Walking 19km with “broken bones”

The camino led us through shop streets and apartments.  People have yet awakened. We began our walk at 7.30am in silence after a meditation on scriptures that evokes awareness of sins, but from God’s eyes of love.

Cool fresh air and sunny skies
With Kae and Corina
Through many former train tunnels

We walked past factories, past offices, markets, onto a railway track converted to new uses. Some locals cycled past, some jogged and most were brisk walking. We were immersed in forests and meadows, the tunnels and factories and farms, the bridges and streams, the darkness and sunshine, the birdsong and hum of machines. These comprised the sanctuary in which we pondered over our life’s journey, over scriptures and what we have been moved by thus far as we walked. And all this in silence and peace.

The route of Camino Ignaciano is identified by orange markings

I was pondering over a scripture from Psalms 51, “let the bones you have crushed dance”. My bones have been crushed on the altar of ministry and his promise to me  is a redemptive dance and rejoicing, something I have experienced, and still do today, and will in future. He never fails.

It ended up being a 5 hours walk covering 19km, before the bus picked us up and brought us to a charming, rustic, beautiful,  family farm home converted into a hotel catering to pilgrims. Gorgeous rooms, dining areas, great food and family hospitality.

Lovely charming rustic hotel that was once a family farmhouse

Beautiful modern but elegant church

Magnificent Diocesan shrine of Aranzazu

Eucharist in side chapel

The evening ended with eucharist, a siesta, dinner and a session titled, “Loved Sinner” to prepare us for the next day’s walk.

We retired totally spent.

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Loyola: contemplating the life and work of St Ignatius

When one of our pilgrims had to rush home because of a sudden loss it touched me with an unusual deep sadness. This is not normal. It has to be a grace and a burden from the Lord to uplift her in prayer in the coming days. This is reality and we were reminded that God can be found in all things, and the group spent time in poignant prayer for her and her family.

The vast ornate dome and wall of the Basilica of Loyola
Gazing intently
Listening contemplatively to Fr Jose
Two books that impacted St Ignatius in his convalescence: the life of Christ by Ludolf of Saxony, and the life of the saints
St Ignatius facing St Ignatius

Yesterday, Fr Jose brought us around several historical sites and expounded on the life and work of St Ignatius, the founder of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. Unlike secular tours, it was done from a contemplative stance, from a man steeped with a camino spirit and a life of service as a Jesuit. He also created pockets of silence and prayer at various places and junctures. The two spiritual directors urged us to cultivate a portable inner silence and posture of listening through the day, alert to what awakens and moves us in our affections.

In the night we viewed the second part of a movie on the life of Ignatius.

Today on Friday the 11th of October, we do a full days walk.

I feel blessed and excited.

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Mid year reflection

lights to illuminate your path in the middle of the year
lights to illuminate your path in the middle of the year

The middle of a year is a good time to retreat and reflect. You can have a personal retreat in your bedroom, or in a public park or in a quiet place like a library. Some are able to do it in a café with the help of caffeine in the air.
If you have a journal, it’s a great help. Our memory fails us but a short note triggers fruitful paths of reflection. If you do not journal, just mentally look backwards from the most recent happenings to those at the the beginning of the year. Note down a list of blessings: events, people, experiences, learnings, and gifts you have received. List down all the ways God has used others to bless you, and used you to bless others. How has the joy, love and peace of God and other fruit of the Spirit been displayed in your life these few months?  As you roll back the curtains and count the blessings, some painful moments will surface too and should be noted in the margins.
When the list is done have some secret time with your heavenly Father. Thank him from your heart for each of the blessings one by one.  They reveal how real and active God has been in your life. Then tell him how you feel about those painful moments you have had, and wait in silence for his response. He may give you a word, an advice, an experience of assurance and comfort, or all you may have is silence and a strange peace and strength. Receive them in good faith.
With this done you will face the second half of the year free from unnecessary emotional baggage, and with a sense of assurance that the Lord will go ahead of you and be with you into the next half of the year.

