LANDSCAPE OF US
Were these rivers here
Before, or did you carve them
In me, while I slept?
10 years ago, when we started our journey of marriage together, we had each already spent around 30 years discovering ourselves, building our convictions, and forming our habits. And so we spent our first few years together very much trying to change each other to be more like ourselves, while resisting each other's attempts to change us.
10 years later, neither of us has won this game, but rather we just found ourselves slowly evolving together to a point where, when we look at our son's personality, we can't really be sure where he gets it from!
A few weeks ago we ran a small pottery retreat for two couples, and we felt it was quite apt for them to try out the Japanese technique of nerikomi, where different coloured clays are layered together to form unique patterns on the surface of a vessel. So apt, in fact, that we decided to be participants in our own workshop and make our very own vessels as well!
It was quite a moving experience for me - exchanging our clay bodies and patiently trimming each other's pottery surfaces. And I just love how ours turned out! The browns and whites merging together in beautiful and unique ways on each vessel, each still distinguishable from the other but neither able to claim dominance.
May it continue to be like this for us in the years ahead! That we acknowledge and always give thanks for the fact that we are who we are because of the presence of our spouse in our lives....
Two strong and confident hands easily rolling out a large coil of clay on our studio floor.
These hands belong to a migrant worker who was responsible for testing the waterproofing in our home studio as part of the Home Improvement Programme undertaken by our town council. I asked him if I could take a photo of his hands, because as potters we work with clay too, and he graciously agreed.
I was reminded of the monthly pottery workshops we conducted at @healthservesg 2 years ago (before Covid-19 happened), and how proficient many of the injured migrant participants were at creating clay vessels even with minimal guidance. And artistic too.
And I couldn't help thinking that we are where we are today not particularly because of our skillful hands, or even our artistic minds, but mostly because we happened to be born in a particular place, at a particular time.
I'm not proud to be a Singaporean - I'm deeply grateful....
Far is the ocean
Faint the song of lapping waves
Till you hold me close
Our latest double-walled Bubble cup, made with the longing for a cool, quiet morning just sitting by the sea - listening to the soothing whispers of the waves, feeling the gentle radiance of the sun while the cool breeze brushes lightly across my skin.
I don't have a big craving for travel, really. I just miss the feeling of waking up to an unhurried day, surrounded by the beauty of God's creation and giving myself permission to watch time trickling away like sand in an hourglass without doing anything about it.
Can holding a slowly-made cup bring me into this bubble?
I received news of my aunt's passing while I was making this vase today. It wasn't the form I had in my mind when I first started on it, but it evolved while I was making it. When it was completed, it reminded me of how I viewed her - someone who embraced and held things together.
I have only met 姑姑 once in my life. Seeking a better life here in Singapore, my grandparents moved with the two youngest boys here when they were little and due to various circumstances, the two older children didn't make it over. The family lived apart till the end of my grandparents' and my dad's lives.
I was struck by her warmth when I visited her many years ago. We left each other in tears as I waved goodbye through the glass window on my ride at the end of my trip. Over the years, she always remembered our family and would reach out in contact; for that I am grateful.
A precious memory I have was told to me by my cousin, who shared that when he was young, he had a world map in the house and 姑姑 would point out Singapore to him and tell him that he has family there. It touched me as even she didn't really know us, but yet she always had us in her heart all this time.
Decided to get flowers on a whim this morning to accompany our pottery retreat session as the passage that came to mind for today was from Matthew 6:25-34. I am glad it was a word in season for the participants :)
"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?
And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."
Two weeks ago we stumbled upon a beautiful book - Wabi Sabi, written by Mark Reibstein and illustrated by Ed Young.
We had brought our boy to Sengkang Library mostly so that his parents can sit down in a quiet, air conditioned place, and this book was sitting on a display shelf at the children' section. Being potters with a child and two cats, who write haikus for their pottery, it seemed abundantly clear that this children's book about a cat with a pottery related name, which is also full of haikus, was written and placed in the library just for us!
So of course we had to borrow the book, and Doudou has been using it as her personal cat square for the past two weeks!
There must be some profound life lesson in this, but for now here's one more cat photo on social media for everyone who likes cat photos!...
TAKE ME TO THE SEA
Toes gently sinking
Into glistening stardust
Before the next one
This is a commissioned tea set for an old friend who has walked with me through a significant portion of my life!
