on this last night of the seventh month

just thought i’d share this touching and poignant strip i saw on sgag. apparently truly overheard by the poster!


*satay – a delectable dish of grilled/barbequed meat on bamboo skewers
*’burn’ – burnt offerings to the dead (candles, paper money, papier-mache houses/cars/clothes/mobile phones/all manner of material goods)

a translation from the singlish…
satay man: satay for you, auntie?
auntie: 10 chicken satay, brother! grill until it is burnt then you help me throw away!
satay man: throw away?
auntie: now seventh month, i want to ‘burn’ satay for my late husband la. last time he love to eat your satay! thank you, brother!

i appreciate the incident also because it demonstrates how love can transcend religious and cultural borders. the satay man here is malay, who tend to be muslim, while the practice of burning offerings to the dead is a taoist one. yours truly here is a christian – but i think it safe to say we are all touched by this little anecdote.

* * * * *
will blog about the singapore elections if i ever get down to organising my thoughts. meanwhile, thank you for checking on me. my mood swings and emotional downs have been quite unmanageable of late – i feel so angry all the time and i’ve been punching walls till my hands smart and i don’t understand why. not sure if there is even anything to understand…but thanks for keeping an eye.


What the living do during the Hungry Ghost Festival

I’m guessing some foreign readers had their interest piqued by my mention of the Seventh Month in the previous post – quite a number of clicks for the wikipedia link!

You may be interested to see how it is celebrated then. (I’ll admit, I don’t know much – a lot of it are just practices I observe year after year without understanding the symbolism behind.)

There’s usually entertainment put up for the visiting souls – the traditional one being Teochew street opera on make-shift stages.


When there are seats laid out, the first row would be left empty for the ‘good brothers’. In this case, no seats were laid out, but there were decorated joss candles (sustenance for the spirits) and offerings being burnt.

There would be a big (again, make-shift) altar for deity worship –


The gods depicted on the banner are FuLuShou – Prosperity, Status and Longevity. This particular ceremony was organised by the Redhill Market association. The evening would begin with prayer and invocation of the spirits for their blessing and continued support, thereafter the hawkers gather for dinner and a very noisy auction of auspicious objects.


Those objects would have been blessed earlier at the altar and include things like deity statuettes made of gold and pots of blessed rice that you can choose to display or cook. The proceeds from the auction will go toward funding entertainment like the street opera and getai (lit. song stage) for next year’s seventh month.

While the living enjoy their food, nobody forgets about the invisible guests. Dinner is set aside for them too –


Note the joss sticks sticking out of the rice bowls. This is why we Chinese, no matter what religion we may subscribe to, think it rude (some say inauspicious) to stick chopsticks into rice bowls. It is customary to lay them flat on the rim of the bowl.

Hope you enjoyed this slice of old Singapore, with rituals that have since died out in China under communist rule.

Our National Pledge

Last week, in light of National Day, I used the national pledge that we in schools recite every morning as lesson material. (authentic learning!)

“We, the citizens of Singapore,
pledge ourselves as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion, to build a democratic society based on justice and equality, so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation.”

Find out more about the history of the pledge here.


Little strips in our national colours of red and white were used (mini craft therapy for myself amidst the marking). Each student would receive a random phrase from the pledge and have 4 minutes to free-write.

It made way for some interesting discussion, as I’d hoped.
The student given “to build a democratic society” echoed Churchill’s doubts about a democratic system – that it is ideal to give the public the right to vote but the stupidity she reads on social media makes her worried about putting that power in the hands of the common man.


That prompted another student to propose that only the educated should be allowed to vote. A quick debate ensued, considering how that system will no longer be representative and will possibly make the country better in the long term, but that’s only if we get through the chaos in the short-term = no go.

The two who received “for our nation” questioned the necessity of sacrifice. One shared honestly that she is as self-entitled as the rest, and cannot see the point of having to contribute to the country. Others were sympathetic to the idea, but could see how disturbing that might be for our future.

I am quite glad that other major issues about citizenship, freedom of religion, socio-economic (in)equality, the opportunity cost of simple happiness for prosperity’s sake were briefly covered by the students’ free-write and sharing. This is a lesson I’d repeat for new students next year!

Let us treasure our National Anthem – Majulah Singapura

This year’s National Day Parade (NDP) had a segment reliving past NDPs from the 60s and 70s. Watch it here! A behind-the-scenes programme revealed that some retired elderly veterans were invited to don their uniforms and march once again with the contingent. They did so with much gusto. Talk about authenticity indeed!

One of them shared a brief but powerful reflection. I will attempt to translate from the Mandarin.
“You know, I sang four national anthems. During World War II, I sang the Japanese anthem. When the colonials came back after the war, I sang the British anthem. Then when we became a part of Malaysia, it was ‘Negaraku’. And finally, in 1966, we got to sing our anthem. I hope Singaporeans will sing ‘Majulah Singapura’ forever.”
At this point, a wave of emotion overwhelmed him, and our aged warrior wept.

