Let’s Talk About Death by Steve Gordon and Irene Kacandes


This book was introduced to me by a fellow writing pal when she read my letter to the press on the subject ‘The Art of Dying”, in which I lamented the stigma of talking about death in a death avoidance society. A library book club was about to discuss this book but unfortunately, I couldn’t make it due to work.

Upon reading my letter, I was accused of being insensitive to discuss my relatives’ health issue in public by an aunt, thereby missing the subject and reinforcing my point : You can talk about the impending death of other people, just not someone with whom we are closely related to.

This is in sharp contrast to children. A friend’s 5 yo son asked his grandmother where his aunt (her daughter) had gone to, and Grandma replied that Aunt had passed away. Why? He persisted. She had been sick, she replied. “But you are always sick,” he said to his Grandma who needs dialysis, “why didn’t you die?” Grandma related the tale to me, more amused than offended.

This book is a compilation of emails between two individuals, which started after Irene’s friends, a couple, were brutally murdered. Steve was a journalist then covering the case but had become a masseur for palliative patients under The Hand to Heart Project. In their correspondence spanning three years, they discussed topics such as, is dying an injustice, how to handle pain at end of life, caregiving, sudden death, after death, grief and mortality. Irene had three very ill relatives, a brother in-law suffering from cancer, mother-in-law and father suffering from dementia, and all three died within that period of time.

I don’t know if the Western context made the subject less taboo in USA and Europe and I regretted not attending the book club meeting to find out how Asian society discussed death (although being in an English book club would deemed the members more “Westernised” than the majority of conservative Asians in Singapore.

What I took away from the book are some quotes:

What would it mean to lose someone whose life I hold dear? It would be painful beyond words. But it would not be something done to me. I would not be a victim of that person’s death. I would hope to see myself as a beneficiary of his life, however long and short it was.  And I would move on in my own life to the next part, the part that includes that person as a vivid, colourful, treasured memory.”

“…the value of trying to live our relationships honestly and fully at all moments, not just the big moments.  …think of all moments as big moments. Maybe all moments when we are really tuned in to what matters are the big moments. That’s one of my definitions of paradise: being completely tuned in to the present.” – on not being able to say goodbye to a dying friend.

An exercise : “At first we were asked to visualised ourselves on our deathbeds at a time many years out – say 20-25 years. Who is with us? Where are we? Imagine the scene in detail. Now repeat the exercise again, but with the time many years closer. Ten years, Picture everything. Do it again, only now, the time is just one year off. Ten do it once more, except the time is now.”

If I can bring the importance of each moment to each moment I live, if I can bring the intention of compassion to each relationship in my life, then I might see the most important benefit of accepting death as part of life. I might not just get to die a peaceful and meaningful death. I might get to live a more peaceful and meaningful life, That would be the gift of mortality.”

“…gratitude for having felt alive while I was alive.”

“It’s having my head and heart in the right place right now. The rest is completely out of my control.”

Working in a VWO which is focused on Mindfulness has it benefits as I  noticed the book reinforced many times the importance of being in the present. That aside, I noticed a depressive restlessness while I was reading this book – a lump formed in my throat, or unshed tears as I read the narratives describing the last days of people dying, people I don’t even know. Yet somehow I am touched as they are teaching me something about death.

I need to move on to my next book – Joy On Demand!

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Dick Lee Singapop 60th Birthday Concert

It’s odd that I am only enjoying Dick Lee at this late stage of my life. This was the second time I have attended his concert and I must say I enjoyed myself thoroughly. I was surprised to see the many albums he had released, for I had never paid any attention to him while growing up, yet oddly I find his songs familiar, and I am not talking about his NDP songs.

His concert was supported by the SG50 funds and I am glad to see NAC supporting local singers. Dick himself proves to be a good mentor to local young artists as he brought them onstage to either perform together or had them sung solo.

His first guest was ex-wife Jacintha, as they performed Beautiful Sunday together. How nice to see their friendship surviving through their broken marriage.

Among the other guest artists that I identified with was Kit Chan. What a pleasant surprise to see them on stage together and that act alone made my cheapest ticket worthwhile, plus the fact that we were upgraded from Level 10 to Level 8.

Dick on stage was like an old familiar friend as he bantered in a very Singaporean way to the audience, lamenting how his songs were repeatedly banned because of the use of Singlish, which ironically is now often heard over the media to unite the nation.

In the crowd were his group of Japanese fans who had grew up with him as high school girls to now middle-aged women. Much like me, except that I never was his fan, until now. But then, never later than never.

One of the highlights was the wheeling out of the birthday cakes by his brothers and friend and that was the first time I ever sang Happy Birthday in the accompaniment of a live band. His three brothers also accompanied him on a few repertoires,  proving themselves to be a talented bunch too.

