I was asked by a Pastor to share what the Holy Week meant to me. This is what I wrote to her:

Holy Week forces me to focus. It brings the Gospel to reality. God speaks to us through His Word from Genesis to Revelations.

But from the beginning of time to Eternity, EVERYTHING hinged upon the Holy Week. He rode into Jerusalem on Sunday knowing what was going to happen. Monday to Wednesday, he carried on with His Father’s work. On Thursday, was His Last Supper. He served His disciples, even the one who betrayed Him.

Then He went to Gethsemane. Gethsemane is particularly moving for me. Here, His humanity was most harrowing. He could have said no. He had the option. He chose obedience.

Gethsemane changed everything. It changed history. It changed my life.

On Friday, I crucified Him.

On Sunday, God raised Him.

He won. I lost.

What did He do then? He brought me into the winning team.

Holy Week is the entire Bible, entire creation, and eternity brought into focus. Holy Week makes Jesus real to me. Holy Week brings me to me to tears.

Lee Kuan Yew, sir.

I am deeply honoured to be able to say with great pride that I was born and brought up under your watch. Thank you for the privilege. I have learned much from you.

You have now left a hole in Singapore. But that hole shall be our soul.

I will not forget. Thank you.

Rest in Peace, sir.

Danesh Daryanani

I’m an avid photographer. One of my projects is to capture Singapore in all its richness, nuances and quirks before it all fades into oblivion. My photoblog is called “Scenes from Singapore.”

I started it to capture street photography in Singapore but it has slightly expanded beyond that definition – but not too much.

Some scenes I have captured exist no more. For example, this graffiti inspired by the movie, “V is for Vendetta” (2005).

Recently, I ventured into a very old Muslim cemetery to take some shots there. I posted this photo on Facebook with the location tag of the cemetery (In this post, I’m keeping the location vague at the request of the cemetery caretaker).

Photo I posted onto Facebook © Danesh Daryanani

Not long after I posted the picture, a friend of mine, a Malay gentleman, contacted me. My friend, F, is the eldest among three siblings. There was however, a fourth sibling, a boy who was born just after him. Tragically, his brother departed at only 3-days-old in 1973.

F explained that his 3-day-old brother was buried in that very cemetery but he did not have the fortitude to visit his brother. He asked me if I would take him to find his brother. I, of course, immediately said “yes!” and set a date.

I sensed F needed to visit his brother for some sort of closure. Having been to the cemetery before, I know how old and overrun it is and I was not sure if we would be able to locate his brother. And each time I visited the cemetery, there was NO ONE there. Who to ask? I decided to go to the cemetery by myself again before accompanying F to see if I could make any sense of the plot and perhaps devise a strategy to find his brother.

View of the Cemetery © Danesh Daryanani

Alas, no clue. Again, there was no one. Many of the tombstones were unmarked, some were removed and placed in a pile, and others just buried under the plants and weeds that had proliferated over the years. Even those with inscription, many were faded and even if they haven’t, I wouldn’t be able to read jawi or Arabic script anyway.

I wasn’t hopeful that F would be able to find his brother.

On the morning I was to accompany him to visit the Muslim cemetery, I prayed to my Lord and ask that somehow, F will be able to identify at least the plot where his brother lay.

I picked F up. On the way to the cemetery, I attempted to manage his expectations on being able to find his brother. I parked a short distance from the cemetery, offered him some mosquito repellent, sprayed some on myself and took the short walk to the cemetery.

As soon as we walked in, we both saw a tattooed Indian man without a shirt. He saw us too and yelled, addressing us, “As-salamu alaykum!” (Peace be upon you). My friend yelled in reply, “Wa-Alaikum-Salaam.” (And unto you peace).

Caretaker © Danesh Daryanani

Caretaker explaining the geography of the cemetery © Danesh Daryanani

This was the first time ever I saw anyone there.

He happened to be the caretaker of the cemetery. This Indian gentleman was born into a devoutly Christian (Pentecostal) family (his father was a Pastor) but through his own journey, converted to Islam when he was 18. Although this gentleman has a fascinating history, I’m going to keep the details sketchy because he’s a very private person and prefers to remain that way.

I turned to the caretaker and explained that my friend F, was looking for his brother who was buried in the cemetery in 1973. Incidentally, 1973 was the last year that a burial took place in the cemetery.  Besides that, we had no information. Due to the understandable heartache and trauma of the infant death, neither his mother nor father could bring themselves to visit the cemetery.

