Author: Karen

Kefir in a bottle

Relationship with food and our wellbeing

Four or five of us gathered around some chocolates. No labels on the chocolate. We have no idea what brand, what flavour. The facilitator led us to “taste” the chocolates in air – meaning we didn’t ingest, but we connected to the energy of the chocolate.  For the first piece – we first all connected to the chocolate to feel how it felt in our body as if we have eaten it. Some said they felt it was very sticky in the throat or in the digestion. Surprisingly, although none of us were trained to “taste” this way, for each chocolate, we had sensations – sensing that this piece was more prickly in the throat, and that more heavy in the digestion. The experience was eye-opening because how often do we sense the food we eat as suppose to just seeing how it looks? When we buy produce Ever since that chocolate tasting, I had been more conscious when I go grocery shopping. I look and sense the freshness and aliveness of the fruit or …

A couple holding hands on beach | Where My Heart Leads

Secret to Happy. Piano Four Hands.

My friend Yee sends over Whatsapp:  The song always reminds me of high school. I didn’t realise she plays so well…and she looks so happy. In the video, Karen Mok, a Hong Kong singer plays the piano four hands with her husband.  Just a regular afternoon. They looking intently at the score to catch all the notes and chuckles when one misses some. Child-like fun. Recovering Music fun? The morning I received Yee’s text, I had been thinking about playing piano. How fun it can be to play – play with music. When I moved from Hong Kong to the US, I noticed that whilst Asian kids dominated the music building, and a number were quite good, the non-Asian kids who played music seemed to experiment and enjoy it more. In the US, kids don’t sit for exams. In Hong Kong, I have yet to meet a serious student of music who do not sit for the British music exams. In the US, instead of drills on scales, we learnt about expression, about performing, about …

Bouquet of Pink and white flowers against light grey background

Grace at the Oyster Bar

It wasn’t until a chance encounter at City ‘super that I felt the power of grace. Standing at the long metallic bench table by the oyster bar, I was having a salad – chopsticks in hand, Japanese style. A man who probably works in the office towers above walked over with his food and stood diagonally across me a feet or so away unpacking it. Out of the blue, I felt a sudden wave of energy emanating from him. I glanced over – I saw him holding quietly still, hands folded in front of the Japanese hamburger patty he had just unpacked. He said Grace. Standing a couple feet away, I felt it the energy of his prayer. He must have said grace so heart-fully that the energy radiated strongly, and across the bar table, my salad probably got some of the blessings too! Saying grace and having a thankful heart, it changes the vibration of the person taking the food that naturally the food is in sync with the person.  Karen, Where My Heart …

Exterior of Paranakan Museum Singapore | Where My Heart Leads

WMHL explores Merlion city (plus Bonus trivia!)

I used to visit Singapore often as a kid as we visited my Aunt who lived here. I had fond memories strolling with my cousin to a nearby arcade getting Archie comic books at the used book store, and having my favorite paddle pops. (4 a day!! For a kid that was like the Best-est holiday!) Although unicorns weren’t quite a thing then, I guess all kids subconsciously have a love for the magical unicorn colors [Enter Agnes in Despicable Me] There were fond memories of fresh chicken satays barbequed atop of smokey barbeque stoves. Teppanyaki lunches where we’d retire to the living room area for tea and ice-cream after the meal. And jumping off three-meter high diving boards (my first) at some club swimming pool. New Singapore Explorations I am here again to explore. This time, with over three decades of travels and life experiences with me. Instead of paddle pops, I’m having Hokkaido affogato soft-serve at Don Don Donki food court. As suppose to neighbor’s grilled satays, I’m invited to Po at the …

