7 years ago, in this same Lent season, I spent 40 days in Japan; primarily for a programme in a pottery studio.
I didn't intentionally choose Lent nor 40 days; but I chose Spring. It was only while I was filling out my travel insurance form that I discovered the trip was exactly 40 days long, and that there was a church in the city where I could attend an English Easter service. What a pleasant surprise! Yet, this is an example of how I have experienced grace - the undeserved discovery of God's fingerprints over my little life on earth:)
Winter turning into Spring was a delight to my soul as I live in eternal summery Singapore. We mark the passing of time through public holidays and financial quarters.
Having just celebrated New Year's Day with everyone else around the globe on Jan 1, we are still in the midst of the Chinese New Year where we bless one another with auspicious greetings and wishes. Yet by this time, often times our calendars have started to fill out and studies or work demands have quickly set in. Hurrying along, we can easily lose track of time and priorities yet again; as the resolutions fade like the falling of leaves.
I decided on a social media fast 7 years ago while in Japan and it did extremely well for my soul. Avoiding the easy entertainment of what was on my screen, I paid attention to what was before my eyes. It is perhaps funny I should write this via social media but this year we are on another social media semi-fast (from consuming posts as we are still sharing reflections).
If you wish to recenter your life on what is of essential importance to your soul, I would like to commend to you to avoid saturating your free time with social media too:)
Who knows, a fresh new wind of life may blow off the dross, and we all can have clear sight of the road to life set ahead of us:)
Added a little "公道杯" (fairness cup) to our tea set using a beautiful vessel that wasn't chosen by our client. After 6 years being a potter, I've come to embrace the fact - yes fact - that not being chosen does not have any bearing on a vessel's intrinsic worth, or, for that matter, one's worth as a person.
I remember that one of the most memorable achievements in my life was being chosen to play for my junior college's volleyball team. It had such impact on my self-worth at that time that I don't even think I felt that same kind of feeling when Huiwen said "yes". I mean, we both chose each other right? 😁
I played the setter position, which greatly secured my place in the team mainly because it was a difficult position to train, and so my coach had no bandwidth to find a second setter within a year. Plus, the tall players were much more valuable as spikers and so I had little competition anyway. But that didn't stop my coach from threatening me time and again, with a "don't think I cannot drop you from the team ok" whenever I played badly. And so I spent most of my 17 year old life worrying if I was good enough, even after being chosen. I still dream about this from time to time!
Of course, there is value in improving our skills and our strengths, and striving to be valued by others is also a good way for us to be useful to our friends, family and teams. But my sense of worth cannot be tied to the values of people, because people come and go. At the very core of my existence, I am a child of God, and God sees and loves me in a way that is deeper and truer than anyone can.
So back to pottery - we have lovingly made things for the most mundane of purposes, and we have treasured things that have been rejected by others. Our client also didn't reject this vessel because it was ugly - he just happened to choose one design over the other. So may I continue to fix my eyes on the One who created me, so that I live my life with a deep confidence in my worth, and also recognize this worth in everyone around me!
Faint rustling of leaves
Bear clandestine messages
Tree to silent tree
In these strange covid times, we have become more and more like silent trees, standing at a perpetual safe distance from one another. Yet across the invisible airwaves, we are chattering incessantly, even broadcasting our thoughts to the world (like now). What a strange juxtaposition! Really makes me wonder how our lives will be like 20 years from now. Will we still sit in cafes, sipping our coffees, leaning close to each other so that we can whisper across the background noise?
Who knows. But for now, here are five little pourers for the folks at @apartmentcoffee , as they do their work of calming nerves, lifting spirits, and soothing the palates of the sojourners coming in for a little pause in between adventures.
What a thrill to fish these test tiles out of the kiln! Matte, slightly shiny, with a network of small craters, but what is really special is that this is glazed with unprocessed marine sediment from Pulau Semakau!
Can't wait to study its constituent minerals more deeply and see how they give rise to this rich tone and texture.
Mondays are our rest days, and over the years this rhythm has become indispensable to the health of our marriage and our studio.
Today started with Huiwen riding out at 5am along Serangoon River to catch the sunrise, and ended with Kenneth completing this mural on our chalkboard.
In between, we had a lovely breakfast together, and talked about the implications of the RZIM revelations on our spiritual journey. We repented of our own lack of self-control, and of the hours we have wasted letting our minds be dulled by our media feeds. We listened to a powerful and penetrating sermon that spoke to our spirits. We resolved that 2021 will be different. We played our guitars, and harmonized an original song. We discarded some things at home that didn't spark joy. We poured tea for each other from a teapot we made together, and enjoyed the new year goodies that our families have blessed us with. We played and laughed with Tobie, and showed off our in progress "夕阳" to him. He loved it!
We're still slowly discovering the meaning of the Sabbath, but today finally felt like the kind of rest that we have needed for a really long time....
Here's a beautiful and evocative creation from one of our handbuilding intro session participants.
Most of us would recognise the form of the Monkey God's headband "紧箍" draped around the neck of the vase. In the novel Journey To The West, the monk routinely uses a curse that causes the headband to shrink, giving the loyal Monkey God an excruciating headache and compelling him to follow the monk's well-intentioned but often misguided orders.
