Cross-cultural experience

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As I remembered rightly, there was a lot of walking at the zoo, but it was smaller than I remembered. Perhaps that’s because we walked much faster than the last time I visited.

Having finished with our trip to the zoo faster than expected, I sped up the itinerary and begun our church tour. Having come from Darjeeling, where land is plentiful and church compounds are large and spread out, Johnny found Singapore churches to be compact and made full use of land space available. Prior to our church tour, he had only visited Church of the Risen Christ, and Church of the Holy Trinity where he is staying. From these two, he had earlier concluded, “Churches here are mostly the same.” Then I knew I had to bring him to a variety of churches.

So we set out, first, to Church of the Holy Spirit, where I got married earlier this year. From there, we went to Church of St. Ignatius, a parish run by the Jesuits, brothers of the same religious order as Johnny. We then went to St. Joseph Church in Bukit Timah, which was originally built for the Chinese Catholics and so had many elements of Chinese architecture. Finally, we headed over to Church of St. Mary of the Angels, an architecturally aesthetic wonder among churches here.

Franciscan Friar John Wong was there. He said hi, gave us each a small curry puff and a pudding, as well as a guide to touring the church. From this church, Johnny got many ideas – especially from the columbarium and the adoration chapel. Ideas that he can implement in his own parish of St. Paul the Apostle where he was recently appointed parish priest.

Columbariums, especially, are new to Johnny, because in Darjeeling, most deceased Catholics are still buried. In land-scarce Singapore, we’ve taken to cremating our dead and putting their ashes in niches in columbariums. This also creates a source of funding for parishes. After all, a niche in a columbarium is no more than a hole in a wall… and one that can cost something like $12,000 per niche, depending on how high or how low it is. Niches at eye-level tend to cost more.

We spoke at length about the differences between Singapore and Darjeeling Catholics. Johnny said that each parish in Singapore is like a cathedral in Darjeeling, with respect to the size of the church building and the number of parishioners that attend Mass. I remember during my visit to Darjeeling in 2006, that the territorial size of each parish there is about the size of our diocese.

Each family in his family is visited twice a year. Johnny knows well each family’s background so when parishioners approach to speak with him, he usually knows that it is about. Here, parishioners may not ever see their parish priests in their homes except for house blessing or anointing of the sick. There they have a practice of having their house blessed every year, whereas here we have our houses blessed when we first move in.

Here, our priests can drive up practically to our doorstep. There, Johnny has to park his bike by the road and walk 1, 2, sometimes 8 kilometres over hills and valleys to get to a village. Houses in a village can be some 500 metres apart from each other, so it can be very tiring to bless all the houses in a village. He tells me that sometimes he wakes at 6am, leaves the community residence, reaches the village at 10am, and is out doing pastoral work until 6pm when the sun sets.

What else was there? Oh yes, the zoo. Many of the animals we have in our zoo are also present in Darjeeling… in their tea plantations. Johnny says he has, on two occasions, had a tiger walk past him just several metres away. In our zoo is also a section of tropical crops, many of which are found in Johnny’s parish where they grow their own food. But of course they don’t have giraffes, zebras, and hippos.

Singapore – an Indian perspective

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Today, I am going to the zoo! I haven’t been there since 2005 and what I remember of it is that there’s lots of walking.

I’m going with a visiting Jesuit from India. It’s the first time in Johnny’s 13 years as a missionary in Darjeeling that he’s taking leave from his work. It’s also his first time travelling out of India. He marvels at our efficiency, both in terms of how fast we do things and how much we get done in one space. For example, while he visited Church of the Risen Christ, he was amazed at how Singaporeans pack everything that they need into one building. I suppose that’s because in Singapore, land is expensive, so we’re forced to be creative in maximising the use of what we have.

His host, Fr Albert Ng, who is currently assistant priest at Church of the Holy Trinity, took Johnny out to sea for a fishing trip last week. That was the first time Johnny had ever set foot on a boat, and what an experience he had! Coming from the hilly district of Darjeeling, where there are no seas or lakes, Johnny had a rocking experience on the boat, in addition to the fact that the boat went through a storm that night! Now he knows the fear that the apostles felt. Makes him a better priest, I suppose. =B

A new beginning

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I started out this website when Befriending Jesus was published in 2008. This website never did become what I intended it to be.

I had intended to port over my then blog’s entries to this one, but I had written too much for the content to be ported in fully. So I then decided to continue writing in my old blog, and leave this one as a website for BJ. Then some unknown person reported my old blog to the archbishop, and because I was a church employee then, I made the difficult decision to stop writing in it.

Fast forward to today and I am no longer employed by the church and hence, more free to write what I want without fear of being reported to my boss or my boss’ boss. So I’m going to start writing in here again.