Starting the Day Right...

Sunday, July 26, 2015

There was never a cat like him

Dinky on thealert
My family recently said good bye to one of our most adorable cats - Dinky, or Dinky Darling as we affectionately named him.  Dinky came to us as a kitten.  One of four kittens, his sister disappeared and one brother got knocked down before we decided to take Dinky and his remaining brother Winky into our home.

Dinky's siblings- Inky, Winky and his lookalike Binky
Dinky and remaining sibling Winky
Dinky amply repaid our kindness with lots of kitty love and affection.  He was always ready to be cuddled and stroked, and had this most appealing way of looking at us in adoration with his big luminous green eyes.  Of course this earned him more strokes, cuddles and kisses.  Dinky was always on the look out for what was happening and even when we called one of the other cats Dinky would also come running.

Dinky with his mousie
Other adorable little habits: jumping onto the bed (or sofa) and clambering all over me to be stroked and hugged (he always was, at least for a moment) before snuggling down next to me.  Sweet little mew when looking for food.  Jumping up when watching TV, coming when he is called ready for a hug.  Allowing you to rub his tummy, to do his exercises, could do anything with him.  Timid and a little afraid of others but with his family, and those he got to know better, he was the most affectionate of cats.  
Utter Abandon - after disposing of the cardboard sheet

Dinky was also very good with other cats - at least with little kittens/ young cats who joined our family.  And there were many!  Dinky dealt with them all with patience, affection and lots of licks.

Dinky and little niece Ariel

Dinky would depart just when he was around 9.5 years or so.  We didn't suspect anything but realised he was getting a little lethargic- we thought it would pass.  Then we found some bumps and lumps growing, one on his head and the other on his back.  His lethargy increased and he ate less and less.  Finally we brought to the vet, took an x-ray and heard suspicions that it was cancer.  The situation worsened, and his breathing got more laboured. Eventually, we took him to the vet for that final goodbye.  

I took some time to write this post -- he left us on 4 June but the feelings of loss are still there and I still miss him very much.  Goodbye dearest Dinky Darling.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Farewell, Mr Lee

Queue at the Padang, Thursday
Singapore's Founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, passed away at 3.18am, on the 23rd of March 2015, at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) where he had been warded for severe pneumonia.  This triggered the start of a week of national mourning.  People from all walks of life mourned his loss.  They left tributes at SGH, where he passed away, at the Istana, where the private family wake was held, and at Parliament where he lay in state until his funeral service on 29th March.  Thousands waited for hours, queuing to pay their last respects (myself amongst them).  Each journey his coffin subsequently took was made through streets line with people.  Everyone wanted to say good bye to one of the founding fathers of modern Singapore.  

Mr Lee said once that Singaporeans are champion grumblers.  Somehow, this week, we decided to prove him wrong for once.  Despite hours queueing in the hot sun, despite more hours in the rain waiting for the funeral cortege to pass, Singaporeans took it all with good humour.  Strangers handed out drinks, food and umbrellas to those waiting in line.  We remembered the uncommon privilege we had in growing up in a society where success in life did not depend on the family you were born to or the colour of your skin.  It was a time which bound us together as Singaporeans.  Amidst all the sorrowful thoughts, there was a confidence that we could go on as one nation, one people, one Singapore.

Aside from queuing (mercifully, for only three hours), I visited the tribute site at SGH and also waited by the roadside for the funeral cortege to pass.  But much time was spent reading through the many newspaper articles, including in overseas newspapers, talking about his legacy.  Some critics complained that the hype in the media was just another attempt at propaganda by the ruling party. But the mass turnout, far greater than anticipated, and the soaring of the Singapore spirit indeed showed SIngaporeans' true respect and gratitude for Mr Lee.

At the SGH Tribute Site

Goodbye, Mr Lee.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

"To be as good a monk as I can"

After reading "The Seven-storey Mountain", I was inspired to start on "The Sign of Jonas", Merton's journal of his life after entering the monastery, through the period of his novitiate to his ordination as a priest, and in the early years of his priesthood.  It shows how Merton came to understand the nature of his vocation better, and how his writing formed part of his vocation too.  As he says, "To be as good a monk as I can, and to remain myself, and to write about it: to put myself down on paper, in such a situation, with the most complete simplicity and integrity, masking nothing, confusing no issues..." (p234).