Curious about me, he asked if I was a Muslim. I explained that I am a Christian. This surprised him on two counts.

I’m a Sindhi (and he knew that as it came out during the conversation). Sindhis are generally Hindu and extremely rare is a Sindhi Christian.

Secondly, he was surprised that a Christian brother would accompany his Muslim brother on such a task as this.

I told him that I take it as an honour and a sacred privilege that my Muslim friend would ask a Christian brother to help him find his brother in a Muslim cemetery.

Let me digress for a moment. There is a lot of talk during this period about Lee Kuan Yew’s accomplishment. The economic success, the glistening bay front area, the international reputation, and many other visible signs of success. But, I stopped and asked myself, “Which other country could see a Christian Sindhi, accompany a Malay Muslim helped by an Indian Muslim (converted from Christianity) to find his brother in an old Muslim Cemetery?” Along with the glitz, this is the stuff that makes Singapore special and would make LKY proud.

Couldn’t resist a wefie with the caretaker who was very game © Danesh Daryanani

OK, back to the main story.

The Indian caretaker took us around the cemetery explaining who was buried at which plot, the rough burial date of each section, what an infant’s grave looked like and through rambling with him, we finally came to a landing on the area (about 3 square metres), where F’s brother was buried.

Having identified the area where his brother lay, F asked me if he could have five minutes to pray for his brother. I said, “Of course. Take as much time as you need.”

I stepped aside, some distance away but close enough to see him.

What I saw was touching. He took out a small book which contained an excerpt of the verses from the Koran that is used for funerals. He was conducting the last rites for his brother. Here, the two first-born boys were united. This was closure.

A touching sight. My friend F, praying from the Koran for his brother © Danesh Daryanani

I watched from a respectable distance until he was finished.

We thanked the caretaker and promised to come back with kopi and curry-puffs to thank him and to shoot the breeze in the cemetery.

I took F home. He thanked me for accompanying him. I thanked him for the honour.

Two men. Different religions. Sure, we may not agree on everything. But there was kinship, there was respect and there was love.

——————–

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honour; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.

Romans 12:9-13

What a distinct privilege. Seriously.

I had the honour of being invited to a pre-opening dinner at Lollapalooza (check out links here and here).

Full Disclosure: One of the main partners is a friend.

Now that I got that disclosure out of the way, I can speak freely.

He’s a fabulous guy. Honestly. Ask those who know him. (His wife is even better but this is not about her).

His first restaurant in Singapore is Lolla, which has global accolades. BBC ranked it as one of the top ten eateries globally. That’s pretty cool.

When he invited us to a pre-opening dinner at Lollapalooza, we were like, “What? Of course! What an honour!”

The décor has some of the DNA of Lolla – same but different is the best way to describe the place. Think Lolla made over by snazzy jazz chef musicians. Something like that.

Oh, incidentally, Lollapalooza prints a new menu daily based on the best produce available. Chefs are briefed on the ingredients obtained. This may not sound earth-shattering but their daily procurement is far from ordinary and definitely not what you get on a regular basis. You’ll understand when you see what we ate and when you visit Lollapalooza. The chefs play with flavours and textures to demonstrate the fullest expression of each ingredient while making each dish complete.

We ate (not all pictured) flatbread with mushroom conserva, cherry tomato salad, crispy potato terrine, dog cockle tartare, radicchio with crispy pig’s ears, suckling pig in milk, corned veal tongue and for dessert, quince galette.

Their signature dish is the braised tuna eye with salsa verde but we only found out later and we were too full to order any more food. That’s cool. It gives me a reason to visit again.

The food is extraordinary. The service is brilliant. I also learned that most staff (apart from one person ) has been with the company since day one. That speaks volumes.

We enjoyed the evening. A LOT!

Thanks HT!

Selected pics from the evening:

Radicchio with crispy pig’s ear

Flatbread with mushroom conserva

Corned veal tongue

Suckling pig braised in milk (mid-section)

Quince galette

Maybe I have a “talkable” face but I have many encounters with strangers on a regular basis. I thought I’ll record the more interesting and endearing ones. I recently wrote about the Patrician from the class of 1957. This encounter falls under the endearing category.

