June 26, 2017

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Cindy Co

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by Cindy Co

THE roads are a little safer today: the Camry driver of viral video infamy has finally been arrested. The outpouring of outrage at the errant driver started on June 15 with a video posted online by Roads.sg on Facebook, showing the car – a silver Toyota Camry SKA1713J (and who dares to buy/drive that car now?) – knocking down a motorcyclist and his pillion rider on the Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE) and then speeding off.

The video was cut together with footage of the same car driving recklessly in two other incidents as far back as 2014. The online outrage saw the video gaining 183,036 views, with most comments expressing their frustration with reckless drivers and the perceived incapability of the traffic police to do anything.

 

 

The driver, Mr Muhammad Fazly, 29, and his pillion rider, Ms Siti Farina, 27, escaped mostly unscathed, although Mr Fazly had injured his right leg in the fall, while Ms Farina sustained injuries to her arm. Mr Fazly’s motorcycle, however, was badly damaged as a result of the accident. Mr Fazly was given a week of medical leave to allow him to recuperate.

Although the driver had previously been described as a 40-year-old, police said that they had arrested a 63-year-old man last Friday, June 17, for committing a rash act causing hurt. Four eyewitnesses to the incident have come forward to testify.

Reports of the driver’s arrest had been circulating since June 17 when the car was photographed by a member of the public, a Mr Ezuwan Husaini at 10 Ubi Avenue 3, parked inside the compound of the Traffic Police Headquarters.The photograph was posted on Facebook and shared widely, with comments noting that it is very unusual for a car to be parked inside the compound, even for an investigation.

 

 

Speaking on the aftermath of the incident, Mr Fazly said: “This kind of driver should not be allowed on the road – he appears to have an attitude problem.”

 

Feature image from Roads.sg.

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by Cindy Co

OMAR Mateen’s two wives have spoken, and the picture they’ve painted is not a pretty one.

Mateen’s ex-wife, Ms Sitora Yusify called him “obviously disturbed, deeply, and traumatised”, while his current wife, Ms Noor Zahi Salman, has told FBI investigators how she had accompanied Mateen to scout out potential targets. But who are these women, exactly?

Ms Sitora Yusify, the ex-wife

Ms Yusify was an immigrant from Uzbekistan, arriving in 2000, a year after her father had moved to the US. She grew up in New Jersey, and met Mateen online, on the once-popular social networking site MySpace back in 2009. After their marriage, she moved from New Jersey to Florida with him, despite her parents’ misgivings.

She described him as “a normal being that cared about family, loved to joke, loved to have fun” in the beginning. But he later became abusive, beating her, controlling her movements, and prevented her from seeing her family. “He would often get into fights and arguments with his parents but because I was the only one in his life most of the violence was towards me at that time,” she said.

She only managed to leave him after her parents went to visit her, and realised that she was being abused. They had to “literally rescue me,” said Ms Yusify.

“He would often get into fights and arguments with his parents but because I was the only one in his life most of the violence was towards me at that time.”

Her last memory of Mateen was of being grabbed, as she was trying to get into the car to leave him forever. The last time they had spoken was over Facebook about a year ago, when Mateen sent her a message in an attempt to reconnect. She had him blocked after telling him never to contact her again.

Now engaged to Mr Marcos Dias, Ms Yusify had only found out about Mateen’s relation to the massacre when her parents had woken her with the news on Sunday morning, informing her that her ex-husband “was involved in a mass shooting”.

With regards to speculation about Mateen’s sexuality, Ms Yusify agrees that there were some strange signs. “There were things he would do in his daily life that most straight men don’t do,” she said, referring to the long time he would spend in front of the mirror, pictures that he took of himself, and movements with his body that made her question his sexuality. She also remembered an incident where Mateen’s father had called him gay.

She believes that his repressed homosexuality is likely to have been the motivation behind the attack. “He might have been homosexual himself and lived that lifestyle but could never ever come clean about it because of the standards of his father, because of the obligation to be a perfect son,” she said.

Ms Noor Zahi Salman, the current wife

Ms Salman, on the other hand, appeared to be far more tolerant of Mateen’s abusive tendencies.

Now the subject of an investigation into her culpability into the Orlando shootings, Ms Salman has become a “person of interest“, as the FBI attempts to determine her role in the attack that left the US reeling.

Ms Salman grew up in Rodeo, California, in a middle-class community about 40 km away from San Francisco. She was the oldest of four sisters, born to Palestinian parents who had immigrated to the US and naturalised in 1984. Described as a “happy” and “kind” child, Ms Salman graduated from John Swett High School in 2004.

