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You have a choice each and every single day.
I choose to feel blessed.
I choose to feel grateful.
I choose to be excited.
I choose to be thankful.
I choose to be happy.

– T. Harv Eker

Thanks to the hard work and efforts of the organizing team of MGS Class 1981, some one hundred girls from Methodist Girls’ School (Ipoh) Class 1981 came together to celebrate our 50th birthday during a luncheon at Cititel in Kuala Lumpur yesterday afternoon. Three former teachers were there to help us celebrate this milestone. They were Mr. Victor Chew, Mr. Clement and Mrs. Chin.

It is good to get together again after leaving school for 33 years.. most of us looks the same, albeit more matured and settled.

We had food, games, lucky draw and a talk on breast cancer by Wah Cheong. All in, it was a memorable get together.

I was able to share my book with the girls too and they were very supportive of me.

Thank you, everyone, for the great time. See you all again soon.

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MGS Ipoh 81, reunion group photo @ Cititel Mid Valley Hotel, Kuala Lumpur

More photos at my facebook: facebook

https://www.facebook.com/188HughLowStreetOnlineBookshop?hc_location=timeline

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Writing a book has given me the opportunity to speak in the public as well as to read in front of an audience. It was a wonderful experience. I must thank those who made this happened.

Tomorrow, I am going to meet my former school mates again after a lapse of 30 years.  I am looking forward to tell them about my book.

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Book preview

“The Scissor Sharpener’s Daughter”

 

 

 

 

” 无论你遇见谁,他都是在你生命中该出现的人。没有人是因为偶然才进入我们的生命。每个在我们周围和我们有互动的人,都代表一些事。也许要教会我们什么,也许要协助我们改善眼前的一个情况。” —Buddha

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One Sunday evening in 2008, Nicholas Liew, who was eleven years old then, was working hard on his butterfly stroke at the 6 feet deep lane when he saw an elderly man resting at a corner of the pool.

Swimming up to his side, my curious son asked, “Uncle, you came alone?”

“Yes,” came the answer.

“And you?”

“I came with my family. They are over there – at the 18 feet deep lane,” he said and pointed towards our direction.

“Then why did you left them and came over to this lane?”

“It is rather crowded there. I want to practice my butterfly stroke and over here, I have more space to do so.”

“I see.”

“Uncle, how about a race? You can choose any style you like.”

“No problem.”

But the young boy, confident as he was, lost to the more experience older swimmer.

Although Nicholas Liew lost the race that evening at the Chin Woo Swimming Pool, unknown to him then, he has won a friendship that in later years, proved to be very rare and precious not only for him alone, but for his entire family as well.

You see, Uncle Kelvin Li is not any ordinary old man. He is a respected Sinologist.

Months later, Alexandra Alex too, swam over to his side and instantly captured his heart with her wits and charm.

From then on, a very beautiful friendship blossomed between the three of them. It was a friendship that grew from a tiny seed into a large tree that gives us shade.

He quickly took my children under his wings. Sometimes he would call them up in the middle of a meeting, during a meal or on a trip, and tell them some Chinese idioms and values. “I give you ten minutes to memorize them and then I will call back to explain their meanings. Later, I will test you both!” This was his usual style. He even got them to study the Tung Sing or Chinese Almanac!

When Uncle could afford the time, he would come personally to the house to supervise their learning of the Chinese language. All this was done without asking for anything in return. It was out of pure love for them, a sort of love only a grandfather would give to his grandchildren.

“You are such a banana, Frances, that I have to neutralize your children for you. I hope you don’t mind,” he joked to me once.

When I told him that I wanted to write a book, he said, “Good, go ahead, what are you waiting for? Live your dreams! Don’t let anyone pull you down.”

That was Uncle Kelvin Li, a stranger turned friend and mentor.

My family is very lucky to have him in our lives. He gave us something so precious all the money in this world could not buy us – great memories to remember him by in years to come.

The Chinese calls it “Yuen Fun.” I call it “my family’s collective good Karma.”