Inner physician and You | Where My Heart Leads

Your Inner Physician and You

Written by the founder of Craniosacral Therapy (CST). The title is apt – our bodies are the ones doing the repair, the growth, the healing. We all have an inner physician. What encourages the body’s own healing to take place? What hinders it? How can we lend the body a hand in its healing? Getting to the Bottom of it During the worst of the eczema, my whole scalp was oozing liquid and blood from the sores of the skin. I still remember lying on the massage table, clearly distressed by how out of hand the scalp was, and also embarrassed that the therapist would be working on such a horrid case. The smell of bodily wounds, the liquidy mess.  Blessedly, Catherine the therapist didn’t pass any judgement and made me feel at ease. By the end of the session, the oozing on the scalp had stopped. I was relieved that the skin has at least calmed down. I won’t be worrying about staining the pillows that evening. Following a few more sessions, the scalp …

Triangle |Where my heart leads

Mystery Triangles

You’d be surprised to find TOTO toilets in wooden shacks. TOTO toilets are swanky Japanese toilets complete with customisable bidet functions and most appreciated of all – the perennially warm seat. Waarmnesss… The wooden shacks ain’t just any ordinary wooden shacks either. They were out in the boonies in Japan at a Vipassana meditation camp. Naked incandescent light bulbs lit each wooden stall. For 10 days, men and women stay at the camp to learn and practice Vipassana meditation.  The Considerati Since Literati describes those who are learned, the “Considerati” would then describe those who are considerate.   The Japanese are culturally courteous and considerate. I remember removing my shoes before entering the chado (Tea ceremony) mizuya (tea prep area) and upon exiting found my shoes and those of others mysteriously arranged right way up for those leaving so we can put on our shoes more easily. It felt very attentive and welcoming. (細心 – heart into the details) At the Vipassana camp, I noticed mystery triangles surfacing in the wooden shacks every now and …

Dandelion and spores flying across blue skies | Where my Heart Leads

A Film Festival fosters inclusivity

In a breezy corner of a mall-slash-hall, 20-30 seat-long rows arched before the stage. Neighborhood folks came in their homewear, kids and sometimes grandparents in tow. When they advertised this as a community screening, it truly was a community screening. A little girl climbed up on stage to play during the screening, yet nobody was too fussed to haul her off. The film continued to roll, the little girl played for a bit and climbed down of her own accord eventually. I was surprised by the large turnout for a niche film, in Malay. It drew a large crowd of at least a hundred. REDHA, based on a true story, enraptured the audience as it tells the gripping, yet moving journey about a family rising above the harsh realities of raising a child with Autism. Thanks to superb acting, I couldn’t be sure if the boy who plays the main character was autistic or if he was acting. Turns out the young actors Harith Haziq and Izzy Zulkhazreef shadowed autistic children to help them get …

Two heads of giraffes looking opposite directions | Where My Heart Leads

Focus Which Way

My friend Karen went to a retreat in Bali to learn surfing. She was very annoyed that the random people bobbing about in the water were checking out how she gets on the board. Her coach reminded her, “If you focus on those people, you’ll crash into them. However, if you focus on that opening between them, you’ll get past them and be riding the wave.”  It’s a excellent reminder on life too. Do we let distractions, like other people and what they do pull us off course, or are we intently focused on that gap/that way forward? People say focus is important Yet what we focus on has just as much importance.  An owner I know runs an education business that touches many lives. Undoubtedly, the owner pours her heart and soul her business. She offers music, education, and parenting of high quality. For a long time though, she was so focused on fixing the parts in her business that didn’t work. Her focus on fixing had her believe her business wasn’t working until someone …

Small light box on desk saying YOU GOT THIS | Where My Heart Leads

Fortune Telling

As fresh twenty-somethings out of college having studied overseas, my friends and I went for fortune telling sessions. We’d ask: how is the job, how’s the love life, health, family – the usual.  Despite being a cosmopolitan, financial centre, fortune telling and feng shui practice is entrenched in the fabric of Hong Kong. Even Pritzker Prize-winning architect IM Pei designed Hong Kong’s iconic Bank of China tower with Feng Shui principles in mind. Its triangular forms make swords that cut through and deflect any bad energies directed from surrounding neighbors.  It is not uncommon for business magnates as well as office workers to turn to feng shui and fortune telling to get some bearing on their life. The one my friends and I visited frequented was a legally blind man who would tell our fortunes. He had a sense of humor and would share a life lesson or two here and there during our chat. I’ve also been to ones who had a whole joss stick-burning ritual before sitting down to flip through a book …

