Stories from my past memories - childhood, family, friends, growing up, poverty, integrity, dreams come true, finding peace and happiness, Buddhism, Yoga, and now...
Kampung Pinang was finished in 1986. All the houses in the village were destroyed and soon to be replaced with high rise low-cost flats, apartments and condominiums. We were sent to a temporary housing in Pantai Dalam where each family was given one unit of the long house. The house had only one small living cum dining hall, a small kitchen, a bathroom with a toilet and one bedroom which we converted into two small size bedrooms. Since we had lived on the land where they built the low-cost flats we were given the priority to buy one of the low-cost flats. First they took our home, then they took our money.
There were 10 houses in each block of the long houses. My parents were given one unit and my sister who was already married was given one unit next to ours. There were about 90 blocks of long houses as I can remember. There was no space for a garden and the entire place smelled because of poor sanitation. There were rubbish everywhere and the drains were blocked most of the time. At least we have electricity and water supply in the house. We spent almost two years living there. Many years later we learned that some of the long houses were destroyed by a fire outbreak.
One day I watched Madonna’s concert the Virgin Tour on TV, and recorded the show with the video tape recorder. Every day I played that video over and over, imitating Madonna in her Virgin Tour concert, learning to sing all her songs and dance like her. I was about fourteen years old when I first saw Madonna on TV and heard her songs over the radio and television programs. Somehow I thought she was very positive and inspirational. Just like many other young girls, she was my idol and inspiration for me to become a successful performer. I dreamt of performing on stage like her in front of thousands and thousands of audience. She ignited hopes in me and never give up to make my dreams come true. She was my life changer.
Madonna inspired me to move on my life with hopes and dreams during the time I encountered difficult moments while I was a teenager. In those days, the conservative Chinese villagers would condemn any young girls who admired Madonna and tried to imitate and dress up like her. They said she was a bad girl. But I didn’t care what they said. I was inspired by Madonna to change the hard condition of my life. I knew she had had a hard life too when she was younger. She was the biggest motivator for me to strive to be stronger, to be successful and to have a better life. I never saw her in person and she didn’t know me, but she saved me from self-destruction.
After I learned all her dance moves, I started to choreograph my own dance routines and had entered many dance competitions held in shopping malls even though I didn’t go through any formal dance training. I loved dancing and enjoyed performing on stage very much, and I aspired to be a dance champion for once in my life. My dreams come true later in life even though it wasn’t really a dance competition, but somehow I ended up competing in sport aerobics competitions which required much more effort, discipline, artistic and technical skills, power, speed, strength and flexibility.
If I hadn’t been through all those hardships and unhappiness when I was a teenager, I don’t think I would be here today doing what I am doing now. It would be a complete different life. Because of all the hardships and unhappiness, I wanted to know about life and the truth of life existence. I always wondered why we had to suffer so much even though we had tried to be good and do good?
Hardships and unhappiness are neither good nor bad. People can become more negative and depressed if they don’t know how to go beyond hardships and unhappiness. People can also become motivated to find out how to transcend suffering. The experience of suffering can bring us onto the path of self-transformation and self-realization. If I always had had an easy life and lived in good condition and being happy all the time, I think I wouldn’t be thinking about these questions and I won’t know how other people feel when they suffer from dissatisfaction, disappointment, anger, hatred, hopelessness, unhappiness and painful sorrow.
One day I came across a Buddhism Dhamma book – Liao Fan's Four Lessons. It talked about how we can change our karmic fate and take control of our own destiny. Just like Madonna, it was another life changer for me.
I was so tired of being unhappy and angry all the time. I asked myself, “Why do I have to live my life in such sadness and full of anger and hatred? I don’t have to and I don’t want to.” I believed that I had the will-power and freedom to be happy, if I want. I didn’t want to continue living in sadness and anger and hatred. In the past, out of ignorance, I thought the difficult condition in my life was the cause of my unhappiness. I wanted to change my life. I didn’t like myself, my evil thinking and my unhappy feelings at that time. And so, I wanted to change myself, my thinking and my feelings. I felt life was meaningless for being unhappy and angry all the time. I didn’t understand about life, the mind, the ego, ignorance, suffering, the cause of suffering and how to be free from suffering at that time. I still had to go through lots of disappointment and unhappiness for many more years later.
After I read that book, I made a firmed resolution that I wanted to come out from miseries, to free myself from anger, hatred and unhappiness. The teachings in the book taught me to endure difficult conditions and unpleasant emotions. It also taught me to have gratitude and appreciation for the little good things that I had and stop complaining about happenings that weren’t what I wanted or liked. There was nobody could help me, not even my parents or gods, but myself.
