Moringa is everywhere in Singapore it is THE superfood right now. Moringa also known as drumstick tree is native to northern India up into the foothills of the Himalaya. It is widely cultivated in the tropics where the young seed pods and leaves are eaten. Benzoil is derived from its seeds, a powder of its leaves is seen as a super supplement, used as herbal medicine and water purification.
Wait what? Water purification? No…..
That was my reaction when I was reading a description at Bollywood Veggies this weekend. It can be used to make dirty water drinkable? You have got to be kidding me. So when we got home we looked it up. Crushed moringa seeds are put in cloudy water, reduce bacteria and other impurities and within hours it is drinkable.
That is a pretty impressive claim. That is the idea but does it work and if yes… how?
I found a press release on a study at Penn State. On the use of Moringa seeds to purify water the article says:
“That has been known for some time,” says Stephanie Butler Velegol, environmental engineering instructor at Penn State. Women in ancient Egypt reportedly rubbed Moringa seeds on their clay water pots, and dried powder from crushed seeds has been used as a handwash for many years.”
So how does it work? It appears that when you crush the seeds a positively charged protein called Moringa Oleifera Cationic Protein (that is the scientific name of the plant, cation means positively charged ion, and protein pretty descriptive) MOCP from in the seeds is introduced to the water. This protein kills some of the microbial organism and causes them to clump together and settle to the bottom of the container. You can’t however then store this water, the organic matter from the seeds will remain and become a food source for bacterial that haven’t been killed.
So. The protein in the seeds causes clumping and kills bacteria (but maybe not all of it) and then settles to the bottom leaving clear water at the top. Wanna see it in action? I did!
How cool is that!? Sounds like that is some serious magic that actually is backed up by peer review and now we know a little more how it works.
In the southern islands of Singapore there is a very small stretch of land called Kusu Island. Kusu is located around 5.6 kilometers from Singapore and is accessed by boat from Marina South Pier. This island also happens to be the site of a massive yearly pilgrimage, so to continue my exploration of local lore in Singapore I decided to check it out in the off season. First I would like to give you a little history of the island before we get into the legends.
Historically Kusu Island was just two small outcrops on a shallow reef, and wasn’t enlarged until 1975 when the area between the outcrops was filled and increased from 1.2 hectares to 8.5 hectares.
In 1616 Dom Jose De Silva, the Spanish Governor of the Philippines was on his way home with a fleet of 10 galleons and 2 galleys when his galleon was grounded on the reef near the island. It has been traditionally believed that this accident happened on Kusu reef and the island thus became known in the 17th century as “Governor’s Island” and the straits of SIngapore became known as “Governor’s Straits”. In 1806 it was renamed “Goa Island” for an unknown reason by the Hydrographer James Horsburg from the British East India Company. In 1822 a signal station with a signal mast was erected on the island and manned by staff from the Harbour Master’s Department.
So where does the name Kusu come from? Kusu is “Tortoise Island” in Chinese, but the island is also known as “Peak Island” or “Pulau Tembakul” in Malay with means Mudskipper Island.
So why is this island special? This island has a Malay shrine and a Chinese temple, and during the Kusu Festival in the ninth lunar month every year there are thousands of devotees that come to the island to pray for good health, peace, happiness, good luck, and prosperity. The devotees had to make their way to the islands via sampans or bumboats up until 1975 when regular ferry service began after the land reclamation.
There are several stories associated with this island so I am going to just list a few.
From Favorite Stories from Singapore by Monteiro and Watson: Around 150 years ago two holy men, Dato Syed Rahman (an Arab) and Yam (Chinese), made a meditation and fasting trip to Kusu. During this trip Yam fell ill and Syed prayed fervently for him. Through the intervention of supernatural forces, food and water were provided from a boat and this saved their lives. Syed and Yam became sworn brothe
Sailors that were shipwrecked in the waters near Singapore during the Ninth Lunar Month centuries ago and were rescued by a giant turtle that turned itself into an island.
Long ago, two fisherman were shipwrecked while working in the waters near Kusu. A giant turtle saw them and transformed into an island to provide sanctuary for the shipwrecked fishermen to land.