Five students in the sun at the farm at Milton Mountain School

Schooled on an Organic Farm

Two decades back, I was digging up potatoes, feeding hens and taking high school classes on an organic farm in Vershire, Vermont. With just forty-odd kids all in 11th grade and 8-9 faculty and staff, The Milton Mountain School was off-the-beaten-path, and a much treasured experience. From feeding farm hens to being Kitchen Hand Every two weeks, our chores rotate. Jack Kruse assigns us to our chores. I must have been his favorite – the only time when we had a three-week rotation, he assigned me for the best-est chore of: Composting. Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner for 55 people sums to three to sometimes six slop buckets of compost per day. Slop is all the kitchen scraps from cooking and after meals. The white buckets are arm’s-length deep. Just around sunrise, I’d load the buckets onto a wheelbarrow and push up a small hill to the compost area. Hoisting the buckets high enough over the wooden fence, I’d empty the sloppy-slop into the compost, then cover it with dry hay. Luckily, I didn’t know what …

Japanese Harvest Festival Matsuri | Where My Heart Leads

When a coffee chat turned into full-fledged Japanese Harvest Festival

Thanks to serendipity. This time last year, I was waiting at a train station two hours east of Tokyo. I had just taken a cab with two other Vipassana camp participants after our camp. We said our goodbyes and I waited for another two who said we’d meet for some coffee at the station before heading back into town. 15 – 20 minutes later, the two of them turn up in this little white buggy of a car. Waving, and windows rolled down, “Hey hey, we’re going to this really cool farm-to-table cafe that Yuriko is offering to take us. Would you like to go too?” “Sure!” I had no plans for the rest of my time in Tokyo so roadtrip/adventure? I’m in! My big fat suitcase just managed to fit into the trunk, and I squeezed into the back seat and off we went. The five of us didn’t know one another, but had ‘slept together’ the last 10 days at the Vipassana camp. At the wheel is Yuriko. She’s a local. A total …

Tea lessons: let go of control

Tea Practice is a bit like a world of its own. It’s somewhat of an insular practice space, a Dojo (道場)for immersive learning. It’s freeing in a sense beause it doesn’t come with the stakes and stressess of a workplace. Because we gather because of our common interest in Tea, Practice, and Japanese culture. Our Senior teacher once asked, “Do you know how Japanese and Chinese tea practice differ?” To which we discussed,“The Chinese ‘art’ of tea probably places more emphasis on the taste, the origins, the tenor of the tea?” we continue, “Whereas Japanese Tea Practice, or Chado (way of tea) is about the practice of the whole person.”  Our Senior teacher nods in acknowledgement. Indeed, aside from the ceremony of serving the tea, almost everything around the Tea Practice serves as potential for learning.  To Help or Hijack? Last Saturday, before the start of class, we gathered in the Mizuya (水屋), the water room for prepping and cleaning utensils, arranging sweets. One of our teachers asked a classmate to help cut up a …