Before her marriage to Mateen, she had been in a short-lived arranged marriage to a man living in California. A neighbour from her hometown in Rodeo, Jasbinder Chahal, had attributed the failure of the marriage to “cultural differences”, as “[Ms Salman] grew up here and was American”.

In 2011, Ms Salman married Mateen. They had met on Facebook and got married in Hercules, California, later settling down in Fort Pierce, Florida, just two hours away from Pulse nightclub. In 2013, she gave birth to a son.

Acquaintances from the local mosque in Florida described Ms Salman as friendly, but reserved. Mr Bedar Bakht, 56, a volunteer at the mosque where Ms Salman frequented, said: “She would not mingle with people in the mosque because that’s what her husband told her: not to socialise with the mosque women because they were too nosy.” Mr Seddique Mateen, the father of the shooter, called Ms Salman pleasant, and praised her for taking good care of his grandson.

“She would not mingle with people in the mosque because that’s what her husband told her: not to socialize with the mosque women because they were too nosy.”

Back in her hometown, however, friends of her mother, Ms Ekbal Zahi Salman, said that Mateen had stopped Ms Salman from visiting her family. Ms Ekbal had been weeping as she complained to the neighbours about Mateen. Ms Salman only visited her family once in her years of married life, for her father’s funeral in 2012.

News of the attack have shocked Salman’s old neighbours in Rodeo. Mr Simrat Chahal, 19, who lived near Ms Salman’s mother, said: “I actually didn’t expect it from any of their family, you know? […] It just so happens to be that they’re involved and that’s tough on them.”

In the days leading up to the attacks, Ms Salman had reportedly accompanied her husband in scouting out potential locations to be targeted – Walt Disney World, a shopping complex called Disney Springs, and Pulse nightclub, all located in Orlando, Florida.

She also told FBI investigators that she had followed her husband as he bought guns and ammunition, spending thousands of dollars on them. She remembers pleading with him to stop the massacre, though it had clearly fallen on deaf ears.

Text messages have recently been uncovered by the FBI between Mateen and his wife, showing that they had corresponded while Mateen laid siege to Pulse, the gay nightclub at the centre of the massacre. Mateen had messaged his wife, asking if she had seen the news. This was after he had begun attacking, when news outlets had presumably already caught on to the shooting. During their exchange, she said that she loved him and tried to call him several times, realising that her husband may be responsible for the killings.

Since the attack, Ms Salman’s mother had become withdrawn and depressed. Ms Sarwan Kaur, a neighbour, said: “Her blinds have been drawn since then; I haven’t seen anyone. Ekbal never goes anywhere [anymore].”

 

Featured image by Natassya Diana.

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A man sits and cries after taking part in a candlelight memorial service the day after a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando June 13, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

by Cindy Co

THAT really happened?

If you’re following the news coverage of the Orlando shootings, these words might have crossed your mind at some point, given the flurry of new information emerging in the wake of the massacre.

As the deadliest mass shooting in America thus far, the Orlando shootings have shocked the country and the world, igniting old debates surrounding homophobia, terrorism, and loose gun control laws. Happening in one of the hottest gay nightclubs in Orlando, Florida, the shooting resulted in 50 deaths – including the shooter – and left 53 injured. The attack has been described by many as a hate crime, a concerted attack on both LGBT and people of colour.

Identified as Omar Mateen, the shooter was a 29-year-old armed security guard working for private security company G4S. According to his father, the sight of two men kissing on the streets of Miami had been the motivation behind the attack, rather than religious fervour.

The massacre has invited an outpouring of support from all the world, with many LGBT groups within and beyond America expressing their solidarity with the victims through mourning and vigils. World leaders have also condemned the attacks.

While we previously saw some of the immediate responses here, we now turn our attention some twists that have arisen from the investigations into the shooting.

Self-hatred or homophobia?

A – perhaps surprising – development from investigations is the fact that Mateen himself might have been gay. Many regulars of Pulse – the site of the shootings – reported seeing Mateen on as many as 12 occasions. Chris Callen, 34, who knew Mateen as a regular for about three years, said that he “seemed comfortable”, and appeared to be “having a good time close to the stage”.

Others claimed to recognise Mateen from gay apps, such as Grindr or Jack’d, with one Jack’d user, Cord Cedeno, describing Mateen as “creepy“. Several gay dating apps such as Adam4Adam, Grindr, and Jack’d have already turned over information to the FBI for investigations.

Former classmates have also made statements suggesting that Mateen was indeed gay. A college classmate had said that Mateen had approached him romantically, and often visited gay clubs with other classmates.

Mateen’s father, on the other hand, has denied the allegations, saying, “I didn’t see any of it and I don’t believe that was the case.”