In terms of style, it is quite a different book - the first was done as a narrative, whilst this is more a journal and series of reflections about his life. I must admit that the narrative style of "Mountain" appealed to me far more, and frankly the drama of Merton's search for Christ and his yearning to enter the monastery is more exciting than figuring out that he was really meant to be a Cistercian rather than a Carthusian.  (I guess it was a little educational for me though, as I didn't really know anything about both Cistercians and Carthusians before reading this book).

Having said that, there are many worthwhile reflections and points to ponder in "Jonas".  Here are my favourites:
  • On God's love. If He can be said to thirst it is because He thirsts to do us good, to share His infinite Life with us.  But we prevent Him by our selfishness from doing so. Detatchment will procure for us the greatest good, the pure love of God for Himself alone because He alone is good: amor amicitiae. That is the bond of perfection that unites us to Him.  "Above all things have charity, which is the bond of perfection and may the peace of Christ exult in your hearts, in which you are called unto one Body.  And be grateful".  (Colossians, 3:14-15) (p39)
  • On the Trappists' attitude towards work.  If we want something, we easily persuade ourselves that what we want is God's will just as long as it turns out to be difficult to obtain.  What is easy is my own will: what is hard is God's will... ... And because we make fetishes out of difficulties we sometimes work ourselves into the most fantastically stupid situations, and use ourselves up not for God but for ourselves. (p41)
  • On Martyrdom.  There is nothing magnificent about us.  We are miserable things and if we are called upon to die we shall die miserably... .... And perhaps we are already marked for sacrifice - a sacrifice that will be, in the eyes of the world, perhaps only drab and soory and mean.  And yet it will end by being our greatest glory after all. (p79)
  • On Christ as the way to the Father.  Jesus came to us having nothing of His own.Not merely did he have nowhere to rest His head, not only was He poor on earth, but He explains that the very fact of His divine generation means that He has absolutely nothing of Himself and yet He is everything... ...He lived in the very heart of the Sabbath which is the interior life of God where "the Father works and I work". (p217)
  • On the grain of wheat.  I am alone in my insufficiency - dependent, helpless, contingent, and never quite sure that I am really leaning on Him upon whom I depend. Yet to trust in Him means to die, because to trust perfectly in Him you have to give up all trust in everything else. (p239)
  • On growing in faith.  ... I have discovered that after all what monks most need is not conferences on mysticism but more light about the ordinary virtues, whether they be faith or prudence, charity or temperance, hope or justice or fortitude. And above all what they need and what they desire is to penetrate the Mystery of Christ and to know Him in His Gospels and in the whole Bible... (p337)
  • On solitude. In this age of crowds in which I have determined to be solitary, perhaps the greatest sin would be to lament the presence of people on the threshold of my solitude.  Can I be so blind as to ignore that solitude is itself  their greatest need?  And yet if they rush in upon the desert in thousands, how shall they be alone?  What went they out into the desert to see? Whom did I myself come here to find but You, O Christ, Who have compassion on the multitudes. (p357)
In a way it was quite appropriate to read "Mountain" at Christmas, since it was really about Merton being reborn with Christ.  In a way "Jonas" is about Easter, because Merton is learning how to die to himself and live in Christ. So a good book to read during Lent!

