Uncle Sweets

Today I met “Uncle Sweets”, a taxi driver who keeps a bowl of sweets for his customers.
Me: What made you start doing this, Uncle?
Uncle Sweets: I pick up all the drunk people and after vomitting, they ask me: “Uncle, do you have a sweet? My throat is bitter.” So now I give sweets to everyone!
Me: Ha! Who takes them?
Uncle Sweets: Adults! Not children!This started a long conversation of him sharing about how he has triumphed over a stroke, a lung operation, heart surgery. He spoke on the power of positive thinking. I was inspired by his resilience, hope and humour. He spoke of customers who sometimes don’t pay him. And how he chooses his own safety over money. He was effervescent, wearing pink pants and a grey shirt.

I said: You’re so fashionable Uncle!
Uncle Sweets: Eh, look at my belt!
And he showed me a stylish red belt. We both laughed.
And before we knew it, the long trip was over.
All this from asking about the little box of sweets.

Reach out and start a conversation with someone new…

(Written on 14 May 2013)

Lost dog

9 March 2013

So i saw a little dog wandering on the street just now.  It had a collar. I looked around. Nobody. I stayed around him for a while just to make sure he was ok since he was near the road. Then saw one house with its gate open. Wondered if I should call spca or ring the bell. Decided to ring the bell.

Domestic worker answered and I said, “Did you lose a dog?”. She shakes her head and hands at me. Perhaps she couldn’t hear me and thought I was a salesperson? Nevermind, I was thick-skinned. I asked again, “Is your dog lost?” and then she looks around and has this look of shock. So i guided her to the dog. And she was reunited with Spark! Total look of relief on her face. And a look of joy on mine.

When we are fully present to our environment and not looking at our mobile devices, we never know what we may find…someone else’s treasure perhaps…:)

“You can do it”


i was one of the last to get on the train.
and i thought the doors were going to close.
so i stopped.
and a man held out his hand, looked into my eyes, smiled and confidently and calmly said:
“you can do it.”
so i took his hand and smiled and stepped into the train.
and he was right – there was still time before the doors closed,.

that is what we can offer those who think the door has closed on them, their dreams.
just reach out, and give them the calm confidence that they can do it. :)

(that kind of gesture is rare here so i want to thank the man –
wherever you are, thank you for your kindness and courage to offer your hand. that little act of yours is something i remember from time to time. and it warms my heart. it’s little acts of Connection like that which add extra sparkle to our days. )

Letter: We should know when to hang up the mobile phone

Thanks to TODAY for publishing my letter today. :) Please help share and discuss in your own circles of friends and colleagues.

Watch this powerful video.

People can take a pledge here

and share campaign materials from here
and to get reminders, “like” the page of

Thank you for helping us improve our relationship with gadgets, which will help us improve our relationship with each other!


We should know when to hang up the mobile phone
by Vadivu Govind 04:45 AM Jan 07, 2013

I am grateful to Ms Lee Seow Ser for sharing, in “Spooked by the hook of the phone” (Dec 24), about her wake-up call on her dependence on her mobile phone.

I am happy that she has realised the importance of connecting with loved ones more than a phone, a message I support.

Some time ago, a car almost rammed into the taxi I was in; when I looked at the driver, he was looking at his phone. Drivers like him helped me to stop walking and looking at my phone last year.

I thought of the people they could hit, including my loved ones. I do not drive, but it jolted me to improve my relationship with my phone.

Recently, I saw someone watching pornography on his iPhone while in a public bus. I have seen people watching television or movies with the volume turned up loud in public transport.

I see people crossing the road, climbing the stairs, boarding buses, driving cars while looking at their phones or other gadgets. Some of us do not seem conscious of the terrain or people around us.

We bump into others or have narrow escapes on the road. We slow others down. We do not see when people need help.

In the case of the man watching porn, he did not seem to care about exposing others to images that may disturb them.

Some of us seem disconnected, existing in our own bubbles, unaware of the safety and well-being of ourselves and others.

Institutions have a role to play. Workplaces, schools, religious groups, the Government and private institutions could educate people on improving our relationship with technology. We need role models to come forth and speak up on this issue.

Even if institutions do not do this, let us do it ourselves. Let us wake up before life gives us painful wake-up calls. Let us experience the joy of being fully present wherever we are, feeling connected to people around us and staying alive and healthy.

Solomon King

I did my graduate internship with the Humane Society of the United States a couple of years ago. And I had to look for a place to stay in Maryland. I didn’t know it. I didn’t know anyone in it.  And I couldn’t have imagined my time there would lead to this post today.

Mieko King was the landlady of the house I finally rented a room in. Her son was Solomon. And over the time I spent with Mieko, I got to know Solomon. But I never met him.

Solomon was killed in a hit-and-run on Travilah Road, Rockville, Maryland, USA on 13th November 2004. The driver was never caught. Police have described the car as a dark Honda with dark, tinted windows, a 4-door model from 1998-2000. They said the right-front section of the vehicle may have damage from the collision.

Courtesy Mieko King.

But he was more than a faceless victim. Through Mieko, I learned about this special young man.

Solomon was a courageous soul.

Solomon’s life as a child was not easy but he overcame the challenges to become a brave, compassionate and witty boy who brought much laughter and joy to others.

Solomon’s father died when he was four. Mieko King, his mother, brought him up to be a strong young man with sound values so as she put it, “people would never have reason to say he was lacking in any way because he came from a single parent family”.