I have no idea what was in our participant's mind as she made this vase, but as I gazed at it fresh out of the kiln, I was reminded of all those conflicting voices in my heart, constantly fighting for my attention and action. Some of these I often listen to, others I routinely suppress. Perhaps this is a gentle nudge for me to review some of these mental reflexes, and see if anything needs changing as we drift quietly towards the fifth decade of our lives!
Last night as I thought about what Valentine's Day means to me this year, the phrase "不吃力" (i.e. not tedious) came to mind.
We fell in love in 2009, married in 2011 and so this year we will enter into our 10th year of marriage! ♥️
不吃力 can also be translated as effortless, but I wouldn't use that translation because while it is not tedious, there is definitely effort put in on a daily basis to keep our love growing strong. However, just like tending to your garden blooms or using your hands to craft, the effort is necessary for the outcome, but it is enjoyable at the same time.
As I mused further, I thought of another phrase to describe our relationship, and that would be "力量支援” （i.e. energy giving). I am really thankful for having a strong partner to carry what I cannot carry on my own; to hold my hand as we explore this world together:)
I thank God for bringing us together and for giving us our bundle of joy who cracks us up with his humour and who soothes us with his sweetness.
Just like the bubble tea that we rewarded ourselves on this special day, may your days be filled with moments of 小幸福 too! ♥️♥️♥️
Don't keep your distance
These flames burning inside me
Will never burn you
Loving this tea set that brewed for months in my mind before we finally got down to making it. Its double-walled form keeps the tea hot but leaves its surface mildly warm, without the need for a handle.
I've always found teapot handles somewhat uncomfortable - the weight of the water creates a large moment force that stresses the fingers, especially when the handles are thin. This feels a lot more pleasurable to hold, and thankfully it gives a decent pour too!
One of our constant struggles throughout these 6+ years of running Studio Asobi is having to oscillate between "is there a faster way to do this?" and "is there a slower way to do this?"
We left the corporate world back in 2014/5 in our pursuit of a slower and more mindful way of life, but the huge drop in income remains a hard reality to navigate through.
But recently I spoke to an injured Bangladeshi migrant worker who said something pretty profound to me. We were talking about my pottery business, and he asked me how much I would sell a handmade cup for. I told him it depends on the size - maybe around $50? He remarked that in Bangladesh, a handmade cup (fired manually in an earth pit, not using an electric kiln), would sell for $0.15. Of course, one has to adjust for currency values, cost of living, etc etc but I knew his point - that things are very different between Singapore and Bangladesh.
And then he went on to say, "Back home, I am rich, but I am poor. Here, you are poor, but you are rich."
He got some things wrong and some things right. If we are honest about it, we are certainly not poor. Yes, we make less than our peers, but Covid-19 has also opened our eyes to the magnitude of REAL poverty and food insecurity around us. But what he understood and experienced in his short time in Singapore is that even those who are relatively poorer here have so much more than the people in some of our nearby countries. We have no natural disasters; clean water; electricity; accessible transportation, so many baseline things that we take for granted.
It was a precious conversation, reminding me not just to be grateful for what I have, but to be grateful that I already have all I need. And so coming back to that question of doing things faster or slower - I realize that perhaps what I should ask myself is "why faster?" and "why slower?" Can my motivation be traced back to the worry of not earning enough relative to my time cost? Or can I be motivated by something else that will eventually bring me sustainable joy and peace?
Good questions to keep asking myself as I boldly step into this new decade!...
FOR BETTER OR WORSE
A long road ahead
But this cup that you have filled
Will never run dry
Making these two cups for a newly married couple, I am reminded of our wedding bands that we designed together almost 10 years ago. They were deliberately scored and roughened as a reminder that the journey ahead would not be easy, but it is a journey we would joyfully take together.
These two cups are similarly cragged and blemished on the outside, but round and smooth on the inside. Just like how marriage ought to be right? While there will always be difficult circumstances to face, may we always be there to pour a cup of warm coffee, or chilled wine - whatever helps the bitter portions of life to go down a little more smoothly!
Beautiful piece by our student Melissa, not only in its form but in its creation process!
The teapot is a complicated vessel to create. She discovered near the end that her handle had been attached in the wrong position relative to the spout, and had to be repositioned. Rather than cleaning off the scars from the previous spot, she left it as it was and later glazed it with our new crackle green glaze, even adding a drip to accentuate it.
Looking back, some of our most treasured pieces were made when we were learning pottery. When "mistake" and "discovery" meant more or less the same thing!...
Once I came across
A creature soft as a cloud
But fiery within
It must have been 3-4 years since I pinched out this little chili as a sample for a Mother's Day workshop. We never got round to firing it, until a few days ago when I needed a vessel to test out some glazes.
So happy to finally see this little pepper emerging from the kiln!
FOR THE AGES
Till that day comes when
Hunched, rugged, battered by time
We share one more cup
As we worked on these vessels for a newly married couple, it suddenly occured to me that marriage is perhaps most beautiful in our ugliness. When we enjoy each other's presence without the cloak of perfume, make-up, or expensive clothes. When we look affectionately at each other's wrinkled faces and grasp each other's shaking hands even as the world starts to leave us behind.
Living in a world that celebrates individuality and independence, I somehow feel a lot more blessed to belong to someone.