Thursday, January 01, 2015

"A Bethlehem where Christ comes to be born"

One thing I like to do at the end of the year is to catch up on my serious reading. And with the rain pouring down every other day, sitting home with a good book in hand is often, indeed, the better choice.  Better still if it comes with a nice cookie and warm tea on the side :-)

Anyway, this December, I've been able to finish three books.  "The Accidental Diplomat", by Maurice Baker, is a series of stories of this veteran Ambassador's experiences, both in the Japanese occupation and after, including the highlights of his tours in India, Philippines and Malaysia.   Then, I tackled the massive biography of Dickens - "Charles Dickens: A Life", by Claire Tomalin.  This is the second time I've read Tomalin's meticulously researched biographies - the first was her life of Jane Austen.  Indeed, I really learnt so much more about Dickens than ever before! Of course I knew basic facts, like his early days spent working in the blacking factory whilst his father languished in the debtors' prison.  But I never realised the energy and drive which characterised him and on the negative side, I certainly didn't know he deserted his wife and had a secret mistress!

But the third book I finished, just on Christmas Day, was "The Seven Storey Mountain" (Harcourt Books, 1999 edition).  Thomas Merton's account of his spiritual journey - leading him to become first a Catholic and then a Trappist monk.  

Merton takes us through the key events of his life - marked with sorrow as he lost his mother at age 6, his father at age 16, and his younger brother about 10 years later, soon after he entered the monastry.  His brother was a bomber in WWII and he died when his plane went down.  It was one of the most poignant and moving moments in the book.

But the main thrust of the book was how Merton transformed from a wayward young man, into a fervent Catholic who went to daily mass (!), seeking for an ever-closer relationship with God.  His story was so inspiring that it led to young men all over the US looking for the nearest Trappist monastry.

I find it inspiring too - and would like to share my favourite quotes from the book here:
"When a ray of light strikes a crystal, it gives a new quality to the crystal.  And when God's infinitely disinterested love plays upon a human soul, the same kind of thing takes place.  And that is the life called sanctifying grace." (p186)
"...aseity - simply means the power of a being to exist absolutely in virtue of itself, not as caused by itself, but as requiring no cause, no other justiication for its existence except that its very nature is to exist. There can be only one such Being: that is God." (p189)
"The life of the soul is not knowledge, it is love, since love is the act of the supreme faculty,the will, by which man is formally united to the final end of  all his strivings - by which man becomes one with God. " (p209)
"All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one.  Don't you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if only you will consent to let Him do it.  All you have to do is desire it." (p261)
"I had to be led by a way that I could not understand, and I had to follow a path that was beyond my own choosing.  God did not want anything of my natural tastes and fancies and selections until they had been more completely divorced from their old track, their old habits, and directed to Himself, by His own working." (p319) 
"The soul of the monk is a Bethlehem where Christ comes to be born - in the sense that Christ is born where His likeness is re-formed by grace, and whre His Divinity lives, in a special manner, with His Father and His Holy Spirit, by charity, in this "new incarnation," this "other Christ." (p417)
 Indeed, I do think the last quote applies not to just monks but for all of us.  Blessed Christmas to all, as we start off a new year ahead.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Hongkong - Peak and Protests

So, I visited Hongkong at the end of October.  It was a family visit - my mother and I stayed for a few days with my brother-in-law who is now based in Hongkong.  My sister joined us over the weekend as well.

We spent a few leisurely days wandering around Hongkong.  I've been a few times but can't really call myself a frequent visitor, so it was nice to visit new places and revisit old ones.

Journey on the Peak Tram
We spent our first morning visiting the Peak.  We were warned about the long queues for the peak tram but to our surprise, it was not too bad.  We managed to board the first train which came and chugged up, against what mut have been a 45 degree incline as the photo indicates.  Once on top, a panoramic view greeted us - the splendour of Central Hongkong, with a view of Kowloon on the other side.  

View from the Peak

We walked around for a bit, had lunch at Mak's Noodles and then made our way down via the little mini-bus.  In the past it was only the British colonial rulers who stayed here, up where the temperatures were cooler in the heat of a Hongkong summer, in splendid isolation away from the locals.  Today, it continues to be a very desirable and exclusive place to stay.  With the hill behind and the water in front, it's really good from the feng shui perspective too!  The downside?  From the mini bus, we could see the very steep roads going to some of the houses though - it's a tough climb for those going on foot.  