The teachings of Buddhism is about purification of the mind, be free from ignorance, egoism, attachment and desires. It teaches the importance of inquiry into the truth of everything. We learn to be self-reliant and develop self-control, to stop having evil and negative intentions, thoughts, actions and speech, to perform good action and develop kind and positive intentions, thoughts, actions and speech. The Buddhism practice is about developing patience, perseverance, determination, compassion, tolerance, forbearance, forgiveness, acceptance, adjustment, adaptation, accommodation, cheerfulness and letting go, which life had been trying to teach me all the while, but I didn’t realize about it when I was younger. Even though I heard about all these terms since I was small from my mother and school teachers, but I didn’t know what they really meant, and so I had to go through lots of unnecessary suffering due to my deep ignorance.
There’s nothing wrong with the desires for attaining good living condition and happiness, and don’t want to have difficult living condition and unhappiness. But, liberation from suffering is not about having all the good conditions and don’t have any bad conditions, or only want to feel happy and don’t want to feel unhappy at all. It’s learning how to go beyond all the qualities of names and forms, going beyond the impermanent life existence and the function of the body and mind, knowing the truth of the mind perceptions of names and forms, and be free from ignorance, egoism, attachments, identifications, desires of craving and aversion, and all sorts of impurities. We stop rejecting unhappiness and stop longing for happiness, and be in peace unconditionally, when we know how to go beyond all the perceptions of names and forms that are impermanent and selfless.
At sixteen years old, I decided to look for a dance school to learn proper dance skills and pursue my dream to be a professional dancer. I told my parents about my wish. They were very supportive even though our family financial situation was very difficult at that time. We went looking for a good dancing school around Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya. Somehow, I ended up in a yoga and aerobics dance academy in Petaling Jaya where the principal told me that I was very talented, and she persuaded me to take up the aerobics dance instructor course with her. The course fee was 600 Ringgit. My eldest brother gave me a huge part of his salary from that month for the course fee and the rest of the salary to my parents. Usually he gave all his salary around 800 Ringgit to my parents every month. And so, I was really grateful for the money and opportunity, and took up the course. I started teaching aerobics classes and some yoga exercise classes at that place even before I finished the aerobics instructor course. I had joined the Chinese traditional dance troupe organized by MCA in our village at that time, and they asked me to teach aerobics classes twice a week at their centre as well.
The principal employed me as her full-time assistant afterwards and I did many show performances for the company besides teaching aerobics classes. She paid me very little salary every month. It was 200 Ringgit per month when I worked from 5.30 p.m. to 9.30 p.m. for 5 days a week, and 400 Ringgit per month when I worked from 8.30 a.m. to 9.30 p.m. for 7 days a week, for teaching a few classes per day plus doing all the dinner and shopping malls dance shows. When I wasn’t teaching classes I had to do the administrative work, clean the floors, mirrors and windows of her studio, and look after her precious dog. Sometimes she asked me to clean the dust on all the leaves of the indoor plants and remove all the handprints on the walls. She even made me give her son free tuition classes in Maths, English, Chinese and Malay – all without a single ringgit extra pay. In the beginning, she paid a woman 100 Ringgit a month to clean the studio thrice a week. Afterwards she stopped hiring the cleaning lady and asked me to do all the cleaning but not paying me any extra for doing the additional work. I’d never heard of the term ‘exploitation’ and wasn’t aware of myself being exploited terribly in such way.
Two years later, realizing I was not very happy working for her, my boss started to pay me 100 Ringgit per month for giving tuition classes for her son thrice a week at her house. Not long after that, she asked one of the aerobics students to bring her son to join in the tuition classes. They still gave me 100 Ringgit for teaching two children by sharing the payment at 50 Ringgit from each of them. Then my boss asked another aerobics student to also bring her son to join in the tuition classes. Three of them still gave me 100 Ringgit to teach three children by sharing the payment. The new boy’s mother would pay 50 Ringgit, while my boss suggested that she and the other boy’s mother would pay 25 Ringgit each. But, this aerobics student found that it was too ridiculous and didn’t want to treat me like that, and so she stopped bringing her son to my boss’s house for the tuition classes, but instead, she invited me to her house to give tuition classes to her son and paid me 100 Ringgit per month for it.
My mother used her van to help my lady boss to pick up the other dancers and brought them to the show venues, and then sent the dancers back to their home after the shows. My boss made lots of money from dance shows (at least a few thousands Ringgit per show). The other dancers were being paid reasonably by her for doing the dance shows. I was also performing for her, but for me and my mother, we only get a meal at the food court and a cup of fizzy drink. She didn’t even give money to my mother for the petrol. One time, she gave me something else, a belt worth 5 Ringgit.