Uncle slipped and fell in his garden on Wednesday morning while watering his plants, went into a deep coma and did not wake up again. He will be 76 this year.

Of course we will be there to send him off on his final journey on this coming Sunday.

Thank you, Uncle, for everything you had given us.

” 已经结束的,就已经结束了。这是如此简单。当生命中有些事情结束,它会帮助我们进化。要完整享受已然发生的事,最好是放下并持续前进。你坐在这里,读着这些 文字,我相信绝非巧合。 如果这些文字触动你的心弦,那是因为你的因缘成熟。你明白,没有任何一片雪花会因为意外落在错的地方。”  — Buddha

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My entire childhood and that of my siblings as well as my cousins staying at 188 Hugh Low Street were spent listening to wakes and watching funerals and also observing the Hungry Ghost Festivals. This is hardly surprising considering our house is just across from Hume Street which is known to the locals as “Coffin Street.” Not a day passed without hearing the noises created on this street feared and avoided by most Ipoh residents.

At these funeral parlors, elaborate ceremonies are conducted for a few nights to commemorate the dead each year during the Ghost Month. Prayer sessions called Pu Tu in Cantonese are held. Pu Tu means universal deliverance or universal liberation from sufferings. It is believed hungry ghosts, like Mu Lian’s mother, need salvation through prayers.

As a child, I remember seeing rows and rows of long altars being set up outside these funeral parlors. All kinds of cakes, fruits and drinks were lavishly laid out. Heaps and heaps of paper offerings were scattered on the ground to be burned later as offerings to the wandering spirits who happened to pass by this eerie street.

A large paper effigy of the King of Hell about 20 feet high with two protruding fiery eyes was erected in the middle of Hume Street. Beside him stood the Cow Head and Horse Face who were the King’s generals. They looked equally tall and fearsome. A large paper ship was also constructed to carry the dead spirits to and fro to take part in the ceremony.

With my siblings and cousins, we watched from our windows in awe as Taoists priests in black ceremonial robes (with a large yin yang symbol on their backs) spat out some alcohol mixed with tea into a large fire pit fixed on the ground outside the funeral parlor. Chanting Taoists verses and holding a sword in one hand and a tablet bearing the names of the dead in another, they would jump over it and the fire would burst out into a big flame.

This act, called thew for, or jump over the fire, is an imitation of how Mu Lian descended to the deepest level of Hell (believed to be Level 18) to save his mother from suffering and helped her gain rebirth. The priests would repeat this many times throughout the night, each time to represent a dead person. These acts were carried out in the hope that they too, would gain salvation for the dead just like what Mu Lian did for his mother.

On the 14th night of the seventh month, after all the chanting of prayers and thew for were done, all paper items were burnt in a huge bonfire in the middle of the street. When everything was over and the crowd had dispersed, silence descended over Hume Street again. Stray dogs were seen foraging for food which the fire had not consumed.

The Hungry Ghost Festival comes to an end on the 30th night of the seventh month when the gate of Hell is closed again at the stroke of midnight. It coincides with the birthday of Earth Store Bodhisattva who is also known as Ti Tsang Wang Pusa in Chinese or Ksitigarbha in Sanskrit, the patron saint of all the dead. He is believed to have made a great vow to stay in Hell to guard the dead until it becomes empty one day.

It was during one of these Hungry Ghost Festivals that my story begins……

Although the Hungry Ghost Festival has its origins in China, the practice of burning offerings such as paper money and paper clothes as well as laying out food on the roadsides for the wandering spirits actually started in this country some one hundred years ago.

According to one popular theory, an influx of poor Chinese came to Malaya to work in the mines during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They were mainly from the southern provinces of China. They dreamed of striking gold here before going back home for good. However, many fell sick and died due to very harsh working conditions in Malaya in the early days and could not return home in time to seek treatment. As a result, their families were not aware of their death and did not claim their bodies. Needless to say, they did not get a decent ceremony or a proper burial. It was believed this resulted in their becoming wandering or homeless spirits, forever not at peace, forever wandering in search of food and whatever their hearts desired.