The Star Ferry
The mini-bus dropped us at Central and we walked over to take the Star Ferry over to Kowloon.  My
mother was pleased to see that actually senior citizens could travel for free!  We had Octopus cards handy though, so we paid the princely sum of HK$3.50 each to take one of the most iconic ferry journeys in the world. 

I had a purchase to make in Tsim Sha Tsui - cookies from "Jenny Bakery", a small Hongkong shop which sold buttery handmade cookies.  My colleagues had been regularly buying these cookies and bringing them to the office so I felt that it was my turn to reciprocate.  The cookies have become so
Read the placards carefully...
popular that apparently the queues extend outside the shopping centre where the shop is.  Competitors have emerged (their signs are pasted on the route to the bakery) as have fake Jenny Bakery shops - I encountered one for myself.  We were walking down Nathan Road on the way to Jenny Bakery when we saw these women with placards parading outside one of the shopping centers.  I did not think anything of them but my mother noticed that the placards were advertising for Jenny Bakery!  Curious, we followed them into the shopping centre but it was all too apparent that this was a fake store so we made our way out again to the real "Jenny".  Surprisingly, there were no queues in sight - just a few people ahead of me.  I bought my cookies and we made our way back.

Later, my brother-in-law said that according to his colleagues, the number of PRC tourists to HK had fallen due to the ongoing protests.  Hence, shorter queues, less crowds etc.  Well, for those of us who didn't stay away, that was certainly a positive!

"Occupy Central" at Admiralty
Of course, we visited the protest site.  It was the 32nd day of the protest, according to the umbrella calendar there.  We turned up at the Admiralty site on a Saturday morning, around 11ish.  The area was quiet, with students sleeping in their tents.  I suppose it had been a hard night's protesting.  It was nice to be able to wander around in peace to look at the colourful and imaginative posters, the "Lennon wall", the study area and so on.  It's been over a month since our visit, and it seems the protests are entering into their final stages with the sites being cleared by the authorities. Still the impression I am left with is the strong sense of idealism and the wish for a better tomorrow for Hongkong which was evident in all I saw.  Certainly it had to be the best organised protest I have ever seen (not that I have seen that many) with students organising their rubbish for recycling, the study area for them to catch up with their work etc etc.  Whatever the outcome, I wish Hongkong well.  

More pictures of my visit to Hongkong are on my Flickr page

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Sri Lankan Sojourn

In late July, I visited Sri Lanka for the first time.  For many years previously, the civil war had been going on, so I was not keen to visit.  With the end of the war, and under persuasion from a friend of mine, I decided to make the trip.  Together with another mutual friend, who was already in Sri Lanka, we spent a day in Colombo and another three relaxing by a pool in a little resort near Galle.

Colombo is a city where the reminders of the civil war still persist. The Galle Road is the main road running beside the sea front, with hotels and embassies on either side and ending off with the famous Galle Face Green, a big open space right by the beach.  The Presidential Palace is on this road and further down, the former Parliament building.  The Presidential palace and most of the embassies are heavily secured, like mini-fortresses.  My friend was working in Sri Lanka for a number of years during the war.  She pointed out buildings which had been damaged by the bombing raids of the Tamil Tigers, and explained to us that whilst the war was going on, the entire beachfront had been hoarded up, presumably to deter a sea landing by the rebels.  The former Parliament House further down the road was no longer in use for that purpose.  Parliament had shifted to a more secure location.  We passed it the next day - further inland, on an island in the middle of a lake, reached only via a narrow causeway with tight security at the entry point.  It was also surrounded by open spaces and there were watch towers at strategic points on the perimeter.  

Kites above Galle Fort Green
Things have definitely picked up after the war, though.  The hoarding on the Galle Face Green beachfront has come down and when we were there on a Saturday evening, full of people.  Large groups were standing on the beach, wading ankle deep in the waters.  Many small vendors lined the beach, doing a brisk business.  One gentleman was offering donkey rides!  And everywhere in the air above, kites were flying in the brisk wind, long tails trailing behind them.  The nearby hotel (The Raffles of Colombo, says my friend) is also going renovation and a new wing is being built.  Nearby, in the Old Dutch Hospital building, a new Crab restaurant (Sri Lankan crab!) was packed full, not a seat to be had.  