Interestingly, Mateen was also married, to a lady named Nour Zahi Salman, 30, with a three-year-old son. His father said that Mateen was enraged that his son had to witness two men kissing.

Three-time suspect

It also turns out that Mateen had been investigated by the FBI before, on three separate occasions over the past three years, after suspecting that he might have been radicalised.

The first inciting incident was in 2013, when co-workers reported Mateen for saying that had ties to Hezbollah and al-Qaeda, both notorious terrorist groups. The FBI had started preliminary investigations, but dropped the case after following him for 10 months.

Although many people have questioned how Mateen had slipped through the gaps, former FBI officials were adamant that there was nothing else the FBI could have done, and that they had been following protocols. “People like their freedom,” said one former official. “How would you like it if someone had said something bad about you and the FBI took a look, didn’t turn up anything, but then decided to keep monitoring you day and night for the rest of your life?”

Obama – the mole

If blaming radical Islam wasn’t enough, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has accused incumbent U.S. president Barack Obama of being somehow involved in the massacre. He has also called for Obama’s resignation.

“People cannot, they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the way he acts and can’t even mention the word ‘radical Islamic terrorism’. There’s something going on. It’s inconceivable. There’s something going on.”

The accusation is one of many outrageous claims Trump has levelled against his opponents, comparing Ben Carson to a child molester. He has also accused Obama of putting America’s “enemies over our allies“.

Obama has ripped into Trump for his remarks, calling him undemocratic, and threatening the safety of America.

In his Facebook post, Trump has responded to reports on his accusations towards Obama, accusing the Washington Post of twisting his words.

The G word

The best plot twists are often the most unexpected ones. In his letter, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong expressed his condolences to the U.S. president; many people have noted, however, the conspicuous absence of the word ‘gay’ from the letter. Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean’s Facebook post has also avoided any reference to the word ‘gay’.

Dear President Obama,

I was deeply shocked and saddened by the tragic shooting in Orlando, Florida over the weekend, resulting in the loss of many innocent lives and injuries to many more.

On behalf of the Government and people of Singapore, I offer my deepest condolences to the victims and their families on this horrific tragedy. Nothing can excuse such brutal and senseless acts of violence. Singapore and Singaporeans stand in solidarity with the United States and the American people during this time of grief.

Yours sincerely,

Lee Hsien Loong

Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugan, however, has explicitly offered support for the gay community, affirming the government’s protection for all Singaporeans regardless of “their race, their religion, [or] their sexual orientation,” in what some say is a surprise departure from the lead set by the PM.

“The motives of the gunman are not yet clear. Investigations are continuing. But it looks like the gay community has been targeted. This is unacceptable. Violence against any group and any form is not acceptable.”

Hypocrite, maybe?

If Faith Community Baptist Church Senior Pastor Lawrence Khong’s Facebook post on the Orlando shootings had a place in the dictionary, it might be parked under ‘astonishing’. Coming out just last night (June 14) in support of the victims of the shooting, Khong asked for “compassion, love, and healing”, stating that “there is no reason for further alienation [of the LGBT community]”. Many of the comments on his Facebook post have called him out as a hypocrite, naming him as one of the leaders perpetuating the discrimination and oppression towards the LGBT community.

The not-so-Happiest Place on Earth

Walt Disney World in Orlando almost became the target of Mateen’s anger, as investigators discovered that he had scouted out the theme park during the period of June 1 to June 6. This was during Walt Disney World’s Gay Days 2016 celebrations, an unofficial event at Disney World pledging their support to the LGBT community. Many events occur during Gay Days, including the sale of rainbow Mickey cookies, wearing red, and special concerts held just for the few days.

An accomplice

Currently under investigation by the FBI, it appears that Omar Mateen’s wife may have been complicit in Mateen’s massacre. The FBI believes that Noor Zahi Salman could have been aware of Mateen’s intention to attack, as she had accompanied him to both Pulse and Disney World to scope out the site. Salman told the FBI that she had tried to stop Mateen during her interview with them, where a polygraph had been administered to determine whether she had been lying. She also told the FBI that Mateen had been radicalised in the past year.

If determined to have known in advance about Mateen’s plans to attack Pulse, Salman could face criminal charges by the FBI.

Heel-face turn?

Chick fil A, a fast food chain, had attracted backlash back in 2012, when its CEO, Dan Cathy, declared his support for “Biblical families”, an implicit rejection of LGBT families and relationships. The backlash forced Chick fil A to describe their statement as “mischaracterised”, and was described by the Huffington Post as one of the biggest PR disasters of 2012.

“Families are very important to our country. And they’re very important to those of us who are concerned about being able to hang on to our heritage. We support Biblical families, and they’ve always been a part of that.”