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OMF Bungalow: praying amidst charming surroundings

OMF from Strawberry Park and Pahang Sultan's bugalow in background

Koh Seng Chor with me

my roomElaine's roomhall

The kindness of the Lord

It has been some years since I last went up to OMF Bungalow in Cameron Highlands. So I was glad to know that the last two rooms available in the bungalow were available for Koh Seng Chor, the pastor of Evangel Christian Church, and myself. My daughter wanted to tag along to have her prayer retreat so she had to share a room with me as there were no other rooms available. That would mean an inconvenience for prayer, but she’s my one and only daughter! It is always better to be able to pray, sleep and read anyway and anytime you want, and sharing a room with another restricts this to some extent. However, the Lord was kind, for as soon as we arrived we were told the good news that all three of us would have individual rooms to ourselves due to some cancellation.

Elaine in garden

Eat, sleep, pray, share

Most of the morning and night  hours were spent alone in the room or outside, meditating and praying through Psalms 55, reading old journal entries, and writing new ones. On occasion Seng Chor and I would take relaxed afternoon walks in the cool Cameron air chatting all Brinchang walkthe way down to Chefu or Brinchang town, sharing our heart and telling grandfather stories, literally. My daughter, well, she wanted her God-space, so she was left alone except during meal times. Meal times were fun as we sat with and got to know some American missionary couples and Malaysian Chinese ladies who were also staying there.

Faded charm of the 60’s and 70’s

The food was warm and nourishing and the Cameron vegetables were fresh and deliciously cooked by Mrs Chye, the caretaker. The beverages and the superb cookies were free and available 24/7. The charm of the ferntips, gourd and fish in Thai sweet sauceplace is its tired and dated look – like going back to a warm and welcoming home in the 60’s and 70’s. This place was once owned by a Chinese businessman and built in 1933 before being bought over by China Inland Mission (now OMF), a missionary organization. While staying there you could fantasize that you were that tycoon, albeit only for a few days, enjoying the striking views outside your large garden and with your helpers cooking and cleaning your home, while you lounge around without a care in the world.

mossy forestTouring around

My daughter and I went for a tour of Mt Brinchang, the mossy forest, and the BOH tea plantation. We also visited Brinchang town and Tanah Rata, and there being no place in the “inn”, we stayed a night at Strawberry Park hotel and had breakfast before we departed for home in the 10am bus to Singapore. We arrived home close to 7 pm on Friday.

Tea at BOH tea plantation

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To the Cameron, Ipoh and KL by train, car and coach

sleeper train KTMNight train for a change

Normally, I would take a coach to the Cameron Highlands. For a change, and at Kim Eng’s suggestion, my wife and I  booked online the sleeper “malam” train of the KTM (Malaysian railway). The last time I took it, I was going to the same place: Gua Musang in the southern part of Kelantan. I boarded at about 6:50pm and settled into a lower bunk bed. Each bunk had a window view, and was curtained for privacy. I forgot to bring something to secure my luggage to the rail, so I put my bag in my bunk bed. I could sleep and woke up when my phone alarm rang at dawn, and later the trainmaster informed us that we were at the Gua Musang train stop.

Gua Musang welcome

The Chuas, who were members of wrpf, met me with a warm smile and welcome, took our bags and drove us to their home in the midst of  a smallholding oil palm plantation. The trees were a geriatric 30 years old but they were still yielding fruit and oil. They couldn’t replant new ones because of the lease contract terms. Nevertheless the Lord has been blessing them with better palm oil prices in recent years, and they are, more importantly playing a strategic spiritual role in that town. We had aromatic espresso, chatted and rested an hour before we left in his car on a pleasant 2 hours journey to the Cameron Highlands. It was good to escape the heat of the city. The air was markedly fresh as the small car climbed up.

bright blue skies, cool climes and fresh air

We arrived just after James Tan Ah Lek and his wife, another Kim Eng. they had taken a day train from Singapore to Ipoh, a good 8 hours, and a 1 hour plus bus ride to Cameron. We smelled muffins, and we had tea and warmed up as a group with our faith sharing.  We ate the fresh corn raw and they were delighfully sweet. It was a good start. All the other guests were OMF missionaries from Germany and Switzerland, working in Thailand. We got to know a few of them better. After dinner, we slept in.

Concerning faithful dogs

In the morning, I walked by an old dog with fur so thin I could see its red wrinkled skin. I remembered how this dog used to be a favorite: energetic, with lively eyes and thick brown fur. It had served well as fun dog by day and watch dog at night. Now it laid around without fear of the new caretakers. In human years, it was about 80 or 90 years old. The grounds however sparkled with the barks and leaps and frolics of a young Corgi, the new kid in the block. Seemed like succession was in progress.