We went to our resort in Galle after one day shopping in Colombo.  A new highway has opened, cutting down the journey time considerably, we were told.  Still, it took us almost two hours with the end part of the journey travelling through small towns on a narrow road.  Here I learnt about Sri Lankan driving etiquette. Honk when you overtake.  Overtake when you can.  Our driver, I have to admit, was quite good but I had a lot of more nervous moments.  

Tsunami Memorial
Our resort itself was charming - small, intimate, with its own beachfront (waves were strong and the red flag
was up the entire visit) a pleasant little pool.  We enjoyed our stay here (a little bout of "Sri Lankan belly" not withstanding).  But on our way back, our driver stopped to show us a monument along the road.  It was a monment to the victims of the 2004 Boxing Day Asian Tsunami.  Near that spot, a train had waited, following warnings that there was danger up ahead.  Unfortunately, the "danger" proved to be the forceful tsunami which swept the entire coast, washing away the train and killing over 1,200 people who were on board.

Our driver told us that his family lived some way inland.  Hence, most of them were safe.  But, his brother had been out that day.  He never returned home.  

Sri Lanka is a beautiful country, with a rich history and beautiful scenery, and generous natural resources.  Now recovering from the ravages of civil war, I do hope that they can address some of the schisms of the past to create a society and nation where all in this multi cultural, multi religious, country can live harmoniously together.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Last Day in Kyoto: Visit to the Cat Cafe

We had a late start to the day.  All the walking is getting to us sedentary office workers and our feet are quite worn out.  The novelty of sleeping on the futon is also beginning to wear out.  We made a late departure from the hotel and went to the Cat Cafe Nekokaigi!.

At the cat cafe
The cafe is not that easy to find- it is located on the second floor of the building, and we walked past it and had to retrace our steps.  But once we get there, the place is obvious as there are many cat-themed decorations around the front entrance.  Payment is by the hour - and you have to order a drink as well.  But it was well worth it!  The cats are normal street cats - gingers, tabbies, calicos and the like.  They are mostly quite friendly and take to being stroked by strangers quite well.  In fact, one of the cats is rather friendly and will climb on to your lap for more strokes if you pet her.  A few of them were sleeping, snoozing on top of the cat tree, or on the long low counter running along the window of the cafe.  One of the rules of the cafe - don't wake the sleeping cats!

There were two staff in the cafe - a younger man, and an older cat aunty.  The cats know them very well, and run to them demanding to be petted.  And they always oblige!  They even have a special way of patting them - more like gentle whacks on the bum, which the cats seem to appreciate.  I tried it out on the cats and this was also well-received (in fact I have now occasionally done this to my own cats at home and they too seem to like it).  

Anyway, the hour went all too fast and we proceeded on our way.  It was an enjoyable visit, but made me homesick for my own pussies.  Indeed, it is a good thing that we only did this on our last day in Kyoto.

Temple in Teramachi Arcade
We walked next to Teramachi Arcade, a few blocks away.  The Arcade is mainly shops, but interspersed with a number of temples.  Apparently the temples were relocated here many years ago, in line with the urban planning intent of the times. The shopping centre came later, but it is a trifle incongruous to see these temples amongst the food and clothes shops, not to mention the 100 yen shop.As 100 yen is about $1.20, it is cheaper than the Singapore S$2 shop equivalent.   I bought a bamboo steamer, cos you certainly can't get one for $1.20 in Singapore.  

Nishiki Market
We ended our day walking through Nishiki market.  It is most definitely THE most convenient place to buy Japanese snacks and titbits.  Happily munching and packing our purchases in our shopping bags, we made our way through the market.  There were stalls selling pickles, fish, the seasoned toppings for rice, tea (bought some), takoyaki (grilled octopus balls), sashimi skewers (I had one), fishballs, soy milk ice cream and donuts (we tried some of these too).  

Ours was a night flight, but by the time we finished with the market we had only enough time to get back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and make our way to the airport.