They have surprised many, however, when Chick fil A employees turned up for work on Sunday, in order to provide food for people waiting in line to donate blood to those injured in the shooting. Sundays are usually rest days for Chick fil A workers, due to the religious belief of its founder. Some people have seen this as an attempt by the fast food chain to recover its image.

 

Featured image from REUTERS.

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by Cindy Co

SOME people call it Shan Yao. Some call it Shu Yu. Others call it Tian Shu. Confused yet?

These are just some of the names people give to wild yam, a herb with many medical properties, earning it the name ‘fairy food’. The multiple names of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) herbs have come under the spotlight recently, with the announcement by Spring Singapore and the Singapore Manufacturing Federation-Standards Development Organisation that efforts would be made to standardise the names of TCM herbs.

With that in mind, we’ve complied a list of TCM herbs with many names, their properties, side-effects, and recipes for cooking.

1. Apricot Kernels

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Apricot_kernel_centimeter_scale.png
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Apricot_kernel_centimeter_scale.png

Apricot kernels – or Xing Ren, Ku Xing Ren, Kuang Xing Ren, Ku He Ren, Jian Xing Ren, and Xing Ren Xiang – treat the lungs and large intestines. Apricot kernels taste bitter, and are slightly toxic due to the presence of a cyanide compound, causing death with the ingestion of around 50-60 kernels in adults, and 10 kernels in children. Some ailments that can be treated by taking apricot kernels include various forms of cough, asthma, phlegm, and constipation.

Apricot kernels should not be taken by pregnant women, as they are toxic.

Recipe for White Fungus Lotus Seed and Lily Bulb Sweet Soup

Ingredients:

30 g White Wood Ear (xue er)
60 g Lotus Seed (lian zi)
30 g Lily Bulb (bai he)
30 g Apricot Kernels (xing ren)
2 figs (wu hua guo)
10 g fresh ginger
Crystal sugar (amount as desired)

Directions for cooking:

Rinse lotus seeds, lily bulbs, and apricot kernels. Soak in water for 60 minutes. Rinse, trim, and soak white fungus in water for 30 minutes. Rinse figs and cut each into two pieces.

Place lotus seeds, lily bulbs, figs, and ginger slices into a pot. Add two litres of cold water. Bring to boil, then turn to medium heat. Cook until ingredients are tender (around 60 minutes), then put white fungus in to boil for 30 minutes.

Add crystal sugar and stir until sugar has been dissolved. Serve.

 

2. Astralagus

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Photo by TMG/Cindy Co

Astragalus – also called Huang Qi, and Milk Vetch – has a sweet taste and warm properties, and is used to treat the spleen and the lungs in TCM remedies. It is an adaptogen, meaning that it helps to protect the body against stress – be it physical, mental, or emotional. Astragalus can be used to treat colds and influenza, persistent coughs, difficulty in urinating, and chronic ulcers. Some research also suggests that it may be beneficial for individuals suffering from heart disease and cancer.

People who suffer from auto-immune diseases – such as lupus and multiple sclerosis – and pregnant women should avoid taking astragalus, as it may have adverse effects.

Recipe for Steamed Chicken with Astragalus

Ingredients:

50 g Astragalus (huang qi)
1 chicken
20 g green onions
15 g ginger
20 ml cooking wine
Salt

Directions for cooking:

Clean chicken, then insert green onions, ginger, and astralagus into the chicken. Add cooking wine, salt, and water, and steam for two hours. Serve.

 

3. Liquorice Root

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licorice root by Flickr user denAsuncioner. (CC BY-ND 2.0).

More often used as a flavouring in food, beverages, and tobacco, the root of the liquorice is also used as a herbal remedy. Also known as Sweet Root, Gan Cao, Alcacuz, Lakritze, and Reglisse, liquorice root has many health benefits, such as controlling cholesterol, treating pre-menstrual and menopausal symptoms, skin problems, weight problems, and combating depression. In TCM, liquorice root is used to treat the heart, lung, spleen, and stomach.

It is dangerous to take liquorice in large amounts, and people who are pregnant, have high blood pressure, heart disease, hypertonia – the reduced ability of a muscle to stretch – low potassium levels, kidney disease, and those who are about to undergo surgery should refrain from consuming liquorice root.