More than a hundred years ago an Arab named Syed Abdul Rahman left Singapore in search of peace with his wife and daughter. While traveling in their sampan they were caught in a storm which capsized their boat. They were spotted by a giant tortoise who brought them safely to an island. Legend has it that their lost sampan was also returned to them but it was loaded with food.
Centuries ago passengers on board a ship were all stricken by an epidemic but as soon as they dropped anchor near the island all were recovered.
In 1923 the Merchant God or God of Prosperity Da Bo Gong is said to have taken root on Kusu when a wealthy businessman Chia Cheng Ho donated money to build a temple in honor of the Merchant God
As I said there are two temples on the island, one Maylay and one Chinese. We first visited the Maylay Temple on the largest outcrop and hill. This shrine is called a kramat and there are actually three of them. They were built to commemorate a pious family: Syed Abdul Rahman (recognize that name?), his mother Nenek Ghalib, and his sister Puteri Fatimah, who lived in the 19th century. These three shines to these Malay Saints sit at the top of 152 stairs.
Devotees pray for wealth, marriage, fertility, good health and harmony. And the shines are said to be popular with childless couples seeking to start a family.
I was told that the prayers are written on the yellow paint, or on yellow cloth and tied on the way down.
This shrine is located on the largest outcrop on the island. This island as stated before was originally just two outcrops on a section of reef off another of the small southern islands off Singapore. This island is most likely a remnant from erosion.
Stay Tuned for Part 2! The Chinese shrine! (these always take longer to write and upload than I expect!)
I was recently in Vienna Austria for a conference, and I have to say what I was most excited about was visiting the Zentralfriedhof again. This is the big “central cemetery” in Vienna. When I was in Europe 2 years ago was my first time in Vienna and this was on my list due to the fact that Beethoven is buried here. But that wasn’t what stuck with me. Let’s start with a little history and then we can wander through this amazing spot.
The Zentralfriedhof is a planned interfaith cemetery outside of the city center in Vienna. It was built in the 1860s as the other smaller cemeteries started to fill up in Vienna. At first there was some controversy due to the interfaith nature of the cemetery, not only a variety of Christian paths but also Muslim, Buddhist and Jewish sections.
From the city center I took the s-bhan 7 and entered at the back of the cemetery from gate 11. I have entered through this gate every time now. The first time my husband and I were just on a little adventure and gleefully wandered in excited to explore and were immediately struck by this off site. On our left was an old overgrown cemetery, that looked abandoned. On the right where freshly decorated graves and a man with a mower trimming the grass. We got quiet and walked into the Zentralfriedhof. After a minute we began wondering to ourselves what was going on. We started to look at the names and dates on the stones to our left. All of them were around WWI, and then stopped. We said “huh” and went on our way to find who we came to see. I visited Beethoven and thanked him for his music that had been a huge help in some very dark years. It was a hot day so we didn’t last too long before we started back to the gate we had entered in. This time we wandered into the overgrown section and it became very clear where we were. This is the old Jewish section of the Zentralfriedhof. It felt heavy, and lonely, and oh so very sad. When we got back we looked up the history of this section and learned we were right. The impression we had had in that section was that we were face to face with the Holocaust. It turns out that there are two Jewish sections, and that the older was partially destroyed in Kristallnacht. The second newer Jewish section established in 1917 is still in use today.
Now, I went back this year. I was prepared. I was there for the cemetery. I went on a Sunday morning, and the air was clear and crisp. I have never been to a cemetery that has stuck with me so deeply. I entered at tor-11 and flicked my normal payment into the long grass. No one was around and as I walked straight into the old Jewish section I whispered “I came back. I’m here. I remembered you.” At first the mood was as heavy as I remembered. Such a physical reminder of history that as an American is almost abstract, stories in videos and books. Here it was in my face. Here is WWI and here is WWII. I began to think about the world today and how much hate there is against groups of people. I cried. I sat in the grass and cried. There is so much beauty in humans and so much darkness. We can be amazingly warm and welcoming and amazingly cold and hateful. The first feeling I had was one of “don’t forget the past” and I continued wandering saying to myself “I won’t forget”. I came to a mausoleum that I think is dedicated to soldiers from WWI but I don’t read Hebrew. Walked in and looked up at the sky, and began to smile. This section felt like it was obsessed with not being forgotten, and had become overgrown. But the result was beautiful! I could see the blue sky between the branches of a beautiful tree.