All these experiences were neither good nor bad, but it gave me some good reflections about the mind and human’s behavior. I am thankful for these experiences allowing me to learn and understand more about life existence and the mind, and human’s behavior.
I worked for my boss for two and a half years. I finally gave up working for her because I realized she was just taking advantage of me. When I told her I wanted to stop working for her while she was sending me home in her car, she was in great shock that she stopped her car in the middle of the road for a few moments before she could continue to drive me home. She knew she would never find another ‘naive’ and ‘stupid’ hardworking person like me to work for her.
I liked to do a lot of stretching exercises which were similar to most of the yoga poses when I was growing up, but I had no idea that they were related to yoga poses until I started working at the yoga and aerobics dance academy.
The forty five minutes yoga classes at that place was only doing some stretching exercises using yoga asana poses. It didn’t talk about yoga philosophy at all. That’s why in the beginning I thought yoga was only some stretching exercises coming from India for promoting fitness, health and beauty, and nothing else. Not knowing the real meanings of yoga, I was never interested in doing or teaching yoga exercise classes as I found it too slow and boring. I only enjoyed doing and teaching fast speed and high energetic aerobics dance exercises.
Working for my first boss had taught me a great lesson in life – Never be like her taking advantage of other people.
When I was working at that yoga and aerobics dance studio, I also took up some modern dance lessons under Peggy, one of the dance instructor for The Dance Company. From there I got to know Ichiro Chuah, our Malaysian famous dancer and show performer. I also participated in their rehearsal for dance shows, standing at the back trying to learn their dance moves. But I wasn’t good enough and I realized my personality didn’t fit into a professional dance troupe for show business. I didn’t and don’t smoke or drink. I didn’t like to put myself in sexy outfits to project sexy appearance, body language and dance moves that made for such entertaining purposes. It was a great opportunity and experience for me, even though I decided not to join the dance company, I was thankful to Peggy for the invitation.
Before I stopped working for my first boss, I already set up my little aerobics dance studio inside my friend’s hair salon in Old Klang Road in 1989. Besides teaching at my own aerobics studio, I also started teaching free-lancing for a few different bosses at different dance studios, corporate companies and golf clubs in and around Kuala Lumpur. The way my new bosses treating their employees were not any different from my first boss. But I learned from my previous experience and I was no longer the same person as I was. I wouldn’t let anyone to take advantage of me, ever again. Somehow I was very talented in teaching aerobics dance classes, and all my classes everywhere were always full as the students preferred to come to my classes than the other instructors’ classes. On top of being a popular aerobics instructor in Kuala Lumpur, I was always punctual for my classes and I never took leave even when I was not feeling well, and I rarely got sick. And so, my bosses didn’t mind paying me a little more than the other instructors when I asked for increment.
One time, one of the bosses who owned several dance academies in Petaling Jaya and Kuala Lumpur had cut my pay because she said all the other dance teachers only get paid 20 Ringgit for a 45 minutes dance class, while I was getting 25 Ringgit per class. I was very unhappy about it. I asked to talk to her directly. The admin clerk cum receptionist called my boss and then she gave me a phone number to call my boss later in the evening, as she was too busy to talk at that time. This boss and I had never met each other before, as she was a very busy business woman being the head principal for a few dance schools. And so, when I called her later in that evening, I said directly to her that she lived in a big bungalow house with a few pet dogs and owned a few big dance academies, while I was just a poor person who tried to make a living working so hard, but she was so calculative about that little bit of 5 Ringgit a class, or 20 Ringgit a month, and cutting my pay was really ridiculous. And so, she told her admin clerk to forgo about the pay cut and paid me as before.
And then, another boss was always reluctant to pay her many instructors on time by the end of every month. Sometimes the instructors only got paid two or three months later. The excuse that she gave to the instructors was she hadn’t received payment from the corporate companies or the golf clubs, and so the instructors wouldn’t get their payment on time from her. Usually she would pay me not later than seven days after the end of the month. And I wouldn’t say anything about her late payment towards other instructors. But one time, she didn’t pay me after the seventh of the month. I called her and told her that she could never fool me like all the other instructors. I said to her, as a boss to all these free-lance instructors, she had to take the responsibility to pay her employees on time even if she hadn’t received payment from the corporate companies and golf clubs yet. She was our boss, not the corporate companies and golf clubs. We received our payment from her, not from them. Or else, all the instructors didn’t need to go through her being the middle-man, and they would work directly with all those corporate companies and golf clubs, without her getting a cut from the payment. And I would stop working for her if she didn’t pay me immediately. And so, she wrote me a check and gave it to me the next day.