Recipe for Lung Nourishing Chinese Tonic Soup

Ingredients:

10-15 g Fritillaria Bulbs (chuan bei mu)
10-15 g Glehniae Root (sha shen)
10-15 g Solomon’s Seal Rhizome (yu zhu)
10-15 g Liquorice Root (gan cao)
10-15 g Sweet Almond (nan xing)
10-15 g Bitter Almond (bei xing)
1 teaspoon of Wolfberry (gou qi zi)
1 small dried Sugar Coated Tangerine (gan ju bing)
8-10 dried figs (wu hua guo)
Half a pot of water (about 800 ml)

(Optional)
200 grams of lean pork meat or ribs, blanched
Pinch of salt to taste
*If adding these, you may wish to reduce the dried tangerine to half a piece instead, depending on how sweet you want the soup to taste.

Directions for cooking:

(For boiling soup in slow cooker)

Add all ingredients into a crock pot. Place the crock pot on a slow cooker, and turn it to auto shift mode. Let it simmer for at least five hours, or keep it simmering from morning to evening. Ten minutes before serving, do a taste check and add salt if needed. Serve warm.

(For boiling soup on stove)

Heat a pot of water over high heat till boiled. Then reduce heat to low fire and add all ingredients into the pot. Simmer for two to three hours. Do a taste check and add salt if needed. Serve warm.

 

4. Atractylodes

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Photo by TMG/Cindy Co

Sweet-smelling but slightly bitter, Atractylodes, also known as Bai ZhuDong Zhu, Xia Zhu, Yun Zhi, Tai Bai Zhu, Wa Zhu, and Ji Yan Zhu, are used to boost the health of the spleen and stomach. The medicine is made from the root of the Atractylode plant, and can be used to treat a variety of ailments, such as indigestion, stomachache, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, weight loss due to cancer, allergies to dust mites, and rheumatism. Along with other herbs, Atractylodes can also be used to treat lung cancer and complications arising from dialysis.

Pregnant women and people sensitive to the Asteraceae/Compositae family – which includes chrysanthemums, marigolds, and daisies, for instance – should exercise caution when taking the herb.

Recipe for Sweet Corn Soup

Ingredients:

750 ml (3 cups) water
12 g Astragalus (huang qi)
8 g Atractylodes (bai zhu)
4 g Ledebouriella Root (fang feng)
12 g Chinese Wolfberry (gou qizi)
5 pitted Red Dates (hong zao), rinsed
2 small chunks margarine
1 tablespoon diced onion
One 418 g can sweet corn
250 ml (1 cup) chicken stock
2 tablespoons chestnut flour or corn flour, mixed with 2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Directions for cooking:

Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan. Add all the herbs and cook over high heat for five minutes. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered until the broth reduces to about 250 ml (one cup). Strain and reserve the broth. Discard the dregs.

Heat the margarine over medium heat in a saucepan. Stir-fry the onion until fragrant, one to two minutes, then pour in the broth, sweet corn and chicken stock. Bring the mixture to a boil and stir in the chestnut and corn flour mixture to thicken the soup. Season with the salt and remove from heat. Serve immediately.

 

5. Longan Flesh

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/54/Longan_(2).jpg
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/54/Longan_(2).jpg

Common in Chinese-based soups, longan flesh is also known as Long Yan RouGui YuanYuan YanYi ZhiMi Pi, and Long Yan Gan. It is sweet tasting and has a warm property, used for treating the heart and the spleen. Longan flesh nourishes the blood, and is often used for conditions relating to overwork or overthinking, such as insomnia, forgetfulness, and dizziness.

Recipe for Dried Longan Chicken Soup

Ingredients:

15 g Chinese Raspberry (fu pen zi)
15 g Wax Privet Seed (nu jen zi)
15 g Chinese Wolfberry (gou qizi)
15 g dried Longan flesh (long yan rou)
1½ litres (6 cups) water
2 chicken wings

Directions for cooking:

Rinse the herbs, then bring all the ingredients to a boil in a stockpot. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for two hours. Remove from heat, ladle into individual serving bowls or large tea cups and serve hot.

 

Featured image drugstore prescription by Flickr user Jimmie(CC BY 2.0).

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image from Reutersphotographer : Mark Kauzlarich

by Cindy Co

“MOMMY I love you. In club they shooting.”

Those were the last words Mina Justice would hear from her son, 30-year-old Eddie Justice, as a gunman opened fire in Pulse, a club professing itself to be the hottest gay bar in Orlando, Florida. It is now the site of the deadliest shooting in US history with 50 casualties, ahead of the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 and the Sandy Hook killings in 2012.

Omar Mateen, an American of Afghan descent, appears to have had his crosshairs trained on the LGBT community, after he was supposedly angered by the sight of two men kissing in Miami two months ago, according to his father. But there were also reports that he had mentioned links to ISIS in a phone call with the police just before the shooting.

