6 April 2014

‘F’ is for Flags that are Flying & Fluttering – Tibetan Wind Horses

I received a knock on my apartment door this morning and when I opened the door I was somewhat surprised to see Mr. Tan. He is the Building Manager of my apartment complex. Mr. Tan was accompanied by one of the dopey Security Guards of my condominium whose name I think is Kevin. Kevin was awake and standing which is very unusual. He is normally asleep at his post.

I invited both of them in and asked them to take a seat. I asked Kevin if he would like to have a lay down on my couch. He looked vaguely interested and then a little alarmed when he realized that I was taking the piss. Mr. Tan sat on the edge of one of my couches and gave Kevin the Security guard a withering stare. Poor Kevin remained standing. He looked most anxious and uncomfortable. I offered them both a cold drink or a coffee which Mr. Tan politely declined. Kevin looked as if he wanted something but Mr. Tan stared him down so Kevin said nothing.

I asked Mr. Tan what I could do for him.

"We have a problem Mr. Peter", Mr. Tan informed me in a most grave fashion.

"A problem Mr. Tan?"

"A problem Mr. Peter."

"Pray tell me this problem Mr. Tan?" I enquired.

I was curious but not anxious. I have been living here for many years now and I understand that the Singaporeans perceive a lot of things to be problems that are of little significance or consequence to me.

"It is your flags Mr. Peter. We have received a complaint. You cannot"

"I cannot?"

"You cannot" he repeated.

The flags Mr. Tan was referring to are my Tibetan prayer flags. I have hanged them from my little balcony. Or have I hung them? I am not sure what the correct terminology is in this instance. I got my Tibetan prayer flags on a trip to Nepal and they have been hanging there for quite some time.

Here is a couple of pictures of my Tibetan Prayer flags flapping in the breeze on my little balcony. My verandah is a very small space that only has room for my surfboard and my battered but comfortable green leather armchair. I have had this green armchair for more than a decade. It is much travelled and is an old friend.

The word verandah is a derivation of the Hindi word ‘varanda’, which in turn is believed to have come from a Portuguese word that means a “long balcony or terrace”. It was first recorded in the year 1711 and originally related to open areas on a ship. Verandah’s are also known as balconies. Balconies are Italian in origin and are an anglicised form of the word ‘balcone’ – which means a scaffold or terrace. ‘Balcones’ were seen most commonly in theatres where Italian operas were conducted. Nowadays verandahs and balconies are much the same thing.

I actually spend quite a bit of time on my balcony. It is shaded there in the afternoon and as I am up on the sixth floor of my building it often gets a pleasant breeze. I spend many hours reading books in my battered old armchair and I occasionally watch games of tennis that are played on the courts below me.

I have a very clear view of the tennis courts from my vantage point on my little balcony and sometimes I yell out my verdict to players as to whether a ball is in or out. For disputed calls. There is one Singaporean guy who plays regularly on a Saturday afternoon and he foot faults on every serve. Foot faulting is stepping over the line during the action of a service. It is against the rules of tennis. He also often cheats by calling his opponents balls as being out when they are actually clearly in. He hates me yelling out "foot fault" or "that ball was in" when he plays and he yells and screams obscenities at me in both Hokkien and English. He sometimes even tries to hit tennis balls up at me. I find it very entertaining that he gets so infuriated. 

His bemusement is my amusement.

Here is the view of the tennis courts from my balcony. The Tibetan prayer flags are flapping in the foreground. 

They are fluttering

Prayer flags are long strings of colorful cloth that are used to bless the countryside and provide healing to both the land and the people. They are often seen strung along mountain ridges and peaks very high in the Himalaya mountains. I have seen them there on the Nepal side of the Himalaya mountain ranges and they are spectacular and beautiful and glorious.

Here is a picture of them in the Himalaya:
These prayer flags are ancient and it is believed that they were introduced by the Bon. The Bon is a uniquely Tibetan religion that pre-dates Buddhism. It is believed that the teachings of the Lord Buddha originated from Bon scriptures. The Bon is more than seventeen thousand years old and it is almost forgotten now.

Not by me though.

Prayers or mantra are printed on each flag. These are hand printed with wooden blocks. I know this because I have seen this done. In Kathmandu. The flags themselves are called Lung Ta which translates to "wind horse" in the Tibetan language. I love the term 'Wind horse' and I love the Himalaya mountain ranges of Tibet and Nepal and the beautiful people who live there too. I visit as often as I can.

It brings me peace and makes my heart sing.

Prayer flags are hung - or perhaps hanged - to promote compassion, strength, wisdom and peace and these are all very good things. By hanging these flags it is believed that the Lung Ta will carry blessings to all beings on the planet. As the wind makes the flags flutter the air is purified and sanctified by the mantras that are printed on the flags. They are able to transform bad fortune to good fortune.

Nice huh?

You will see that there are five colours in the string of flags - unless you are color blind of course. They are very specific in their order and from left to right they are blue, white, red, green and yellow. These colors represent the five elements that are important to Tibetan Buddhists. They are referred to as the "Five Pure Lights". Blue is symbolic of the sky, white symbolizes the air and wind, red is fire, green is water and yellow is the mother earth. In Tibetan and Nepalese culture health and harmony are produced through the balance of these five elements.

I find this incredibly beautiful.

Seeing the flapping and fluttering of my prayer flags brings me peace and tranquility and hope.

I explained all of this to Mr. Tan and told him that my prayer flags were a gift from my Nepalese friend Bhim and they mean a lot to me. I told Mr. Tan that they are precious to me and that I would not take them down.

He repeated, "We have received a complaint Mr. Peter you cannot"

"I cannot what Mr. Tan?" I replied

"Fly the flags"

"Why not?"

"It is against the law"

"Against the law?" I asked.

"Was it that fat Danish bastard Jens who has complained?". 

Jens is a psychopathic neighbor of mine who I have enraged. It is a long story that I will not repeat as I have previously described it in a piece that I have written that is titled, "The Floater".

"I cannot say Mr. Peter but you must remove them. Can?", Mr. Tan insisted.

"Cannot" I retorted.

"They are of religious significance to me"

"Then you must get permission from the Authorities" he replied

"I will write to Mr. Lee immediately then", I responded - with no small degree of indignation. Mr. Lee is the current Prime Minister of Singapore.

Mr. Tan looked most distressed at this declaration and he was wringing his hands with some despair as he rose to his feet.

"You will not remove the flags? he enquired as I ushered him and dopey Kevin out of the door

"I most certainly will not", I responded.

Kevin the Security guard had a smug smirk on his face as he walked out the door so I said to him, "And you can now go back to sleep Mr. Kevin". 

The smirk quickly disappeared and Mr. Tan cast him a dark look.

Singapore have very strict rules about the display of their own National flag. They have very strict rules about everything and anything actually and it drives me crazy sometimes. Singaporeans are encouraged to display their own country's flag on National Day. This is celebrated on the 8th August and it is a public holiday. However the flag can only be displayed out the front of homes from the 20th July until the 30th August. Displaying it at any other time is illegal.

I have no idea why.

My boy Tom has the Singaporean flag tattooed on his right shoulder and he has many other tattoos all over his body. He is coming to visit me in a couple of weeks from Australia. I will have to tell him that displaying this flag in Singapore is illegal and he will have to keep it covered up while he is here. He will likely think that this is very funny and he will ignore my advice. He has ignored my advice all of his young life and he does his own thing. I did much the same when I was his age so I don't really mind. 

I rather like it actually.

Rebellion runs deep in my family.

I will finish this post now as I have a long letter that I need to write to Prime Minister Lee.

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