I thought Dick has mellowed. He was not as funny as before, although he still elicited a few laughs. I remember the last concert I attended, which I found to be more intimate and affectionate, for he had the stage all to himself. Now in the bright lights of the Star Performing Theatre, he had reverted back to the singing star, far and  distant.



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Matchstick Charity Concert @ Kallang Theatre 

This concert,  held on 20 August  2016, was organized by my son Aaron’s school,  HCI. He was part of the organizing committee and this being a charity for Bone Marrow Donation Programme,  of course mommy had to help sell the tickets. (I am a mild Tiger mom).

My friends were supportive and helped raised over $1500, without wanting the tickets.  They were not interested to watch.

Aaron lamented the poor  sale of tickets and this was aggravated by the withdrawal of popular singer Nathan Hartono. What was meant to be a leverage since he had been picked by Jay Chou in a China singing contest did not materialise and I felt made attendance at the concert worse. My friends who had wanted to watch him since I publicised his YouTube video were disappointed when they heard he withdrew.  Still they came, even only to stay for the first few acts to show their support for me.

The concerts were performed by youths for youths.  The singers were mainly indie singers who seemed wildly popular with the young crowd who were there. I only know Daphne Khoo, a Singapore Idol alumni and was touched when she shared how she overcame ovary cancer.

I was also impressed by the dancers from my alumni Nanyang. They reminded me of my own dance performances when I was in school, only we were never trained in dance like these group and traditional dances were favoured over modern dance.  How time have changed in thirty years.

I was happy to see a performance by rival school RI, this corrected my perception that rivals can be supportive to each other towards a worthy cause.

Aaron worked very hard behind the scene.  Throughout,  he exhibited equanimity when he learned of bad news,  remaining always calm, unlike his mother who was jumping around like a headless chicken. When he saw his father appeared as a volunteer official photographer at the concert,  he told him,  “your trousers are not black enough”.

Aaron,  the Matchstick concert was a great performance,  featuring rising talent,  youth’s spirit in generosity and volunteerism. Most of all,  it showcased friendship and camaraderie amongst those who performed on stage,  and those who came in support. That,  I hope,  made these months of effort worthwhile for you.

Thanks friends who supported me in worthy causes everytime I spammed you. I am forever grateful. 🙏

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My Writing Journey continues 

I have a dream.  It’s elusive and I am on the verge of giving up.  

To be a writer,  the easiest part is to write and the hardest is to get it published by a publisher.  Of course you can always self published but somehow that seems vain and you never really get the endorsement that your writing is as good as you think. 

Getting rejection letter is hard.  But I am always reminded by my kind peers that every famous writers get rejection letter.  It’s part and parcel of being a writer.  Much like getting a door slammed at your face when you are hawking cheap stuff door to door. You just continue knocking on the next door. 

I have two other manuscripts in my drawer which I have yet to submit.  I am reminded that if you don’t try,  the answer will always be no.  So I sent the first chapter to my writing group and they were very encouraging.  I stopped attending when I started working full time but my friend Albert agreed to my request  to continue editing for me. He told me that he had been accused of slicing hair but I am grateful for he often returned the chapters I emailed him much faster than I could do my editing. 

As I sit in front of my PC,  a sense of guilt grows as I face my manuscript for the umpteen times with daunting groans, because  I know there are the few, my mentor Josephine Chia included, who are supporting this lazy writer in their own ways, yet here I am reluctant to start work. 

Since  I received news last week that one of my short story is going to be published in another anthology by NLB,   and perhaps a poetry as well might be chosen in a poetry anthology by my poetry teacher. Suddenly,  the dying spark is rekindled and I am on the flow again. 

As Sylvia Plath said in the above, sent to me by my writing pal – I can’t let self doubt kill my creativity. 

Let the journey begins again. 

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I Have a Lover – Korean Drama

Despite this drama being 50 episodes long, I decided to embarked on the journey because it had two of my favorite as leads – Kim Hyun-joo and Ji Jin Hee.

The maturity of the actors brings out the authenticity of the script and I was glued to the TV for two episodes each time.

When I was still reading Mills and Boons in my youth, I loved stories where the lovers reunite after breaking off. So I was thrilled by this synopsis, except that being Korean drama, there were other irrelevant additional side stories to it.

