A Piece of SKY…Food for Thought

Fei Chen has been featured in these blog posts several times. This one is her latest about the Hakka culture.

Sky“Everybody has a piece of Sky over their head. 每人頭上有一頂天.”  My sister said to me at times of uncertainty. I’m comforted that Sky or 天 protects and looks after all of us. Sky and I have formed a very special bond. With my head turned up to the blue Sky, I whisper my secrets and joys and deposit all my imaginary treasures in that heavenly space.

Not everyone is lucky to have a sister to look out for them or to impart words of wisdom. 每人頭上有一頂天. Many years ago when we ventured out to North America, we faced unknowns and other obstacles.  I was lucky that during such times, I had and still have my sister with whom I can share my inner-most thoughts, my joys and my doubts.

Now that the snow has melted away, at the crack of dawn I am once again able to venture outside in the open spaces in search of my hidden treasures and to reconnect with my piece of Sky 天.

Sky : In our Hakka culture we refer to Sky-天 as our supreme celestial power from which we draw our physical and mental well-being.  When I was young, I used to accompany my grandmother to climb four long flights of stairs to the pinnacle where our revered temple or 聖帝公公 is located in Pei-Mei High school, Calcutta, India.  Our rickshaw-wala carried our wicker baskets filled with food prepared by my mom. These we offered to our God. I watched my grandmother bow to the open Sky first, holding lighted incense sticks, before she commenced her prayers.

Chef Wong

Food for thought: Just as food forms the main part of our offerings to God, food brings us together at our Hakka community gatherings. The delicious flavor of food leaves us with more sweet thoughts about ourselves and the people we shared the feast with.  In our last Hakka social gathering we were privileged to have Chef Paul Wong 黃正傑 join us and demonstrate how to make Northern Chinese dumplings. Our very own Hakka Chef Paul! He was chatty and full of humour while he did a “show and tell” of this savory authentic Chinese cuisine which not only satisfied our appetite, but also stimulated our brains.

bon appétit !!!

Mighty Sun and Its Reflection

Mighty Sun

Fei Chen is the guest blogger for this post.

Beauty from my backyard:

Sunrise is a natural phenomenon that occurs every 24 hours.  I watch its ascend over the water from the best seat on Earth,—the beach behind my house—a visual feast for the naked eye. It pleases my senses to see the red hot ball of fire spiral out of a huge body of shimmering water that is Lake Ontario. Gently and gracefully it lifts itself out of the water leaving me just enough time to glimpse its reflection, before going on to share its solar powers with the world.

I was lucky enough to capture that precise moment with my iPad and it is my pleasure to share that picture with you.

Life is a journey:

Each sunrise marks a new day in our journey through life. When we reach the end of this trip, Buddhist conventions bring our family members, relatives and friends together. We congregate to support each other for the loss of our loved one and to pray for the departing soul’s smooth crossover.

Recently I had the privilege of sitting down in the memoriam hall of our Buddhist temple to pray for 姑丈 (Uncle), my 愛容姑’s husband who passed away.  The monks led us in solemn prayer service. The gong bell dinged at intervals accompanied by the occasional drum-beat during the monks’ rhythmic chanting. We burned incense to help the departing soul accelerate into the path of eternal peace.

During my meditation, I glimpsed my departed grandparents’ and my father’s plaques, which hung on the memoriam wall. I could not help but contemplate my own mortality. Memories of our unconditional family bonds crept into my mind to remind me of how lucky and privileged we were. These reflections of my extended family also left me with many bittersweet stories of days gone by. In that brief waking moment, I realized that life is simply a journey and we are the passengers.

Power of Yoga:

Just as my visit to the Buddhist temple to pray and meditate for departed loved ones can feed my spiritual soul, so does practicing Yoga. Yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning discipline in mind, body and spirit. There are many forms of Yoga practice, and the beauty of it is that you can do it on your own with your own purpose in mind. I love Yoga as it allows me to detach myself from everything and work with nothingness. I can sink into my inner self, to find my own solace, embrace my surroundings and connect with my cheerful side.

Namaste!!!

Why You Should Celebrate Your Life

FeiHsia2

This is a guest post written by Fei Chen. She writes thought-provoking pieces about life mainly for herself, and now I’m honoured to have her share some of her thoughts here.

Celebration of Life: I recently attended the funeral of our neighbor, 敬元哥 who lived to be 98 years old, or 102 years according to the lunar calendar. Instead of tears, his descendants greeted me with smiles. I was surprised, but pleased when one of his grandchildren explained that since her grandfather had passed on after 90, rather than mourn his death, our Indian Hakka community should celebrate his life.

In our conscious state we don’t spend enough time celebrating our lives. Instead we constantly plan, busily organize our calendars, and work like restless bees to acquire tangible assets. We do this to feed our physical needs, trying our best to achieve our set goals: this is what I call “a sequence of our life journey.” You see, our parents instilled in us these values of hard work and responsibility for ourselves. In turn I tell my children to follow the same mantra: go to university, earn degrees, find a good paying job, and settle down to a stable life just like the vast majority.