After teaching aerobics classes for many years in corporate companies and golf clubs working for a middle-man, I decided to stop and find some aerobics classes to teach at smaller dance schools without the middle-man. Though the pay was rather low working for a middle-man, I was thankful for all the opportunities, exposures and experiences to teach classes at many places that provided me with some living income. I also moved my aerobics dance studio to another bigger shop-lot next to my friend’s hair salon in 1991. And then I moved my studio to Taman Sri Sentosa where I lived, in 1995. My father was retired that year and gave me some of his EPF money for setting up a proper aerobics dance studio. I was still teaching free-lancing at some other dance studios as the small profits coming from my own studio was not enough for supporting myself and my family.
I had been teaching aerobics for twenty years since sixteen years old until I retired from the world of aerobics. Coincidentally I started to teach yoga exercise classes in 2004, which led me to India in early 2005 and met my Irish husband there. I had closed my aerobics dance studio for good before I go to India. After I came back from India I started teaching yoga classes and aerobics classes at home and at some other dance studios where I used to teach aerobics classes. I retired from teaching aerobics classes in 2006. My husband and I have been running yoga retreats together and teaching yoga to many people from all over the world after my husband came to Malaysia to be with me in 2007.
All the Dhamma that I had been learning and practicing, I didn’t know they weren’t different from the teachings of yoga until the moment I read the Bhagavad Gita just before I went to India for the Yoga Teachers Training Course. Only then I realized what I have been believing in and practicing in my heart all the while weren’t separated from Yoga. Changing from teaching aerobics dance exercise and fitness classes to be teaching and sharing Yoga with many people from around the world is another great life experience.
Everything was there on the path for me, leading me to where I am in the present. When I was a little girl, I had sensitive sixth sense about good and bad influences, and could feel what was happening to my family and friends, and had predictions, visions and dreams about what was going to happen to them and myself.
Without any intention, I was helping in a Buddhist library and started to write about Dhamma every day and gave Dhamma talks to the public twice a month.
Without any expectation, I represented Malaysia for world sport aerobics championship in France and then came back to Malaysia and became a national champion, having all my dreams come true.
Without any intention to change from teaching fitness exercise classes into teaching yoga classes, I am now teaching and sharing Yoga with people who come to learn and practice yoga. And without worry about money, I made it to India twice for attending Yoga Courses, even though I had to deal with my family’s financial problem for many years.
Without the intention to get into a relationship and having a life partner, I met my husband in India in the ashram during the Yoga Teachers Training Course, and we got married in 2008.
Without any intention to be living in Langkawi and teaching yoga there, I was living in Langkawi with my husband for ten years, teaching and sharing yoga to many people coming from everywhere.
All those life experiences were in the past. They were just a memory, a history. It was real, but it doesn’t exist in the present moment.
And now, since February 2020, we have been living on Penang Island, just on time to get out from Langkawi before the implementation of the pandemic lockdown in March that carries on until now, which impacts greatly on international travel and tourism activity, hitting hard on the livelihood of the majority people on Langkawi Island that depends solely on tourism activities, where we won’t be able to run yoga retreats if we were still living in Langkawi.
All the good and not so good experiences were some stepping stones to bring me here and doing what I am doing now.
I realized I don’t have to be a professional singer to sing. I don’t have to sing well to sing. I don’t have to be a professional dancer to dance. Everyone can sing and dance as they like, no matter how out of tune or out of rhythm they are.
I didn’t become a professional dancer in the end, but it didn’t matter because I realized that although I love dancing very much and wanted to be a dancer, but my personality didn’t fit into the world of show business. I still can dance as I like, at anywhere and anytime, but not necessarily that I have to be in a professional dance troupe.
It has been a long time I didn’t sing or dance in the form of singing and dancing physically, but it didn’t change my love for singing and dancing. It didn’t stop me from singing and dancing in my heart. I don’t need to sing or dance to make me feel happy, or to feel good. It doesn’t make me feel unhappy if I am not singing or dancing. I am happy as I am.
For me, everything that I perceive and experience through this mind, is a form of dance and music coming from the universal consciousness. The sound of the breeze whistling, the sounds of people talking, crying and laughing, the sounds of birds chirping and all kinds of sound made by animals and insects, the flowing rivers and streams, the movements of the trees, the flowers and the grass move by the wind, the magnificent waterfalls, the waves of the ocean, the colourful sunset and sunrise, the infinite sky, the ever-changing clouds, the lightning, the thunder, the rain, and all the beings experiencing happiness and unhappiness, ups and downs in life, are a form of dance and music coming from the universal consciousness.
The world is dancing and singing all the time, turning round and round, expressing through the nature, oceans, mountains, forests, rivers, volcanoes, rain, wind, thunder and lightning.