Two days ago, I had an early dinner at 115 Bukit Merah View Market and Hawker Centre. I had mee pok dry from this gentleman from Soon Heng Minced Meat Noodles stall.

OK, but this post is not about him – just posted it coz I had a snap. After getting our bowls of noodles, we wanted to sit at the breezier side of the hawker centre (the car park side, on that day). However, most of the tables were not cleared. We found one relatively clean and empty table just next to a porridge stall called Shi Fu A1 Rou Zhou.

Soon after we took our seats, this elderly lady who runs the porridge stall with her sister sat down on the same table in front of a pile of pei dan (century eggs) presumably to peel them in preparation for the dinner crowd. Sharing the same table, I naturally looked towards her, smiled and wished her Xin Nian Kuai Le (happy lunar new year in Mandarin). She beamed, thrilled.

She could only converse in Hokkien. I can’t speak Hokkien. Through my dinner companion who interpreted for me, she readily revealed that she was in her seventies. She started selling porridge in the same location around 1975 when she was in her thirties.

Perhaps it was a simple smile or perhaps it was an Indian guy wishing her happy lunar new year in Mandarin (or a combination) that made her so happy. She claimed (unsubstantiated, I must add) that I am a “good person” because most people “ignore the elderly.” She said it’s the way I took the initiative to acknowledge her and the way I smiled at her. I was a bit pai seh when she added again that I’m a “good person”.

She was animated, smily and jovial throughout the conversation. She happily posed for a picture with me. So sweet. She wished us Jing Bu (progress) many times.

This is the funny bit. As we continued eating, she told my companion in Hokkien, “Don’t mind me, I’m an old person so it should be ok for me to say this. He is very good-looking.” She then again repeated that I’m a kind and good person.

I’d by lying if I didn’t say that it made me feel good. I wish I could speak Hokkien. We could have had a longer conversation. Maybe I should learn some conversational Mandarin this year. See how.

We promised to come back to eat.

Bottom line is that we made each other’s evenings. Lesson learned – look at people and smile. It’s almost always a win-win.

What a lovely evening. I’m still smiling as I write this.

Last Sunday, 15th February 2015, the mood for a kopi-o gao came upon me. So I traipsed to one of my favourite uncle baristas in Telok Blangah.

Got my S$0.70 (US$0.56 as of 16/2/15) brew and sat at a vacant table. Shortly, the man in this picture came up from behind me and asked, “May I sit here?”

I was surprised. This elderly Chinese gentleman with tattoos on both his upper arms spoke in perfectly enunciated English.

Judge me not but I thought he looked “Hokkien Gangsterish” if you know what I mean.

I said, “Go ahead”, and motioned for him to sit down.

My curiosity was piqued. We were sitting at a table right opposite a fruit juice stall and next to it, a prata stall.

After a few moments, I asked him, “Are you waiting for juice?”

He said, “Prata”.

Eager to engage him further, I continued, “It’s crowded today.”

Understanding that I was open to engagement, he turned towards me.

His English was clipped. I noticed his crucifix and Mother Mary pendants.

I attended St. Patrick’s School as a teenager. I’m a proud Patrician. And I know Patricians. There is a certain je ne sais quoi about Patricians. You see, Patricians possess a counter-intuitive blend of gangster and gentleman, streetwise and refined, rough and smooth. Ask any Patrician and they’ll understand what I mean. This gentleman had it. I asked him if he was from a mission school. He said yes. I asked which. He said St. Patrick’s. I was vindicated.

A connection had been made.

OK, let me nutshell what I learned of Clarence during our chance encounter.

He was born in 1937.

He completed both primary and secondary school in St. Patrick’s (they had primary school until 1957 when the primary section of the school was separated and became Saint Stephen’s School, which I attended).

He graduated in 1957 (I enrolled in 1977).

Being a bit of a rascal (which is the norm for Patricians), he was publicly caned (rather proudly, I must add) a number of times. One time he was caned for “waylaying” Katong Convent (KC) girls (he remembers the names of the three girls but I’m not publishing it). He said this rather proudly although he admitted that at that time he had no idea what “waylay” meant. I totally get it that he was proud (as will most Patricians).

Clarence got caned another time for stealing a papaya at a nearby hotel (now demolished). Although the property was protected with barbed wires, he threw a gunnysack over the wires, climbed over and stole the papaya. He was caught when he made his way back to school. He claimed that the papaya had fallen on the public side of the fence. It was a lie. And the disciplinarian didn’t buy it.