This was the inflection point of my first visit back. I kept wandering looping through pointing out all the beautiful to whatever and whoever would listen. “Look at that tree blooming! How beautiful is that!?” over and over. This section is beautiful. Look at your flowers, look at your trees. I saw deer grazing between the stones. Look at your wildlife! You are not forgotten, and you have the best section! By the end I was laughing and marveling at the artful way nature was slowly swallowing the stones.
When I stepped onto another road between the Jewish section and a manicured section my heart was light, the sun was out, the bells were ringing in the central church and the birds were singing. I kept exploring more of the cemetery and found myself at the main entrance. I hadn’t made it to the front last time. Facing that giant fancy gate (everything in Vienna is so over the top) I took a right. The wall separating the street outside from the world inside was set with old grave stones. I would learn some of their history later. I wandered and ended up in a sculpture garden.
First of all, I love sculpture. Second, this was a sculpture garden that incorporated the natural world around it. So I loved it right away. One was set up to have fire? Amazing. I wandered deeper again through the grass with dandelions and daisies and found standing stones. Twelve stones set in a circle with a tree in the middle. One perfect for sitting. Sitting there I remember thinking “I found it. My happy place. This is the most amazing spot in the world.” There were also three circles inside the stones set in brick and I walked these circles in a walking meditation. It was getting later in the morning at this point and more people were around and I saw a family with small kids enter the garden. I didn’t was to deprive the kids of discovering this awesome stone circle so I kept wandering. I passed an outline of a cathedral with trees inside on my way out.
As I wandered back through the cemetery more or less towards the gate I needed to exit I had this nagging feeling to explore this little path between two graves. It looked relatively well used. When I wandered back into the trees I found a little grave. But when I turned around to go back out sometime caught my eye. It was a small toy hearse attached to the tree about a foot off the ground. There was a small plastic vial in the back and as I pulled it out I smiled knowing what it was. A geocahe! I unrolled the paper and write my geocache name and replaced it. By this time I was getting a little hungry and it was time to head back to town. Walking to the train station I noticed several older ladies with little bags. These bags all had little brushes sticking out, and they had obviously been out on a Sunday morning maintaining the graves of loved ones. What a beautiful spot and a lovely tradition. I really don’t know why people don’t like cemeteries.
I met up with a friend later and when he asked what I had done that morning, and I had told him I had visited the central cemetery he expressed interest in seeing it as well. So later in the week, again in the morning back I went. This time entering by tor-11 I had a smile on my face right away. “I came back again!” I whispered to the old Jewish section. This time the section took me to a different spot with my friend. This one has visible damage from when the cemetery was bombed in WWII. But, our visit in this section was short. My friend was more interested in seeing more of the cemetery. We had a lovely morning exploring more, and I gave a quick wave to the section as we left.
This place was built at a time of great expansion in Vienna, and the thought of that empire collapsing must have not even crossed the minds of the Viennese. But the cemetery slowly fills, and there is still life there. Deer, rabbits, and birds, along with visitors. It is still a beautiful spot and full of history. Well worth a visit. Or two. Or three…. Who knows I may get called back again! I will put a gallery of photos on the facebook page
Field trip time! Today I went out to one of the smaller islands that are part of Singapore to check out a spot of local lore and have some kampung style life (kampung is Malaysian Bahasa for village). Pulau Ubin is the Nature Island, and throwback island of Singapore. To get there you take a bumboat from a ferry terminal and just jump off on the old pier. Once there the usual course of activity is to rent a bike, explore and then end up back in the kampung for a beer and some seafood. I went with my husband and a new friend we will call the Swedish Venom Man (his work involves snake venom! Also everyone needs a good nickname ).