If you look closely, you might notice that all the cups have a slightly different colour on the inside. Each shade of blue-green represents the last character of each family member's name, and with the white sea foam providing some harmony for the entire set.
Looking at these vessels make me want to just sit at the beach and stare into the distance for a few hours! And talking about staring into the distance, we have some interesting announcements coming up soon so stay tuned!
Ok not really, more like whatever we had time to make... 😅 Yesterday afternoon my sister Nicole took leave and came over to our studio for her birthday present - a one-on-one private pottery workshop. She was really good at the wheel, maybe because her fingers are well trained from all her late night gaming. Even then, you're still going to get some out-of-control swirly cups, but as long as you tell yourself, "I intended it to look like this," everything's good!...
We often hear about the 5 love languages - quality time, gifts, words of affirmation, acts of service and physical touch. Honestly, none of these ideas really resonate with me. I suppose if someone pointed a gun to my head and asked me to choose one, I would probably attempt to sit him down for some quality time, but this concept of love languages has always been somewhat of a mystery to me.
But recently, in the midst of a rather tumultuous patch, I am starting to discover what might be a "love language" that greatly impacts me, and that is A Joyful Spirit.
Why is joy a love language?
First, while it may come naturally to some people, I suspect that for many of us it takes some effort. Sometimes Great Effort, especially with our loved ones.
Second, it's a choice, and something that can be done for someone. One can say, while in a difficult situation, "I choose to be joyful for the sake of myself and the one I love."
Third, it is different from all the other 5 love languages. You could do all 5 without expressing joy, and very often it renders them pretty hollow. Conversely, I have experienced so much love and gratefulness just from the presence of a happy person. Like when Tobie sings to himself, when Huiwen writes a happy post, or when my parents share that they had a nice outing with their dog. These have such a profound impact on me that I can't even properly describe it. It makes me feel like everything is ok in life, even in those times when everything isn't.
Fourth, it is not universally received as a love language. I know people for whom seeing others being joyful deepens their misery, and for whom having sombre people around brings peace and comfort. And that is perfectly natural. Joy is beautiful, and so is sorrow.
But for me, I'm so grateful for the times when Huiwen and Tobie have been unfazed by my dark clouds, continuing blissfully along their merry way until those clouds helplessly dissipated.
Anyway, really wanted to write this down but I have no pottery image to accompany it and so here's a lovely (and apt) picture of our son smiling with his eyes in front of his favourite flower - 新加坡花!...
Teapots and double-walled vessels are still the most nerve-wrecking for me to make. Even after completing the forms, so many things can still go wrong. Will the spout pour properly? Did I narrow the air pocket too much during trimming and squeeze out all the air? Will the air pocket explode during firing?
This project has both a teapot and a double-walled vessel, and I'm making it in the midst of trying to figure out what exactly went wrong with our recent matte glaze formulas, causing them all to turn semi-glossy. Was it a measurement mistake? Was it a variation in the raw materials? How long will I take to fix this?
Sometimes I wish I was an excellent potter, who can make the perfect spout, whose vessels don't break or warp, who can look at a defective glaze and know exactly what's wrong. But only sometimes. Tonight, I'm just going to switch off and go play Lego with my son!...
This little vessel came out of our kiln just in time for my cousin's housewarming!
In the midst of completing commissions and running workshops, making these simple pieces feels almost like a restful pause.
On a separate note, meeting my cousins these days makes me feel so old! It seems like ages ago when we were all jumping into drains and playing with sparklers - now everyone is grown up, even our kids are growing up so fast!
Back then, I was one of the more straight-laced kids among all the cousins. Who would have known that after all these years I would end up being the one playing with mud for a living?...
According to @nparksbuzz, these are commonly known as the Trumpet Tree or “Singapore’s cherry blossoms”; a perennial tree that grows to about 18 to 35 m tall.
"Its flowering is induced by a dry spell, usually in April and August. The flowers are five-petalled, trumpet-shaped and grow to about 5 to 8 cm. These bloomed flowers last for several days before they start to wilt."
Years ago I lamented to a Japanese friend about the transient nature of the cherry blossoms. How I wished they lasted a little longer. But he said - that is the point isn't it? That their briefness invites us to pause and appreciate their beauty. If they are always with us, we will grow accustomed and blind to their sight.