In Taoism, it is believed that when a person dies, his soul still needs money, food and clothes in the next world to be comfortable. Because of this belief, the living burn paper offerings and many leave food on the roadside for these poor wandering spirits who could not return to their home villages in China. This later became a popular practice which persists till this day. It is like giving some money and food to the dead just as what we do to the living poor. These are acts of charity, only that the recipients are the dead. Now can you understand why many women folk squat by the roadsides or back alleys when night falls to offer paper money and clothes as well as food to these wandering spirits whom they politely address as “good brothers and sisters?”

Some Taoist temples also hold Chinese operas to entertain these wandering spirits. Rows and rows of long wooden benches are arranged for these guests and no humans dare to sit there as the audience is from the other world. Therefore, it will not be a surprise to see the opera troupe playing to an empty gallery……

According to Grandma and Mom, it is believed that vengeful spirits will come back during this particular month to seek revenge. Those who have blood on their hands will not be able to sleep peacefully during the Ghost Month. They are afraid those they have killed will come back for them.

The Hungry Ghost Festival is also a time to observe many taboos or pantang larang, as the Malays call it. They first started as old wives tales but were later widely accepted and followed.

Those who had drowned would go back to the rivers, pools, ponds, lakes or seas to wait for their replacement while those who died on the roads would orchestrate some accidents so that their souls, trapped where they lost their lives, could be liberated. So, no swimming or night time driving, folks!

Grandma often scared us when we were kids by telling us that malicious spirits were lurking in many dark or quiet corners or under trees. We were not supposed to go out at night to places like parks or dark alleys as crossing the paths of these malicious spirits at such spots would bring dire consequences – they will make us fall sick.

Bright colored clothes are not allowed lest they attract the attention of wandering spirits. Red or yellow are strictly forbidden because these colors are believed to be their favorite colors. Auspicious celebrations like weddings or birthdays, moving house or starting a new business venture are not encouraged in this month because the Ghost Month is considered a yin month, a month when the evil forces are believed to be very strong.

Eating out at night at stalls where the food is hung up for all to see and choose is also strongly discouraged. A good example would be the stalls selling roast chicken or roast pork rice. Some people claimed they saw hungry ghosts licking the food with their long and fiery tongues. If you buy such food and eat them, chances are, you will get sick……

 

Hungry Ghost Festival is here again. The whole of the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar which usually falls in the Gregorian calendar months of August or September is dedicated to this observance. Thus, the Chinese seventh month is also known as the Ghost Month. Among the Taoists, the Hungry Ghost Festival is known as Yue Lan Jie and among the Buddhists, it is called Ullambana.

This observance commemorates a very filial son called Mu Lian who managed to save his wicked mother from the deepest level of Hell. When Mu Lian wanted to leave home and become a monk, his widowed mother was very displeased with his decision and mocked him. She also committed wicked acts like killing dogs and then offering the meat to other monks who went to her house to beg for alms. A very conceited woman, she often jeered at beggars and chased them away whenever she came across them.

As a result, she became a ghost after her death. In his meditations, Mu Lian saw how his mother’s soul suffered in Hell. She could not eat anything because whatever food reached her mouth became fire, thus burning her tongue and throat. Nothing could reach her stomach and she became a hungry ghost, pleading to be helped out of this misery.

Seeing this, Mu Lian consulted his Master who advised him to do as many good deeds as possible to compensate for his mother’s misdeeds. He donated vegetarian food to thousands of poor people, chanted sutras (Buddhist verses) day and night, and released trapped animals. His collective good deeds finally touched the Buddha who quickly ordered the gates of Hell to be opened so that the dead could have a month’s respite. Mu Lian’s mother was eventually released from Hell and was given a higher rebirth.

From then on, the gate of Hell was believed to be opened each year on this particular month so that wandering spirits could roam the earth among the living…….

To Be Continued…