We had a few items on our agenda for this trip out of the city, but the first thing I wanted to do was check out the German Girls Shrine. There are a few pages online about it (see end of post) but the one I read first was the Atlas Obscure one . After reading around a little more there seems to be some disagreement in the story, but they all have the same general outline.
Here is the story as I have pieced together from reading several different sites. Before WWI there were several coffee plantations on Pulau Ubin (pulau means island). The plantation in question was owned by a German family who may or may not have had the names Daniel Brandt and Hermann Muhlingans but not much more is known about them. When WWI broke out and Britain declared war on Germany, British soldiers interned the plantation owners, but apparently his 18 year old daughter escaped.
However, her body was found the next day in the bottom of a quarry, and it is thought that she became disoriented or lost and accidentally fell to her death. From here things get hazy. She was found by Boyanese plantation workers who supposedly covered her body and left flowers. Her ghost was apparently seen around the island as well. Later she was moved and given a burial at the top of the quarry hill. It is thought that she was respected because her parents had been kind to their workers. Her grave site was known to be visited in this spot from the 1920-70s. In 1974 she was exhumed for the expansion of the quarry. A local who lived on the island at the time reports to have seen some human hair and her cross when they did. She was placed in an expensive urn which was placed in a hut where the current German Girl Shrine is located.
It is rumored that the original urn was stolen and the one there today is another one. It is also reported to be empty so where the German Girl and her cross are today is unknown. How this girl thought to be catholic turned into a Taoist deity is unknown. But she was worshipers that come from Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar. She is said to bring luck in gambling. Girly things are left at her shrine.
So this is the story. We went to the shrine and it turns out that yearly in 2015 the old yellow hut was replaced with a shiny new hardwood building (with CCTV). It is beautiful but I was a little disappointed because the old one looked so interesting! Still it was an interesting place to visit.
There seems to be two spots in the area, a large stone, and the temple itself. Now I am starting to get used to the structure of temples in this area of the world, so this one seemed pretty standard but with an extra table. There was the main altar in back (no creepy doll like promised but a gorgeous wood carving) and an offering table inside, and a table outside for burnt offerings. I assume the large yellow structure next to the building is for larger burned offerings like the joss paper. Next there was a large rock with smaller shines behind it. I do not know the story of this rock but again from reading around it seems like it is from the original burial at the quarry hill.
The offerings on the altar itself were neatly arranged nail polish, Florida water, and lipstick. The urn in question was there as well with a cross around it. There were also some visitors in the form of a frog on the sign and a gecko under one of the flags.
I hope you enjoyed that bit of Singapore Lore, and the photos!
I am good friends someone who identifies as a Indigenous Hawaiian Polytheist (and she has restarted her podcast! Lamyka’s Podcast is awesome and you should check it out!) and we often get into cultural appropriation discussions, usually over Pele. I thought I “got” Pele… well sort of when I moved to Hawaii, but I don’t think I totally understood how the western idea of a “goddess” was totally wrong related to Her until I went to a talk by a Pele practitioner. All this is to say I think that it is a long and complex process to really get to know any specific deity, and I think their history and cultural context is very important.
I’ve mentioned before that I am taking the OBOD bard grade right now. In this grade there frequent mention of deities from the UK region and Ireland. My original thinking was that since I am culturally Western European and when you round I’m about half Irish that this set of Gods and Goddess would be familiar because of their influence within my home culture. I could not have been more wrong. They feel just as different and out of context as Greek, or Hawaiian, or Hindu deities. It is possible that if I was physically in the region it would be different. This is just my personal experience but, because I am taking this grade I am examining a lot about my belief system and path. I have always joked that I believe in the Force, but I think at this point I am pretty strongly an animist and about as far as I go is local land spirits tied to specific places. I am finding this process fascinating and I am enjoying it even if I am going slow.
So… of Gods and Goddesses
They may not be part of my path but I know they are very important to a great many people. I think they should be treated with respect, and examined within their context. Occasionally I get interested in a God or Goddess which I think is totally fine, but I also think it is important to remember that there are living breathing religions with long histories association with most pantheons. So let us all be respectful of each others cultures and cultural history.