Do Hae Kang was a successful lawyer who was unscrupulous and had never lose a case. Her husband Choi Jin Uhn watched his wife turn from a sweet young woman into a vicious lawyer. So when their daughter was killed in a revenge act to Hae Kang, his feelings for her died as well. In the university lab where he works as a research professor, a graduate student Kang Sul Li confesses her love for him and they have an affair. He decides to leave Hae Kang. Hae Kang is forced to divorced him and is thought to be killed in a car accident, except that she is not killed. Instead, she loses her memory and is rescued by Baek Suk who mistakes her for his first love Yong Gi, who turns out to be Hae Kang’s twin sister.

When Choi Jin Uhn meets Yong Gi four years later, he immediate knows her as his wife Hae Kang. Hae Kang has returned to the same girl she had been but she doesn’t recognize him. He finds his love for her returning but she now has Baek Suk as her “light house” to guide and protect her.

Someone has tried to killed Yong Gi but ended up killing Hae Kang instead. Hae Kang is accused of causing the death of Yong Gi’s fiance in her defense of her father-in-law’s pharmaceutical company.  Yong Gi returns from China and Hae Kang’s memory returns and she feels ashamed at the woman she had been. She has to reconcile with her mother and her sister. She avoids Choi Jin Uhn and the passionate pursuit of his ex-wife is what kept me going.

Just watching the two leads is enough for me, the rest of the plot was unimportant.


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Jing Long Seafood Restaurant 

Looking for subject to blog about for me is easy.  When there’s nothing happening,  blog about food,  after all,  one has to eat every day. 

Last Sunday was my mother in law’s birthday and a friend suggested we try this restaurant in the east as I am running out of ideas to bring the two old folks,  one who is reclusive and one who likes to go out. 

It’s not exactly a teochew restaurant but it serves cold crab.

Located at the foot of a HDB flat in Bedok,  I like the traditional signage – somehow the old school signage equates authentic food.

We ordered everything that was marked special on the menu.  Most were good. 

First dish was an appetizer platter that allows you to mix and match. 

I really like the duck pastry on the left.  The prawn cocktail had too much mayo and the hae chor was up to teochew standard.

The deep fried tilapia in Thai sauce is a must to try.  Having ate the more expensive deep fried soon hock at Si Chuan Dou Hua the night before,  we all agreed this was much better.  The spicy tangy sauce provided a kick to the fish, the bones crispy enough to eat like crackers. 

I love this vegetarian  dish too. The  dish comprising celery, fungus and fried lotus root is a nice mix of texture and taste. 

Another dish that won praise is the tofu with chye poh. Eaten with rice,  it immediately satisfies any hunger. 

This duck is a speciality that is available only during wedding dinner,  which I gathered they had that day during lunch. I thought the duck was tough and because it was the last dish,  we were to filled up and decided to pack home.  My sis in law loves it.  

All in all,  including the three cold crabs, we spent $430 for 12 of us. There is no service charge even though the service provided by the local aunties (waitress)  and two PRC young men was attentive and fast. 

The portion is generous and I would return again. 

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A fellow writing pal  visited my office last Saturday and asked my colleague where I sat and if I blog at work.  Horrors!  I wouldn’t dare. So when do I find the time to blog nowadays when I am working full time?  In the MRT going to work! 

It’s been five months since I have been taking public transport daily to work. I used to read whenever I am traveling.  I tried reading in the train  but I am constantly being interrupted by the change of bus to train and then to a different line.  So, like the majority of the train commuters,  I whip out my phone instead.  

I play my scrabble games,  blog,  or facebook.  I take a peek  at my neighbors and their mobiles -many are reading e-books, others watch K-dramas or texting. The men are usually playing games. 

Those not on the phone appear meditative, looking blankly into space. Once,  I watched in fascination as a woman put on full makeup with a small mirror, drawing eye liners on her top and lower lids.  An incredible feat indeed when I can’t even do it in front of my toilet mirror and she could do it on a rocking train.  Next,  she applied her mascara, lipstick, before putting her hair up in a ponytail and drawing tendrils on both side ala Korean style.  She completed her grooming just in time for her stop at Botanic Gardens. 

The DTL is getting busier and once I went in with a crowd and came face to chest with a male stranger facing my entrance, with the crowd behind continuing to push me inwards. The close proximity was uncomfortable and awkward. It’s usually not a problem the other way around with my back pack acting as a buffer but that occasion was too close for comfort. I wonder how the Japanese do it in a video I once saw, as ushers pushed everyone into the cabin, layered like kueh lapis, in order for the door to close.

 Humans are highly adaptable and I have gotten used to the daily commute by MRT.  Having to sit for long hours in the office motivates me to keep moving – climbing up the numerous moving escalators as I transfer between stations. 

I chat with the station ushers, who are now friends I greet every morning – Fang at Beauty World and Halimah at Newton. 

So how long did I take to blog?  It took me three trips before I completed this post. 

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