Portrait photo of Isamu Noguchi by Mimi Jacobs 1977 | Where My Heart Leads

Meet Noguchi: Design & Art for a better world

Prologue Twenty years ago, I first saw Noguchi’s work at his museum in New York. I assumed he was Japanese or Japanese-American by the name. The Japanese aesthetics infused his works – the stones plucked from a zen garden, the minimalist forms helped corroborate my assumption. Skip forward a couple years, I went to Paris for training at my first job in a French cosmetics company. With a couple days to explore the city, my boss recommended that I check out the Pompidou Centre.  Nothing at the Pompidou struck a cord. At the doorstep of the industrial facade of the Pompidou however, sits a quaint, nondescript structure. It’s the Constantin Brancusi atelier. Brancusi (1876-1957) was a self-taught sculptor. Legend has it that he walked on foot from his hometown in Romania to France.  One enters the atelier and follows an elliptical trajectory circumventing a cluster of Brancusi pieces, separated by glass. Brancusi’s sculptures are magnetic. I had found myself encircling his works at the MOMA as if looking harder might enable a deeper connection. A …

Secret Santa: Blood donor confessions

I still remember how gentle, kind and upbeat she was, giving me two thumbs up. And how nonchalantly he put on the Cartoon channel for me. Secret Santas in action. First time donor When it comes to blood and needles – I am a wuss. The idea of extracting a Vitasoy pack-equivalent of my blood from my body is scary. The attendant who led me to the cushy armchair became on the receiving end of a chain of my questions, all of which in the hopes of finding something that reassures – “It it going to hurt?” “No, no. Just relax and watch TV.” He says casually.  The screens broadcasted the tired police press conference, so I asked if I could watch something else. “What would you want to watch?” “Cartoons.” I replied and he put on Cartoons for the screen in front of me. Some staff walked by and did a double-take at the cartoons. The guy didn’t make a fuss out of it and so neither did the others. The trainee Santa The …

Beauty Pageant Q&A twenty-five years later

Beauty pageants was a thing in the days of television. It was fun to watch: the song and dance, ball gown and swimsuit parades, and the Q&A the pageants have to go through. One question stuck for over 25 years, “As a Miss Hong Kong, you need good manners and deportment going about your day. When you are at the ladies, do you need good manners and deportment also?” The contestant fumbled for an answer. What probably was going through her mind and what was going through mine at the time was, “How does one go to the loo with (ahem) deportment?”  Let me fill you in on background. In the heyday of beauty pageantry, TV stations had big budgets to spend hiring experts to teach contestants how to walk, how to carry themselves, how to adhere to certain protocols. Perhaps not unlike what Kate Middleton or Meghan Markle would go through to adhere to – in their case –  royal protocols. After weeks of such training, the contestant’s probably thinking – yes, I need …

What shocked me about the world as I knew it

It was like a revelation. A shocker – my life as I had known it has been like a frog living at the bottom of the well. The revelation came about thanks to Michael Moore’s heartful film Where to Invade Next. He takes us on an ‘invasion’ to ‘steal’ the best ideas of ways of life from other countries. Growing up in Hong Kong with access to information, learning amongst “great minds” in the US, and travelled a decent bit – I thought I had a fair understanding of the world. It was not until Where to Invade Next that I realised I held a limiting perspective on how life can be. Eye-opening ways of the world In Norway, prisoners run their own prisons and even have keys to their own ‘cells.’ Meanwhile in Portugal, all recreational drugs are legal. And as a result of legalisation, drug-use actually dropped! In France, children are served four-course meals at school everyday. And in Finland, some of the high-scoring students in the world don’t grow up with homework …

Alain Ducasse secret sauce

Alain Ducasse may be known for his Michelin stars, but he is so much for than a chef. Food is ephemeral. You can have a great dining experience, but it’s “Ichi Go Ichi E” (一期一会)as the Japanese say. Every occasion – the people-place-and-time is unique – can never be replicated again. So, cherish the experience. Recognise it and be in the present. Unlike architects who have monumental masterpieces for future generations to experience, or film-makers, novelists whose work can be savoured by future generations. With chefs and their creations, it’s for the now. Message in food Food is powerful, because it’s so primary. Regardless of background, people can appreciate food. Food brings people together. In celebrations as well as troubled times, offering sustenance and relief. In one of my favorite Romance films – A Tale of Samurai Cooking: A True Love Story, the palace head chef is tasked to create a meal for the leaders of the warring factions. The chef and his wife-partner understood the enormity of the task. Cutting no corners, they traversed the …