The attacks are particularly devastating to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, given the timing of the shooting. Pride month is held annually in June, in honour of the 1969 Stonewall Riots that led to the modern gay rights movement. Many have expressed their thoughts on the issue, including the 2016 presidential candidates, to trending hashtags on Twitter.

We take a look at some of these responses:

 

The Survivors

Club goers had turned up at Pulse, for a Latino-themed night. Instead, they went through a harrowing three hours attempting to hide in bathrooms, under the bar, and even under the DJ’s table. Survivors described the screaming and fleeing, and the falling of bodies. Some said they could smell  the blood in the air.

“No one put two and two together until the fifth and sixth [shot]. Between 10 and 20, that’s when everything really started getting real.”

— Luis Burbano, eyewitness

“They were like dragging bodies, people that were wounded, just to get them out of the way… Probably the worst fear I ever felt in my entire life.”

— Shawn Royster, eyewitness

“God’s got this. You’ll be OK.”

— Joshua McGill, to a victim with multiple gunshot wounds

“Everyone get out of pulse and keep running.”

— A message on Pulse Nightclub’s facebook page, once the shooting started

 

The Family

Despite Mateen’s mention of ISIS in his phone call to the police, his family has insisted that the attacks were not religiously motivated. Rather, his father has attributed the killings to Mateen’s homophobia, while his ex-wife described Mateen as an abusive, unstable man.

“This has nothing to do with religion.”

— Mir Seddique, father of Omar Mateen

“Obviously disturbed, deeply, and traumatised.”

— Sitora Yusify, ex-wife of Omar Mateen

The LGBT Community

Many members of the LGBT community have taken a strong stand against the massacre, calling it “years in the making”, and attributing it not to radical Islam, but a culture deeply rooted in prejudice against LGBT people, and people of colour. Many LGBT groups have gathered to mourn the victims of the attacks, including the LGBT community in New York, who have laid flowers in front of the historic Stonewall Inn – site of the first LGBT rights movement.

“To think of these innocent people – some of them just kids – being attacked somewhere that might have been the only place on earth where they feel free, and safe, breaks our hearts.”

— Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, America’s biggest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil rights organisation

 

The Homophobes

While most of the world are reeling from the horrors of the shooting, others are gleeful. Some words used to describe the LGBT community include “filthy gays”, “perverts”, “sick”, with many of them citing God in their statements.

 

The Muslim Community

Muslims all over America have spoken out against the killings, condemning the shooter’s actions and reiterating their support for the LGBT community. Many LGBT Muslims have also taken to social media to express their thoughts, fighting back against the Islamophobia emerging from several quarters, not least of all presidential hopeful Donald Trump (more on that later).

“We condemn this monstrous attack and offer our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of all those killed or injured.”

— The Florida Chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations

“Senseless violence has no place in our religion or in our society.”

— American Muslim Community Centres, a mosque in Florida

The Islamophobes

Reports that Mateen had declared his allegiance to ISIS and the fact that ISIS has come forward to claim responsibility for the attacks have fuelled a new wave of Islamophobia.

 

The pro-gunners

Although the National Rifle Association (NRA) has yet to release a statement on the shootings, as per their modus operandi whenever a mass shooting occurs in the US, many others have defended the need for guns, citing the oft-used phrase: “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” However, it is significant to note that the gunner used an assault rifle, an AR-15, describes as a “mass murderer’s best friend“. It was also the same gun used in the Sandy Hook shootings. The gun was said to be designed with the purpose of killing huge numbers of people in the most efficient manner.

The anti-gunners

Each wave of tragedy has ignited new calls for tougher gun control laws in the US, and this time is no different. Many people have cited gun laws in Australia and the United Kingdom, noting that both countries have not seen any sort of gun-related massacre ever since the implementation of tighter gun restrictions.

 

The Politicians

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have taken to Twitter in the wake of shootings. While Clinton has expressed sympathy for the LGBT community and the need for tougher gun control laws, Trump has taken the opportunity to slam radical Islam, blaming them for the massacre, among other things. Several others have also spoken about the massacre, including outgoing U.S. President, Barack Obama.

“This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theater, or in a nightclub.”

— Obama, in his speech addressing the Orlando shootings

“This phenomenon of near constant mass shootings happens only in America – nowhere else.”

— Senator Chris Murphy, on the shooting

The Local Reaction

In Singapore, the impact of the killings have been felt. Local gay movement Pink Dot has blacked out its profile picture in mourning for the victims, and PM Lee Hsien Loong and DPM Teo Chee Hean have expressed their condolences for the victims in a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama. #OrlandoShooting has also trended in Singapore’s Twitter for hours, with many Singaporean users lending solidarity to the victims.