Updated on 20 February 2015 with the information of the name of the hotel – Ocean Park Hotel (thanks Larry Henson). 

Clarence described the experience of one of his public canings. The caning teacher presented a row canes the day before the public caning and ask him to choose one. He chose the seemingly most insipid one. On the following day of public caning, he wore two shorts and stuffed it with newspapers. Although the caner knew what was going on by the sound as the cane struck Clarence’s derrière, he let it go. Compassion.

I’m guessing that today, public caning is a no-no. When I was in St. Patrick’s from 1977 to 1980, public caning was still in force. I think it was and is a good thing for an all-boys school.

Although I enrolled in St. Pat’s in 1977, twenty years after Clarence graduated, I asked him about some of the older teachers during my time. One of my vice-principals was Mr Eu Wing Kee. Clarence remembered him to be a trainee teacher during his time. He remembered Brother Justinian (an avid tennis player well into his advanced years) and Brother Joseph McNally (principal during my era). The principal during his time was Brother Alban.

The St. Patrick School’s latin motto is Potest Qui Vult, which means “he can, who wills”. When I was at St. Pat’s (1977 – 1980) we would refer to our motto instead as “protest and revolt”. Apparently, it was the same during Clarence’s era. Perhaps even before.

He was brought up in Lorong K, Telok Kurau with his Grandmother. I didn’t ask him about his mom and dad. He earned money for his grandma by helping a Malay lady sell epok-epok, kueh-mueh and other delicacies. He would be paid ten cents a day for doing this, which was apparently a lot of money then. He would put this money into a “piggy-bank” his grandmother made from a coconut shell.

He worked at the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) but when he joined it was called Singapore Harbour Board (SHB).

He canvassed for Lee Kuan Yew in Tanjong Pagar in the 1957 Singapore City Council Elections. Incidentally, he is not pro-ruling party. In fact, he’s not a fan, by any stretch of the imagination, of the current overcrowding he feels in Singapore. After hearing his story, I can definitely sympathise. I recognise that Clarence and his peers are the ones who built the Singapore that we now enjoy. A simpler, quieter, and slower Singapore.

He’s got tattoos on both his upper arms in Chinese characters. I asked him about them. On the right side are the names of his mom and dad, and on the left the names of his wife and son.

He is a Catholic and attends the Carmelite Monastery in Singapore.

I left after half and hour as I had bought some raw produce from the wet market and needed to get home to refrigerate it.

I didn’t get Clarence’s number but I told him I’m going to look out for him to hear his stories.

He looked pleased.

I’m definitely going to look out for him to collect more stories. What a great Sunday tête-à-tête.

I live near Pasir Panjang Hawker Centre. About two months ago, if not before, I da bao’ed (take away) Hokkien Mee from Seng Huat Hokkien Mee from that very hawker centre.

This Tuesday afternoon (3rd February), about 2pm, I went back there to buy liang teh (cooling tea) as I was feeling yit hei (heaty). As I made my way to the liang teh stall, the man in the picture suddenly clasped my shoulder.

I didn’t recognise him from Adam. Motioning to his stall, he started off by saying in Singlish, “Do you remember you bought from me last time?” I confess, my first reaction was, “Oh no, I didn’t pay or didn’t pay enough?” You see, he was kinda tough-looking.

What a terrible and suspicious reaction. I felt so bad after.

He said, “You ordered $6 Hokkien Mee but I gave you $4 pack by mistake.” He thrust $2 into my hands. Mind you, he had to walk half-across the hawker centre to do this. Remember, this was over 2 months ago. I was shocked and couldn’t react. I thanked him, took the money and walked away.

A few seconds later, I was like, “What am I doing?”

I walked back to him, gave him a semi-hug (I couldn’t deal with a bear hug in a hawker centre with a sweaty dude I don’t know) and thanked him again. I told him that he was totally amazing for doing this. I mean he must have been waiting to spot me for two months. I would have never known I was given a smaller pack. Even if I knew, I wouldn’t have remembered.

I asked him if I could snap a picture of him in front of the stall.

An act like this is enough to blot out a thousand dark acts.

The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:5 NASB)

It reminded me to have hope in humanity and to guard my own heart.

Thank you sir. Thank you.

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