Products of different systems

Imagine Us owning up to our differences

The massive vat of stir-fry appeared circa October 2018 at one of the Vipassana meditation camps in Japan. It was a slop of gooey soy-sauced corn-starch jumble of vegetables. I took a teeny bit and mostly filled my bowl with rice, and a massive serving of miso soup. On the last day of the 10-day silent Vipassana camp, silence was lifted and we got chatting. On food, a friend excitedly exclaimed, “The stir-fry was SOOOO good. I had extra helpings of it.” I thought, “You serious!? That was the most disgusting stir-fry I’ve ever seen.” She continued, “I loved the sauce.” “What!? The sauce was practically cornstarch goop.” I thought to myself. I saw a couple other Japanese nodding in agreement to my friend’s positive appraisal of the stir–fry. Thinking difference During the meals when I was thinking how horrible the meal was; there were people who really enjoyed it. The gooey sauce was a hit for Japanese taste-buds. I could see how it had resemblance to Japanese curry sauce or the demi-glace gravy-like sauce …

Because she did drugs, I told the teacher

Boarding school at age 13, 14 was very much a culture shock. Not just the language, the food, most of all how people think and the way things are done. I was assigned to a large girl’s dorm my first year, sharing a large double room with a girl from NYC. You can easily tell which side of the room was hers and which was mine. We had totally different modes of life.  Cultural Contrasts My roommate sets her alarm for 6am (Classes start at 8, mind you). The loud beeping radio alarm types that I don’t get why people use waking up to scratchy, annoying noise. My roommate takes her morning shower and spends the next hour or so putting together her outfit and makeup (something I didn’t even own.) I – rolled out of bed 15 minutes before the class bell rung. Brushed my teeth, went to the loo, threw on dress code-abiding clothes got there just at 8. If breakfast was had, I’d get up an extra 15 minutes earlier for a …

Thailand's King Bhumibol legacy | Where My Heart Leads

Thai King Bhumibol: Inspiring Nations

On a recent trip to Bangkok, I got a different taste of Thailand. Instead of the shopping and eating, we visited some sites. I visited the huge reclining Buddha at Wat Pho (sounds like “What For?”) with intricate mother of pearl inlays and en route swung by an amazingly well-kept temple site Wat Arun. Walking through the intricately-built and colorful Wat Arun temple grounds just a couple ferry stops from the main commercial area, I was struck by the fact that Thailand, some few hundred years ago, had preserved such wealth of culture, riches, and know-how evident from the well-kept structures and temples at the grounds of Wat Arun. Upon further investigation, Thailand is the only South East Asian country not colonised by European powers. Thanks to their King’s determination and the unity of the country – the royal family and nobles practically emptied their cofers that they had saved over two generations to pitch in and pay up in defending their nation. The Upbringing of a Statesman But my focus is King Bhumibol, the …

Pouring Sake for others | Where My Heart Leads

Can we experience Harmony in everyday life?

Japan stepped into a new era – Reiwa (Enabling Harmony) – when Crown Prince took the throne on May 1st. “What is Harmony?” has been on my mind since a friend said, “It went really smoothly. It was harmonious.” she said of a New Years tea gathering we helped host. Harmony has great significance in Japanese tea ceremony. As a Japanese Tea student, we are introduced to the concept of Harmony early on – a four character scroll, summarizing the four tenets of Chado Wa (Harmony) Kei (Respect) Sei (Pure) Jaku (Tranquility) written in large ink brush script would hang in the centre of the alcove – like a Buddhist master transmitting his teachings, reminding the student to hold these tenets of the practice to heart. Despite trays of exquisitely arranged food of more than 10 items each needing to be assembled, bowls of tea to be whisked and served, sake to be poured and a few mishaps thrown-in, the new year tea gathering flowed like clockwork. Everyone on our service team stepped up to complete …