Message from above

I hardly noticed the roses. During the four days and three nights stay, I was most aware of the stars that greeted us from clear night skies. The sounds, especially the sounds of birds, filled my mind and took up space, as I sat in stillness in an easy rattan armchair, out in the open, overlooking a beautiful valley. Violating the green expanse was an ugly swath of exposed brown earth. Cameron’s development has increased, and I hated that. One early morn, between sleep and alive, the Lord whispered his message of comfort to me: the birds. I knew what He meant, so I went back to the beloved’s privilege: more sleep.

Chuas, Chees, Tans

All of us met up with Ezekiel and Aurora, a Malaysian Indian and his Hong Kong wife. We were charmed by the story of how they met, fell in love, got married and came out to Kelantan to serve. There is something about interracial, transnational marriages that is romantic. Maybe its because its riddled with obstacles, and that makes for tension and a lively story. So we ate at the Kowloon, and thought that the nine month bride would find some comfort in the name of the restaurant: the Father’s loving attention to details.

Towgay in Ipoh

Later that afternoon we boarded a bus and headed for Ipoh where we stayed a night at the Syuen hotel. Dinner was hawker fare: Uncle Lau Wong’s famous plump towgay (beansprout) and steamed white chicken with Ipoh kway teow. Since these dishes were legendary I was not about to disagree with everyone, and spilled out my obligatory, shiok, wah, umm, and cheap. I must admit the towgays were plump and succulent.  No more photos to show as I forgot my recharger. I liked Ipoh in the morning, where the tim sum culture seemed to be very much alive. I liked the beautiful limestone hills and mountains surrounding it. There’s a kind of enchantment, an alluring feel that invited you to sell all that you have to retire there.

Later, we travelled first class in the KTM to Kuala Lumpur. First class meant more space, less passengers, and bigger seats, three to a row. I liked it, though as a spoilt Singaporean, I thought: why don’t they re-upholster the faded seats. Well the reply came quickly, It is so that you can say Cheap, cheap, cheap when you travel by train in Malaysia. Stop being arrogant, you Singaporean!

Misadventure in KL

Nobody told us it would be difficult to walk in and get a hotel room over the weekend at KL Sentral. In fact, our Malaysian friends recommended the Hotel Sentral, My Hotel, and the YMCA – but they were all full. There was no room in the inn. We finally opted for the only room in that area: a tiny widowless bare hotel room for 78 ringgit, and please clear out tomorrow at 12. The bemusing name: Hotel Florida. The Meridien and the Hilton were nearby but room rates were as high as their twin towers.

We spent the rest of the day at the Mid Valley shopping mall, something a colleague kept raving about. Yep, it was a comfort to get out and stay out of the dingy room with no carpets, a snowy TV screen, and broken ventilators on the air conditioner. Midvalley felt like the crowded Singapore mall. We ended up with a late nonya lunch in a basement cafe. We ravished the several items we bought. We decided to shorten the holiday in KL and aborted our dinner with Aileen and Christine Tan on Sunday night. We bought our bus tickets at Bukit Jalil from the makeshift bus hub relocated from Puduraya. Now we don’t have to worry about tickets on Sunday. Little did we know, on the next day, a Sunday, we would be hit by a common KL plague.

Yes you guessed right. We had street market congee and ching cheong fun for breakfast and early Japanese lunch at Midvalley mall. We still had time. Murphy’s Law took over and we were pushed to the edge. Trusting God at the edge of a cliff can be nervewracking. At KL Sentral we waited just 10 minutes; others had already waited for 40 minutes! At Bandar Tasik Selantan, we waited another 30 minutes. We were still waiting at 1 pm, the time our coach would leave. At first we panic-prayed the Rapid KL would really be on time if not rapid; then we  panic-prayed that the Transnational coach would be inefficient and delay its departure. Neither happened. We missed the coach. Took the next available and comfortable Konsortium coach. Verdict: misadventure. Tuition fees in Malaysian ringgit. Lesson learnt: give ample safety margin for train delays.

Somehow God works all things for the good of those who love Him. In this last leg, we got to know a Catholic by the name of Joo Hock who just returned from a trek in the Camerons and we  exchanged contacts. Perhaps on the cards is a trek to Gunung Brinchang.

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