But we don’t have to follow the masses. I once watched a prominent actress on TV say, “What if a turtle has wings…” She made me put on my thinking cap, and I realized that humans have multidimensional brains. We think, react, and perform sequentially, but we can also step out of our comfort zone and think virtually and dream in the abstract.

Life is a Process:  I believe every one of us is born with a unique gift to prepare and equip us for our survival, challenges, and expectations.  Often we lose our faith when we battle opposing strong currents; then we are forced to take refuge to reassess our priorities.  Once we recognize and discover that sparkle and joy of life, however long it may take, we say, “OH WOW!!!”

Two Hakka Matriarchs Remembered: I immensely enjoyed reading C Fong Hsiung’s book Picture Bride recently. I appreciated the stories and the characters in the book that carried me back 35 years ago. In the scene where the Fong described Jillian’s grand-mother’s big 70th birthday bash, I couldn’t help but picture the author’s own grand-mother 亜球伯姆 and my grand-mother who were best friends while I was growing up in Tangra, Calcutta. 亜球伯姆 and my grand-mother were two matriarchs, close associates, and just like “two peas in a pod.”  When I was a teenager, I used to accompany these two old ladies during their Tuesday matinees at the cinemas. I’d overhear their conversations, and found their friendship and sisterhood truly remarkable.

Full Circle: As I stood in front of the lifeless body of 敬元哥 to pay my last respect, despite the smiling faces around me, emotionally I felt sad, and physically I felt empty and hollow. But then I wondered, “What if 敬元哥’s soul has crossed over, and my grand-mother and my dad greeted him on the other side?” Is there actually life after death?  What if there is a subconscious state where our souls fly to eternity when they depart from our physical bodies, and so on and on…

In Memory of a Neighbor

FeiHsia

Guest Post by Fei Chen

The neighbors from my childhood home have great bonds with my mother and love for her. We lived in communal surroundings in Calcutta, India where we cared, joked, and had fun together after long and sweaty work days. We respected the elders, loved the children, looked out for one another and often shared our food together. I have come to the conclusion that it is that sharing of food that glues our human feelings, bonds our emotions, and feeds our spiritual needs. In retrospect, in the old days we did not have a typical social structure; instead each family was like a cloister, compelled to cobweb ourselves in a tight and close-knit environment, and ultimately that kinship and social behavior became the cradle for our norm.

Last summer 月雲姊 and 緆芳哥 came from the United States to visit their friends and families in Toronto. My sister was with us at that time and I had the privilege of sitting down with them for lunch. 緆芳哥 wittily said to me with a mischievous smile, “Munchu said hello to you!” At that moment his tone of voice and his facial expression resonated with my childhood memories of Munchu. He was a street vendor who sold me numerous helpings of junk food in our old neighborhood of Tangra, also called Dhappa. This was a place where all Hakka people knew each other’s affairs and family histories. In that place we created our live comedies, laughing at other’s visible disabilities and immaturities without malice. We laughed out loud and then instantly shook off the scene and moved on to the next stage of life. We carried no menace, threats or physical harm to others.

Our ancestors like many others, left China and settled in Calcutta, India around the time when communism was in its incubation. Also we Hakka are adventurous and free-spirited people. I have witnessed my parents overcome ups and downs in different venture capital businesses. Yet they came out of their hardships, cheerful and triumphant, and always learned from their mistakes while they moved on.

緆芳哥 and his family were our family friends, and they were living in our compound long before I was born. To this day they still communicate with my mother. A short time ago while I was at my mom’s place for lunch, the phone rang, and it was 月雲姊 and 緆芳哥 saying hello. Then a few weeks later we were notified that 緆芳哥 had passed away. We are sad to lose one of our true friends from our inner circle.

Life is fragile. Everybody measures, values and loves life differently. I like to quote from our spiritual leader Dalai Lama and how he sees life: “Love and Compassion.”

Short “Shorts” – No Longer Here

This week we have a brand new writer. Her debut short story will touch you and evoke raw emotions that you can’t help, but feel. The writing prompt used was: She saw two people in the picture where there should have been three.

No Longer Here

by

Marina Albert

Beach_No Longer Here

“What’s happened to Mike?” Edel asked as her husband George hung up the phone.

”Mike’s missing. He went out on a boat with his friends and he may have drowned,” George said, his expression dark and gloomy.

The caller was a friend. Mike was George’s nephew, a smart, handsome and intelligent young man who just married a year ago. So Edel and George rushed to the cottage near the lake where Mike and his wife had spent the long weekend together with their friends.

A tragic scene greeted them. Many friends and relatives including Mike’s parents gathered at the cottage, praying for Mike to come back. Where was he? Surely a strong swimmer and a healthy young man like him wouldn’t drown?

Two long days of searching, and then the police found Mike. Drowned…lifeless.

Edel and George missed Mike. They missed his jokes and sense of humor at the family gatherings. A few weeks later, Edel visited Mike’s mother, Maria, who looked lonely and bereft at the loss of her only son at the age of thirty-three. She cried as she spoke about Mike.