I am also a believer in the idea that when it comes to local spirits, it is good to learn how they are used to being communicated with and worshiped or worked with. I have tried hard to weave local traditions into my own tradition in a respectful way. I have what I call my “home” traditions, the ones that I have grown used to and developed over the many years I have been doing this, but I try to modify them when I am in new places. If you have been following me a while you have noticed that I tend to move every 3-4 years. I am learning how to be new to a location. Sometimes it can be really hard to find the information I want about the indigenous traditions of a land. Right now that means looking into Malay traditions. This region though is a wash in different religions. I am finding the most fascinating mixture the brand of Buddhism practiced in Thailand. At a first blush it seems to be very interwoven with older local beliefs. Alaska I found really difficult because the area I was living in was very sparsely populated pre-gold rush, and Hawaii was so rich in cultural history I soaked it up. Now I have a new challenge, there are layers of history before the British in Singapore, if you know where to look. But eve early Singapore history can be hard to find under the fancy new Singapore that has risen since WWII.
First order we are all human, but what an amazing array of cultures we have ended up with!
My original goal in creating the persona of Kathleen Borealis, and starting a podcast was to give back to the pagan community, by sharing my geology studies. I ended up as a geologist because I was pagan. I decided to call myself pagan because that was what I found in my world religions book that fit my (what I now know as) animist world view. I have always been a very curious person and that mixed with my love of the earth and outdoors led me right into a geology class room.
The idea was always to share geology and how I felt that it deepened my relationship with the earth with other pagans. It is the “how” that has always tripped me up. I am thinking about it again because of the weekend I had. I love that I have good friends who also happen to be work colleagues so work trips double as social trips. We had several visiting scientists last week, and one of them, a good friend of mine stayed over for the weekend. We spent the weekend talking about the state of science, and academia. Both of us had pretty altruistic motives for going into science as a career. Neither of us did it to make money, we did it for the science and to try and help people with our research. Both of us have been trying hard to ignore all the dysfunction around us and focus on why we do what we do.
So I think it is time to refocus on my original mission. I am going to try a few different things and see how it goes, but I do want to share the awesome world I have found myself in. I live in a spiritual and science world and it is rich and fascinating and magical.
I think this season has taught me the most about some of the major differences in thinking when it comes to superstitions between east and west. Singapore is extremely superstitious (and my friend who grew up in Bangkok says they are there too so maybe all of SE Asia is….).
I was thinking a lot about the superstitions I grew up with. Knocking on wood is one of the big ones in my life usually following saying something like “I have never broken a bone” with the added joke of knocking on your own head if there isn’t real wood around. Bad luck being associated with black cats, walking under ladders, breaking mirrors. Good luck being associated with rabbits foot, and four leaf clovers… I feel like if you are not familiar with these some of them take some long explanations.
Here, things seem more straightforward. A lot of associations are based on homophones or words that sound the same but had different meanings. Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese are both tonal languages so words can be spelled the same but said with different tones changing the meanings. So for example raw fish is YU (said with an upward tone) in mandarin and this is a homophone for abundance and affluence. Actually after some digging, it is when you say “raw fish” that it sounds like “increased abundance”. So fish is associated with wealth and abundance. This logic is everywhere!
Similarly, my husband has been sick this last week with a nasty cough. One of the cleaning aunties at school told him not to eat chicken. Now being from the west the logic would be to have chicken noodle soup. So he asked why not eat chicken? She explained that when you cough you sound like a chicken so, don’t eat chicken when you have a cough.
Food is huge in Singapore, and my grocery store had a handy chart on foods and traditions for the lunar New Year. So the following is from a sign in the Cold Storage I took a photo of:
Visiting Family – This is huge! There is generally a big reunion dinner. In lots of families this is the single most important meal of the year. It reminds me of Thanksgiving but even a bigger deal. My in-laws just came back from a trip and sat next to someone who flew to Hong Kong for something and then turned around and came back the next day because she had to be home for New Year’s dinner. That big a deal. It is the largest travel weekend in China. Think Thanksgiving and Christmas rolled into one. This is it. This is when you go home. I have a friend visiting from the states for this reason. Many of the dishes eaten at this meal have special meaning too. Fish is eaten, and prawns, and in Singapore there is a special salad that is tossed.