Today is the last day of this meaningful exhibition initiated by @healthservesg featuring various artworks made by migrant brothers.
Seeing these pottery brought back fond memories of our monthly sessions pre-COVID days where volunteers came alongside to have fun therapeutic time with those who bore injuries and were unable to work.
Through the conversations, we learn of their stories, aspirations and the families they left behind to seek a better life here. They are truly heroes! Do remember to smile and thank these migrant brothers who pass your way:)
The exhibition is open from 10am - 10pm at ION art gallery if you wish to check it out!
We wrote a devotional and prayer titled "Entering God's Rest" for this incredible labour of love - ‘Poets & Prophets: Songs of Justice’, a debut album by @micahsingapore . Locally produced, there are seven songs paired with devotionals exploring themes of justice, neighbourliness, Kingdom, and the Christian’s response to the challenges of living in today’s world. Love it! ♥
"Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep." - Psalm 127:1-2
I was listening to the Song for the Sabbath this morning as I did an early morning cycle and musing over Elizabeth Elliot's words about doing the next thing when things are overwhelming.
Life is demanding and there is no doubt about that. How then shall we hold in balance doing the work that find its way into our path and staying rested in our inner beings? That is a worthy pursuit and thought for my week ahead.
You can listen to the album and read all the devotionals (scroll all the way till end of page) via the official website. Be blessed!
It has been intense for the past week or two, and I am especially grateful for this breather of respite at @apartmentcoffee.
To be able to sip from our studio's handmade cup on beans grown in faraway Panama; each step a labour of love and care from all involved in getting this handbrew to the table.
It is fitting that I am also chewing over the words of @iamfujimura, who has recently put forth a new book relating to the Theology of Making.
Mako has been a source of inspiration for us and the aroma of culture care permeates through his paintings and reflections.
To paraphrase something that he said, each day we are either creating culture or consuming culture. It is not about waging cultural wars; but to see culture as a garden to be cultivated.
This moment sitting at a cafe with a book is idyllic and not part of our everyday work. But today, it is my little way of tending to the garden of my soul - to nourish it with fresh thoughts so that what we do can continue to be cheerful and purposeful.
May you find that space to tend to your garden too:)
Those of us who are parents can probably identify with the joy of watching our children create something or achieve something. But in our self sacrificial giving to our children, do we also realize what immense joy it also gives a child to watch one's parents achieve something?
I remember when I was a child, my parents were my superheroes. They could do so many things I couldn't, and they taught me everything I knew. But as I grew up, I started learning in school, and gradually knew more than my heroes. My heroes started scolding me more than they affirmed me. And the more I learned about life, the more I discovered the weaknesses and flaws in my heroes. For a teenager and young adult, that can greatly destabilise one's world. And this isn't the fault of anyone - it's just life! I know for sure that Tobie will one day experience this as well.
But now, as an adult, I am beginning to admire my parents more and more. Sure, the flaws are still there, just as my own flaws will continue to be more obvious with age. But when I see my parents learning piano in their 60s, when I see how they persevere in teaching my 3 year old son all sorts of challenging concepts, when I see my dad create this beautiful Chinese painting on clay, it makes me so proud!
So parents, let's continue to learn new skills even as we teach our own children what we know. Let's continue to do good to others, even as we devote time and energy to care for our own children. Let's continue to dream and create, even as we encourage our own children to dream and create. Because in this often depressing world, children (even adult children) need to have heroes. And what better heroes to have than those who have been there since day one?...
Sometimes we just have to retreat into our minds and imagine our feet sinking into powdery snow, our eyes squinting at the sunlight reflecting off the surface of an icy lake, our faces caressed by a wintery breeze, and a cup of hot chocolate waiting for us back at home.
FLOWER IN THE CLEFT OF A ROCK
I could not have known
The last time I clung on for life
That you would bloom here
This little burst of colour isn't something that would usually come to my mind when I glaze a vessel (I don't quite possess that kind of courage), but I really love how it turned out! Makes me want to keep looking at the whole set again and again, to check if that bloom of pink is really there!
This is a gift for our dear friends getting married this weekend. Both are avid hikers and rockclimbers, and so may this little Flower In The Cleft Of A Rock remind them of the beautiful surprises that they discovered in each other, and that they will surely discover along this exciting adventure through life!