All in all, it was a wonderfully sakura-filled visit to Kyoto.  And since many sights remain unvisited, many temples unseen, I have every excuse to go again....

To end off, here's my Flickr page to visit for more photos (including, when I get round to uploading them, videos of my visit to the Cat Cafe!

Going Local: The Foodie Post

I have been fairly restrained thus far, as I have not been plastering pictures of Japanese food all over this blog
(except for one photo of our kaiseki dinner).  So now is the time to cast all restraint to the wind, and cover some of my foodie highlights from our Kyoto trip.  I have to admit, however, that I forgot to note down a number of restaurants' names (and there was one which didn't seem to have an English name) so I will have to just go by location.

The single most convenient foodie place in Kyoto: gotta be Kyoto station.  So many restaurants, so many kiosks, so many little bakeries, supermarkets and the like.   Except for one day, we ate there everyday (some times twice a day).  Many famous restaurants have a branch there - and we went to a few of them.  So for anyone considering a visit to Kyoto, I strongly recommend staying at or near Kyoto station - convenient for day trips, convenient for food, convenient transport node, convenient all round.

Tonkatsu at Katsukura, Kyoto Station
 We went to the well known tonkatsu restaurant Katsukura here.  The pork fillet is covered with crisp panko, but still soft and juicy on the inside.  We get a choice of dipping sauces on the side, and get to grind our own sesame seeds to sprinkle on our sauce.  There's also free flow chopped cabbage (I actually did ask for more) and soft barley rice.  Go there later in the evening, because by then the queues have shrunk and the food comes quickly.  

At Ten-ichi, Kyoto Station
Another notable restaurant here in Kyoto Station is Ten-ichi, a branch of a famous tempura restaurant (US President Bill Clinton was taken here by his hosts on an official visit to Japan).  Not the cheapest place but it was truly excellent.  The tempura is served in courses, so that you get just a few pieces at a time and can eat them when it is still crispy, hot and fresh.  The tempura set includes prawns, with their heads cooked separately (so crispy and crunchy); delicate, moist fish; vegetables, etc. The batter is light and coats rather than smothers the food within.  I can see why this dish was selected to tempt the Presidential taste buds.  The lucky ones get to sit at the counter - there you can watch the chefs at work. We were at a nearby table - good enough, we felt lucky to have a view of the chefs in the first place..   

Tofu steak and skewers, salad and miso soup
Beyond Kyoto station, one of my other favourite meals was at the tofu restaurant on Hanami-Koji street, which we came across when we visited Gion (tofu is a specialty of the region).  It  was at the beginning of the street, on the right hand side near the junction with Shijo Dori.  It serves a wide range of tofu products - I ate a wide range of tofu products, starting with the little tofu skewers and also the yummy grilled tofu.  Unfortunately, this is one place without an English name so I'm unable to give any more details.

We made it a point to try and eat our way across the range of Japanese food. So we had ramen (meal number one in Kyoto, in the Kyoto Station Ramen Alley); shabu-shabu in a restaurant overlooking the Kamo River; okonomiyaki, and of course our conveyor belt sushi lunch.

But Japanese food is not only found in the restaurants - there's lots of convenient bento lunches available at the departmental store food courts and little minimarts.  We had a simple bento lunch on a hill in Arashiyama; and a simple cup of instant noodles one morning for breakfast.  Convenience food indeed.

I'll end off this post, as I would a meal: with dessert.  The Japanese also do great desserts.  We had a rather boring matcha ice cream in the Imperial Garden park but we had great sakura ice cream half way down Mt Yoshino and soy ice cream at the Nishiki market.  My favourite -still the sakura ice cream, with the little bits of what could be petals inside.....  Sakura-themed mochi is also very much de rigeur for hanami parties.  Which is what we did, sitting on Mt Yoshino under the cherry trees, watching the petals fall from the trees, twirling in the wind.  A sweet treat indeed.

Mochi, to eat sitting beneath a cherry tree

Sakura Ice Cream

More food photos will be put up on the Flickr set, over time.  Good food sites include

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