Prawns – in Cantonese prawn is “ha” which sounds like laughter, and shellfish in general symbolizes strength, positive energy and good fortune. Prawns as also known as the dragons of the sea and represent strong marriage and family bonds.
Meat Dumplings – in northern china jiaozi are eaten and shaped like gold ingots and symbolize good fortune and wealth.
Rice Cakes – Sticky rice cake or “nian gao” is eaten and in mandarin nian means year and gao is cake and sounds like tall or high. This represents a child’s wish to grow taller each year. Also filling up the rice bucket is supposed to symbolize the increase of prosperity, fertility luck and wealth.
Spring Cleaning – the word for dust is pronounced “chen” which is the same as another word that means “old” so cleaning the house signifies getting over the past and looking forward to a new start.
New Clothes – it is traditional to wear new clothes for the spring festival and also seen as respectful as the younger generation has to look respectable for the elders.
Wearing Bright Colors – Red. Everything is red! Wearing red is seen as auspicious and people avoid wearing black.
Putting up the character “fu” – Fu means good fortune and happiness so a decorative usually paper cut out of the character is placed in a prominent place in the home. Some families turn it upside down since upside down in mandarin is “dao” which sounds like the word for too arrive so it means a wish for good fortune and happiness to arrive in the household.
Hong Bao – are red packets. The custom is for the elders to give these to the younger generation with money and usually in even and lucky numbers (6 and 8 are favored) I have also heard that crisp two dollar bills are preferred in Singapore.
Mandarin Oranges – this one had me stumped but now I know! It is customary to give a pair of oranges (and man did I see a lot of people on public transit today with little bags with two oranges) to relatives. This signifies good luck. The word for mandarin oranges is “ju” which is similar to “ji” which means auspicious. Some believe the larger the oranges the better the luck. The reasoning behind giving them in pairs has to do with the phase “good things come in pairs”. They are everywhere this time of year! I’m not complaining, I love them, but they are also a traditional gift to a hostess. I was instructed to bring two when I go visit my friend’s house tomorrow.
Yu Sheng – The special salad in Singapore where each ingredient has auspicious meaning and they are paused to the center and thrown in the air.
Abalone – This one I am glad I finally know. There are abalone ads EVERYWHERE!!! And I mean everywhere and it was starting to drive me crazy. It has a parallel meaning of assurance of a surplus in the year ahead.
Sweets and Chocolates – Candies and chocolates and sweets oh my! They mean safety and good fortune so pass the love letter cookies, those awesome cashew shortbread things and the pineapple tarts!
Scallops – These for some reason symbolize more “sons” or offspring” generation after generation, an interesting association given the articles I have been reading about the missing women in China…
Leeks – besides this word getting a certain Finnish Folk-song stuck in my heard… leeks symbolize the ushering in of wealth in the coming year.
Fresh bamboo and Pussy Willow – these both symbolize the growth of fortune and prosperity.
I’ll pick my friends brain tomorrow and see if I can come up with anything else!
Like the title says…. work/life can be hard…. work/life/path can feel impossible some days.
Some times it can be hard to see how to fit everything in, plan for a holiday when you won’t have the day off, or celebrate a moon when you just want to pass out. I think I can say we have all been there, looking longingly at the stack of reading we want to devote real time to, and then back at all the chores, like that pile of dishes and laundry. Sometimes I want to quit and run away to the woods. But I do love my job, so that isn’t going to happen. I think transitions are especially hard on spiritual studies. When you move, you have a new space to get used to, new local spirits to get to know, and if it is long distance, a new change of the seasons to adjust to. When you change jobs you have a new routine to get used to. A wise person told me to give myself 6 months to really adjust to my move since it was a big one. I’m half way through, still trying to figure it out.