“Nothing can excuse such brutal and senseless acts of violence. Singapore and Singaporeans stand in solidarity with the United States and the American people during this time of grief.”

— PM Lee Hsien Loong, in a message to U.S. President Barack Obama

 

Featured image by REUTERS.

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3 step, 1 bow at Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery
3 STEPS, 1 BOW: Several Buddhist devotees gathered at Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery yesterday to embark on the three steps, one bow ceremony. The abbot of the monastery, Venerable Sik Kwang Sheng, kicked off the ceremony with prayers and offerings to Buddha. Accompanied by mantras played over speakers, the devotees meditatively circumambulate the perimeter of the temple, starting from the road outside the Hall of Compassion. They bowed once every three steps, and chanted mantras or the name of the Buddha. Each prostration by the devotee symbolises their respect toward Buddha. Taking on this practice, helps with purifying the mind, humbling the ego and lessening obstacles along the spiritual path. It also enables repentance from past misdeeds.

by Cindy Co

ACCORDING to a 2010 census report, about 33.3 per cent of all Singaporeans aged 15 and above are Buddhists; slightly over a million people. Buddhism is by far the most practised religion in the country, with Christianity in second place at 18 per cent and free thinkers at 17 per cent.

Originating from India, Buddhism began its spread in the first century CE to various places, creating three schools of Buddhism – Mahayana, Theravada, and Vajrayana. Each possesses a unique set of practices. They were brought to Singapore by migrants from China and mainland Southeast Asia.

In Singapore, Vesak Day was officially made a public holiday in 1955, after petitions by Buddhists to make it a national holiday. It usually falls on the 15th day of the fourth month in the Chinese calendar, often during the month of May, and commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Gautama Buddha.

Some activities common across temples in Singapore include prayers, the offering of flowers, releasing live animals, and bathing the Buddha. Vesak Day celebrations are largely the same across Singapore, varying according to different temples, with the exception of Vajrayana Buddhism (more on this later).

Mahayana Buddhism

What it is:

Mahayana Buddhism, which means “The Great Vehicle” in Sanskrit, spread to Central Asia and China from India, and later to Korea and Japan. Mahayana emerged to be a more accessible form of Buddhism as a path to Nirvana for all people, rather than just monks and nuns. Tending to be more religious than other schools of Buddhism, Mahayana encourages praying to higher beings, and the use of rituals, icons, and objects. Their use, however, varies among the different lineages.

There are five lineages within Mahayana Buddhism: Pure Land (Amitabha), Zen (Ch’an), Madhyamika (San Lun), Yogacara, Avatamsaka (Hua Yen), and T’ien-t’ai. Ms Lim Hui Yee, a representative from KYCL Zen Meditation Centre, tells us that the differences between the lineages are mainly their focuses – while Pure Land Buddhism focuses on chanting the name of the Amitabha Buddha, Zen Buddhism emphasises the process of meditation.

What makes it unique:

According to the Venerable Sik Kwang Sheng, abbot of Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery, there is little variance among the teachings, although practices do differ due to how different countries have adapted Buddhism to their own cultures. Mahayana Buddhism is a product of the mix between Buddhist teachings and East Asian culture.

Nevertheless, there are slight theological differences between the schools, based on their paths towards Nirvana, which is the state of enlightenment. Mahayana Buddhists believe in the enlightenment of all beings; before reaching Nirvana, they vow to be reborn as Bodhisattvas to help all other sentient beings achieve enlightenment first.

How Vesak Day is going to be celebrated:

Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery, the biggest temple in Singapore, which practices Pure Land Buddhism, is located along Sin Ming Avenue and Bright Hill Road. Its Vesak Day celebrations encompass an entire week, with this year’s theme being “Gratitude”. Starting officially on May 14 with the Light Transference ceremony and Aspiration-Making activity, Venerables and devotees offered candles and wrote their aspirations on cards hung at the temple. On Friday, May 20, they held the “three-steps, one-bow” ceremony, where devotees bowed once every three steps while chanting and circling the perimeter.

3 step, 1 bow at Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery
Image by Najeer Yusof: “Three-steps, one-bow”, Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery

On Vesak Day itself, the Venerable Hong Choon Museum would hold guided tours to teach guests about the history of Buddhism.

At the KYCL Zen Meditation Centre, a zen Buddhist centre at Lorong 25 Geylang, the birth of Buddha is celebrated with the concept of repentance in mind. Their celebrations include Dharma talks, dinner and fundraising events, and meditation, with their turnouts ranging from around 2,000-3,000 people. Ms Lee tells us that preparations usually begin two to six months before the actual day, due to the logistics involved, such as obtaining a police permit.