Havana Divas in full stage costume | Where My Heart Leads

Unexpected Encounters: Havana Divas and Chinese diaspora

Little did I know, that I was in for a treat with the Havana Divas that evening. I probably was not the only one with question marks over my head when we saw two westerners, age 80+ singing and performing Cantonese Opera complete with gestural expressions. You see, unlike Italian Opera, which is relatively ‘mainstream’, Cantonese Opera is a rare specimen that I had believed only existed in my part of the world. As Cantonese Chinese myself, I had not watched even one performance before that night. They were impressive – not only because of the authenticity of their performance, which was surprisingly true to the art. (The way they pronounced the words, and the way they sung, you feel they were bringing through customs of a different era.) But their story offers a window into the Chinese histories of diaspora. Caridad Ho age 87 and Georgina Wong age 89 hail from Cuba, halfway around the globe and are living links to another era.  Their expressive and genuine ballads enraptured the audience. After a moving performance, the two …

Longevity Reed | Where My Heart Leads

Secret to Longevity (That Everyone Has)

Prologue A wave of confusion swept over me when the female lead came on stage. Obviously she was a foreigner, so how in the world did she learn, or why did she even learn to sing old-school Cantonese Opera of all things? From the looks of it: back a little stooped and her small shuffling footsteps, she was probably in her 70s or 80s even? Soon after, the ‘male’ lead comes on stage – with a crutch in her right hand!  I was at the Hong Kong Arts Festival, at one of its Cantonese Opera evenings entitled, “Global Traces, Local Stages.”  What started it all Pre-show, a friend and I got dinner at the quintessential old-school diner Mido Cafe. Over Hong Kong curry rice, I was venting (just ever-so slightly) about the challenges of starting and running my business.  My friend generously shared her experience twenty years ago helping set up her husband’s business. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, but twenty years later, her husband now jokes, “Would you still have wanted me to have taken …

Folding clothes in the Marie Kondo way | Where my heart leads

Is emotionally-charged decluttering healthy?

Marie-Kondo–ing has taken off. Like Googling has become a verb, Kondo-ing has become a verb to mean purging things that do not spark joy. Netflix even aired a Marie Kondo show early this year. In the trailer, you see people distraught as they part with their belongings, as if they’re parting with a loved one. Their emotional responses – their red, crying faces made me wonder, is there something amiss in the approach? The KonMari method theoretically The idea The idea is – by purging all that doesn’t spark joy, you’ll be living surrounded by only belongings and relationships that spark joy in you. Theoretically by doing so, you’ll be more joyful, fulfilled, happy. The method The Konmari method is easy to follow. First, you decide what to keep and what to discard. Then with the things you decide to keep, you organise them so each has a place in your home. As an early adopter of the ‘Kon-marie‘ method after reading Marie Kondo’s first book, The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, I felt I found …

Book cover of I.M. Pei A Profile in American Architecture | Where My Heart Leads

Salute to IM Pei

“To have something that lasts, means that you’ve really gotten hold of the essence of things. The only thing that can last is really the essence. Otherwise, it’s transitory, it’s fashion.” – IM Pei My intrigue with IM Pei began with his short two-minute appearance in Louis Kahn’s documentary “My Architect” a documentary where Kahn’s son catalogue the life of his father. It was the first ‘video’ I saw of Pei. It surprised me by how frank and honest he was, how funny he seems and most of all – for someone with Pei’s renown and level of success, he had much praise and respect for Kahn. In the documentary, IM Pei recounts sitting next to Louis Kahn at some event. The two chit-chatted and Pei praised Kahn for the Richards laboratory, which he thought “was really a marvellous group of buildings. “Those building are really one of your best.” To which Kahn responds, “Ah, the best is yet to come!“ From that little exchange, it seemed the two hit it off. Later in the interview, Kahn’s …