What a perspective on citizenship indeed! Singing the anthem every morning sometimes feels like a chore, a part of a not-entirely-useful identity building ritual. It is not until now that I begin to realise that having a National Anthem that I can call my own and sing with pride is a privilege – one won by the hard work of the Old Guard and the Pioneer Generation who [loved Singapore deeply and] dedicated their lives to building our home.

I share here the now famous video of how Singaporeans continued singing our anthem when the PA system broke down at a victory ceremony of the recent 2015 SEA Games.

Majulah Singapura – Onward Singapore!

A brief reflection on the Prime Minister’s National Day Message 2015

For the 8th of August, 2015 – PM Lee shares

“My Fellow Singaporeans

50 years ago, on this very night, Singapore was on the eve of a momentous change. The Cabinet had already signed the Separation Agreement. The Government Printers were busy printing the Separation Agreement and the Proclamation of Independence in a special Government Gazette. The Commissioner of Police and the Commander of the army units had been told by the Malaysian Government to take orders from the new government the next day. But all this happened in strict secrecy. Our forefathers went to bed oblivious of what was about to happen, still for the time being citizens of Malaysia.

Then morning came. The 9th of August 1965. Our world changed. At 10 a.m., a radio announcer read the Proclamation. Singapore had left Malaysia and would “forever be a sovereign, democratic and independent nation”. The Republic of Singapore was born.”

(Read the full transcript here.)

I found this particular portion to be the most poignant of all –
“Year after year, we have kept the promises that Mr Lee Kuan Yew made on the 9th of August 1965: that we will be “one united people, regardless of race, language or religion”; that we will always have a bright future ahead of us.”

* * * * *

The stuff that makes the news indicates a world filled with people who are not very friendly towards someone of a different race, someone who speaks a different language, and particularly someone who worships a different religion. After seeing for myself how the Christians and the Muslims are restricted from practicing their religion in China, after being a victim of racist comments and rude gestures on Australian streets – I consider myself glad to come from a society that celebrates unity despite race, language or religion, and considers it sacred enough to be enshrined in the National Pledge. I feel thankful that, as a Singaporean Chinese, I have close friends of different races and differing religions. I feel proud that I teach students of varying races, nationalities and religions, but who nevertheless live, study and play together (but with the occasional non-malicious racist joke).

Case-in-point: After the recent National Day Observance ceremony in school, my class gathered to bid farewell to another teacher of my class who is leaving for maternity leave. Someone made brownies. While serving them out, she suddenly exclaimed in mild anguish, “OMG! I am so sorry – I just realised that my brownies are not halal! Halal ingredients but not baked in a halal kitchen. I’m so sorry, can you still eat it?” The Muslim students politely declined, but they hung around to socialise anyway. I thought that was a brief and beautiful slice of inter-faith, inter-racial interaction in Singapore.

Of course, there is still an embarrassing amount of ignorance about other cultures and each racial harmony day brings much cultural (mis)appropriation. People still commit faux pas in these matters, but we are not in conflict, and I think we are continuing to learn with each day, with each year.

Happy 50th, Singapore. I am so proud to call you my country.

Much Beloved Singapore Buildings and Monuments

I visited one man’s passion project for Singapore today and was enthralled by it. Teo Yu Siang, a designer and an accountant, decided that he didn’t like the self-congratulatory tone of many a government-initiated SG50 project, and decided to create his own birthday card(s) to Singapore.

Here are my personal, sentimental favourites from his website, Building Singapore.


You may want to check out my post on Bukit Brown.


I spent a lovely holiday interning as a docent at the Old Supreme Court before it was shut for renovations. It is now the National Gallery – many local works of art have been transferred here from the collection of the Singapore Art Museum. I loved exploring the Old Supreme Court with my colleagues then – we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves during breaks, and we explored various nooks and crannies, including the dome! The National Gallery opens this year on 24th November and I am looking forward to seeing both the art and the conserved building.


Well, the Esplanade. I guess I chose this for sentimental reasons – the greatest love of my life my ex and I took a walk along the Esplanade waterfront on our first date together. Yes, a complete cliche, and now a bittersweet memory.

But enough of me, now. Do head over to see all the buildings that Teo Yu Siang has painstakingly drawn! The drawings are also available for sale as postcards – this sounds like an interesting gift!

Hello, August and SG50!

I still have some stuff to post about my trip to Xinjiang but hey, it’s August, and I’m going to take a break from posting about China and spend the month celebrating SG50!
(photographs in this post do not belong to me.)

Singapore in a nutshell for non-Singaporean readers:

Singapore is an independent country and NOT part of China (sorry not sorry, had to get that FAQ out of the way).

We are an island city-state located in Southeast Asia, between Malaysia and Thailand to the north and Indonesia in the south.


We once were a British colony (thus the prevalent use of English) but we earned our independence from them in 1963. Thereafter, we merged with Malaya to form modern Malaysia, and there belonged a mere two years until we got kicked out in 1965.

This year, on 9th August 2015, we will celebrate 50 years of independence.


There is much worth celebrating (see the Singapore skyline above), and much more to work on, so hang around for more!