.

We shared a freshly baked sponge cake with Grandma Ongg who in turned nourished our spirit with her stories of how her home endured 4 bombings and how she & her husband raised and educated 7 kids through farming & hawking. She IS a victor in the wars of life and speaks about gains & losses with equanimity.

The older generations had suffered terribly during the wars, but they held on to their homes so that someone like us get to savour the peace and appreciate a bit of history.

Kinmen breakfast of porridge, buns and sweet potato in the days of plenty.

Almost Full Moon in Kinmen

11-09-2019

The evening before we flew back to Taipei, we sat on a stone ledge near Grandma Ongg’s (翁奶奶) house in Kinmen Island and watched the moon rise. I was back to 5 years old again.

Grandma Ongg’s house is behind the stone ledge we sat on.

Some tourists passed us by. Too bogged down by their shopping bags and a bit anxious to locate their homestay houses they didn’t notice the Moon glowing benevolently above them.

The Moon wasn’t full yet, but her brilliance wasn’t any less because of that.

84-year-old Grandma Ongg had spotted us from the entrance of her 400-year-old house and decided to join us for a bit of moon watching.

We chatted in low tones and looked to the Moon as she weaved in & out of the clouds, her circular outline gaining prominence while we waited for her in the gathering dusk.

How often in our struggles with life we insist that we gotta be this or that in order to feel complete, when perhaps we are essentially complete. We just need time & space to notice it.

Grandma Ongg’s ancient house had been bombed 4 times. Each time it was bombed, they picked up the pieces and repaired the damages.

Like the almost full moon in Kinmen, we can still shine even if we’re chipped around the corners, or frayed around the edges by life’s challenges.

Mid Autumn Full Moon in Taipei.

13 Sep 2019 (八月十五)

It was my first mid-autumn full moon observation away from Singapore, my home.

In the morning we visited Taipei’s 200-year-old temple dedicated to the Mother Goddess and received her blessings on behalf of all sentient beings, especially the animal rescuers and their animals.

After that we headed to an old part of town to meet a seal maker who has been in the engraving practice & trade since he was a teenager.

His explanations on font selection & placement according to the purpose for which a seal is made deepened my respect for the written characters.

And I began to understand why I’ve always been able to sense the subtle energies emitting from the characters I see in my surroundings.

Kinmen Surprise

8 Sep 2019

After a walkabout in Kinmen’s scorching summer sun we were grateful to enter the air-conditioned cocoon of Yuan’s taxi.

Still recovering from the glare, we asked our quiet driver to decide what he thought might be of meaning & interest to us. He knew we were there to listen & learn.

Inside Yuan’s taxi. This taxi has a name and is a conveyor of good experiences.

And he surprised us by taking us to the film set of “Paradise in Service,” (军中乐园). The film was shot in 2015 in Kinmen.

At its premier screening, soldiers who fought in their youth and now grandfathers were invited to watch the film with their loved ones. When the film ended, the whole theatre was filled with tears of old men and their grandkids.

When you realise what you are documenting, the heat seems more tolerable.

We sat in reverential silence as our taxi cruised along the street flanked by flags on either side of the deserted film set, while Wang Jie’s (王杰), “An episode of game and an episode of dream,” (一场游戏,一场梦) played softly in the background.

We take pictures to hold memories and to remind ourselves how far we’ve come.

Indeed whatever happens in our lives, and however intensely we might have felt our emotions, seen in the context of time, history and human affairs, they may well have been just games and dreams to others.

Hair salons really looked like this in my childhood.