Maria said that she knew something was wrong that Sunday morning when she stood at the bottom of the steps and her eyes rested on the family portrait hung above the clock. She saw two people in the picture where there should have been three. For a moment she was sure Mike was missing.

Then the phone rang…the call that told her Mike was gone. Was that God’s way of letting her know what was about to happen?

Maria remembered that on the day before the trip he came to borrow the cooler. His usually bright face was somber as he gave her advice about her diet. He had asked, “Where is Dad?” She told him that he was at the gym.

Mike went to the gym—somewhat unusual—just to see his dad, and then brought him home, after which he took off. That last glance and his goodbye still lingered in her mind. Did Mike have any inkling that it would be the final time he saw his parents?

The other day while driving to work Maria heard Mike’s voice. ‘MUMMY!” he called out. That was when she saw the car in front of her. She hit the brake just in time. She had dozed off briefly; the stress of losing Mike had taken a toll on her sleep.  If not for that voice she would have got into an accident.

When Edel walked out of her cousin’s house she felt sad, but she took comfort in her cousin’s stories. You see, although Mike was gone from this world, he still watched over them from heaven.

Reflections

How is it possible that another year has gone by?  As one gets older, time doesn’t move at the pace of the hour glass; it slips and slides like sand between the fingers. All too soon, I’m chasing that last minute before the day is done, and then I lie in bed wondering if I could have done some more.

The end of the year is a good time to reflect on what we have done these past twelve months with our careers, families, friends, and interests. What have we done to change or enhance our existence? Did our careers get a boost or a nudge, or did it plateau and maybe even take a beating? What were the highlights in our family events? The ones that made us laugh, love, or cry? Did we reconnect with an old friend, make a new one or simply kept our friendships active? Where did our interests take us this year—developed a new hobby or nurtured an old one? Did we try to make a difference to someone’s life?

So much to reflect upon.

I am blessed. I am grateful for many things in my life, and I remind myself of these as often as I can—sometimes daily—with even just one thing that makes me smile. One joyful bundle entered my life this year. My granddaughter, born during the first quarter, never fails to lift my spirits every time my eyes fall on her cherubic face, in many expressions, on my computer screen.

My family, at my side all the time, cheers me on as I measure each success by my writing milestones. A new contact or friend, attendance at a new author’s book launch, my first reading, my name amongst other writers—still unknown, but hopefully not for long.

I have edited more than a quarter of my first novel. The fact that I even finished my first draft this year is an achievement I never thought was possible. For so many years I had dreamed of writing a novel, but never got past the first couple of pages. So I am indeed thankful.

For anyone reading this blog, I hope you’ve had a successful year, however you define success.

My Namesake…My Challenge

How convoluted can your name get? If you have a couple of minutes, I’ll tell you my story.

When I was born, my parents promptly named me and registered my birth just like any law-abiding citizens. What’s so unusual about that? It’s a big deal—given that we’re talking about living in India during a time when many Chinese births were not registered until years later.

Owning an accurate birth certificate was quite an accomplishment…it was, until my parents decided to change part of my name before I enrolled for kindergarten at the local Chinese school. Apparently my generational name—the one that was common to all my sisters, unborn at the time—was in conflict with one of our ancestors in China. My parents didn’t think it was necessary to update my birth certificate though.

The curve ball came when I went to an English school at eight—earlier than most other Hakka Chinese kids my age. Rather than use my birth name, I was enrolled with my revised name spelled phonetically. One could argue that my high school certificate is not mine.

Another twist came about when we were allowed to become legal Indian citizens. The birth certificate became an important document. Only problem was that the person preparing my application added an alias. Now here was the perfect opportunity to right all that was wrong, but no…that would have made too much sense. I’ll spare you the details—fodder for another blog perhaps—of how a butchered sound-alike of my name was included into my citizenship documents.

When I immigrated to Canada, I reverted back to my legal given name registered at birth…until I got married and adopted my husband’s surname…but that’s the least convoluted part of this story.

Eight Years Old, and All Grown Up

When I was eight years old, I went away to study at a boarding school for the first time–at my own insistence–I might add. My English education began because I pestered my mother to let me study English. The local Chinese school in Tangra, a suburb of Calcutta (now called Kolkata), was the primary school for most of us back then.

My mother relented, and I went away to another city. I had to take an overnight train to get to my school where I stayed for nine months a year with two breaks, summer and winter. Too late…as I tried to get some sleep, half lying on my bedding roll in a crowded train compartment, I was confronted with the reality of what I’d committed myself to. I wouldn’t see my mom for the next four and half months. That was enough to bring some huge tears, and I mean torrential downpours, that lasted for a couple of weeks.

During those early days at school, struggling to learn English, I regretted bitterly being a spoiled kid and getting my way. The truth was my mother probably wanted an English education for me, and when I bugged her to let me go, she didn’t need a lot of coaxing.

Later, when English became more of a first language to me than my own Hakka dialect, I patted myself for being so forceful with my mother…I actually had the audacity to think that my eight-year old self was responsible for my own educational direction.

My mother’s birthday is coming up this week. I dedicate this blog to her for giving me the gift of language.