Theravada Buddhism

What it is:

As adherents of the oldest teachings of the Buddha, Theravada, which means The Doctrine of the Elders in the Pali language, is the dominant form of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and mainland Southeast Asia (Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos). Theravada Buddhism only recognises the Pali Canon, which is an early Indian collection of the Buddha’s teachings, and disregards later Mahayana sutras. A quick survey of Theravada temples in Singapore show that most have Thai or Sri Lankan roots.

What makes it unique:

Unlike Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, who use the local languages to communicate, Theravada Buddhism uses the Pali language, an Indo-Aryan language of Indian origin.

Theravada Buddhist also differ in the way they achieve enlightenment – while Mahayana Buddhists vow to help other beings reach enlightenment before themselves, Theravada Buddhists focus on their personal enlightenment. While Mahayana Buddhism is more religious – in that they rely heavily on rituals and symbols – Theravada Buddhists regard Buddhism more as a life philosophy. Due to the immense personal dedication and sacrifice needed to gain enlightenment, laypeople rarely reach Nirvana in Theravada Buddhism.

How Vesak Day is going to be celebrated:

The Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple, located at Race Course Road, is a Thai Buddhist temple with strong Sri Lankan influences. In contrast to the other temples, they hold a simple celebration for Vesak Day. Madam Koh, the caretaker at the temple, says: “[People] just pray and go. [It’s] very simple.” During the prayers, devotees would offer lanterns to the large 15m-tall Buddha that fills the entire hall. She estimates that more than a thousand people would go over to pray during Vesak Day, although it’s hard for them to keep track of exact numbers.

Vajrayana Buddhism

What it is:

As an offshoot of Mahayana Buddhism, Vajrayana – meaning “The Thunderbolt Vehicle” in sanskrit – is sometimes regarded as the third school of Buddhism. Also known as Tibetan Buddhism, it is the predominant school of Buddhism in the Himalayan countries of Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan. Vajrayana Buddhism is a combination of various types of Buddhism: Mr Lama Dawa, abbot of Drikung Kagyu OM Centre at Lorong 29 Geylang, describes Vajrayana as a layering of Mahayana practices over Theravada teachings. Influences from Tantra, a system of rituals and beliefs from Hinduism, are also incorporated.

What makes it unique:

Vajrayana Buddhism centres on the ritual use of the vajra, which symbolises imperishable diamond, and thunder and lightning. They also have a religious figure in the lama, which is Tibetan for “guru”.

Another unique feature of Vajrayana Buddhism is the use of a Khata, which is a long white cloth signifying purity and a tranquil heart.

How Vesak Day is going to be celebrated:

At Drikung Kagyu, Vesak Day is celebrated with morning and afternoon sessions of prayer and rituals. In the morning, followers would bathe the Buddha, and offer flowers and the Khata to represent letting go of worldly desires. Then, in the afternoon, Mr Lama Dawa would tell his followers the 12 stories of the Buddha, covering stories of how the Buddha came to earth, where he was born, his early life, how he gained enlightenment, among others. Thereafter, they will chant Sutras and pray to the Goddess of Mercy.

Demographic Changes

Many of these temples have experienced numerous changes across the years. The Venerable Sik Kwang Sheng says: “In the past 10 years, there has been a general increase in younger Buddhists coming to the monastery. […] This is due to the gradual awareness and acceptance of mindfulness meditation as a scientific approach in dealing with stress by the mainstream medical community.”

This trend has also been observed by Mr Lama Dawa. He tells us that previously, most people had little knowledge about Buddhism; now, more are using religion as a means of coping with the problems and anxieties, joys and happiness in their lives. He lists three types of people who join them: those without experience with Buddhism, those with preconceived notions of Buddhism from participating in traditional rituals, and those who have learned some incorrect aspects of Buddhism.

Ultimately, Buddhism is about affinity. This is a common theme agreed upon by all our interviewees. “[People’s religion] depends on affinity,” says Mr Lama Dawa, speaking in Chinese. He adds: “It is unnatural to force people [to become Buddhists].”

This is something that Samantha Baey, a 21-year-old undergraduate, feels deeply. “[W]hen I completed my International Baccalaureate, I felt stuck,” she says. “It was like a ‘now what’ feeling as I had no clue what career I hoped to pursue. [This] began opening up questions such as what was my meaning in life and what did I hope to achieve in my time on this planet. […] I found my answer within the teachings of Buddhism. [… It] was a life changing realisation for me.”

 

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article listed Ms Lim Hui Yee of KYCL Zen Meditation Centre as Ms Lee. We have since corrected the error. 

Additional reporting by Glenn Ong.

Featured Image by Najeer Yusof.

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