Solomon suffered third degree burns on his right arm when he was young in an accident at home. He covered his hands for a long time, afraid of stares and what people might say. Then with the love and support of his friends, one day he bravely bared his scarred arm. He inspired great respect for his courage. At one time doctors predicted that Solomon would not write; yet he went on to even continue with his etching artwork.

"I raised Solomon for 16 years and in a second someone took his life away" - Mieko King

Solomon was a poet

Solomon was an artist. 

Hana, Solomon's beloved dog

Soloman was a friend.

Solomons’ friends loved him. They still get together with Mieko on his death anniversary – almost ten years after he died.  That is testimony to the kind of person he was.

Here’s what two of his friends said about him after he was killed:

He was a friend, he gave advice when someone needed it and most of all you could trust him to never leave your side when you needed him… During the school year, Sol and I would always talk about what we were going to do later that afternoon. …These talks helped me to get through many things I couldn’t have gotten through by myself. Sol helped me to get a better understanding through by myself. Sol helped me to get a better understanding of myself and everyone else around me. Sol I love and miss you so much. Life is going to be a lot harder without you.

– TL

You were one of the most caring, loving, whole-hearted funny people I have ever known…. On my fifteenth birthday at exactly 12.00am you called to wish me a happy birthday and came over to celebrate with Alex Santini and I in the snow. You made me feel special. Then we went to sleep and when I woke up my driveway was shoveled. What a wonderful surprise birthday present from my best friend.

– AL

Solomon and Friends

Soloman was a friend to animals too.

He adored Hana, his dog.

And when birds crashed into his home window, he would bury them in the garden, remembering what his mother had taught him on respect for even dead animals.

Solomon was thoughtful. 


Mieko transforms Pain to Love

“I raised Solomon for 16 years and in a second someone took his life away…I don’t want to see young people die.”  – Mieko King

Despite the grief of losing her only child, Mieko has acted with such grace and compassion.

She made the decision to donate Solomon’s organs after his death.

Solomon loved art. So Mieko set up a scholarship in honour of Solomon’s extremely giving spirit. The scholarship aims to support Wooten High School students who would like to take pursue art-related courses outside school. Priority is given to students from single parent families. The Scholarship Fund is managed by Wooten High School. Mieko aims to include students who may not be straight-A students but who have a passion and inclination for art. She wants the scholarship to let them know she believes in them – and so would have Solomon.

Mieko King with Wendy, a scholarship recipient

Solomon, Hana, Mieko and I

When I first rented a room in Mieko’s house, Solomon’s room was left in the same way it had been since the day he died. Hana hid under his bed a lot. She didn’t used to when he was alive.

I only stayed for part of that summer. But Hana , Mieko and I became friends. She looked after me like family.

A thoughtful note Mieko left me on the first day of my graduate internship. I appreciated it alot especially as I was in a new place and knew nobody, and so far from home.


Mieko's kindness and thoughtfulness transformed her from my landlady into a friend.


Life sends us in such unexpected directions where we find unexpected friends.

The next time I visited Mieko months later, something had changed. Solomon’s room has been tidied up and I stayed there. I wasn’t afraid because I had come to know who he was.

During that trip, I took a photo of Solomon’s photo in the living room. And suddenly the flowers near his photo caught the sunlight and became very beautiful. It was like he was the Light. I felt a warmth in my heart.

As I took a photo of Solomon's photo, suddenly the flowers beside the photo lit up with sunlight.


I write this for various reasons.

I want to humanise Solomon and Mieko. They represent the many faceless people whose wellbeing we may not think of as they are “strangers” we’re just passing by on the road or through life.

Yes, it would help  if the person who hit Solomon owned up now. But I write this also for the rest of us.

Let us learn to be present wherever we are, especially if we are behind the wheel. I now see many people using their phones when driving. Each time you feel like doing that, please think of Solomon. You may hit someone just like him. 

Hit-and-run accidents happen not just on roads but in our daily lives. Sometimes we hurt people emotionally and move off not knowing the impact we have had.

I never met Solomon but I got to know him through Mieko’s eyes.  He was precious – as precious as each of us.  And so is Mieko. May we learn to be conscious of the impact we have on each other’s lives.

Let us learn the value of owning up to our mistakes and understand that we may hold the key to greater closure for someone.

Let us learn to apologise: Sorry – Part 1,  Sorry – Part 2 I often feel we are so advanced technologically but have forgotten the basics of how to treat our fellow human beings. If for some reason, you cannot apologise directly to someone, you can post on the Levine’s Apology Page. You could donate to or support a cause that is related to how you may have hurt someone. And of course, the best sorry is personal transformation. 

I thank Mieko for continuing to allow Solomon’s story to touch and change more lives. To me, he is an angel, still helping us after he has left.

How has this story impacted you? Please leave any feedback so I can share it with Mieko.  Let her know how Solomon has left a legacy in your life. Thank you.

Accidents on Montgomery Road Kill Two Teens

Neighbours Dedicate Playground to Solomon King

We don’t know what was happening with the driver that caused the accident. But I do know that texting and driving is becoming a threat to many lives today so please support the Stop the Texts campaign and take Oprah’s No Phone Zone pledge. Help share this powerful video.

The Road is a Metaphor for Life

Here’s my letter that was published in TODAY.

The road is a metaphor for life
by Vadivu Govind
04:45 AM May 19, 2012
Like Mr Siva Sankar Sinnasamy, who wrote “Hang up on ‘hello’ while driving” (May 17), I have observed drivers using the mobile telephone while driving. One car almost rammed into the taxi I was in last year.
So I support stricter enforcement, and not limited to drivers. People also text while walking.
It was stated in “US town fines those who text while walking” (May 16) that Fort Lee in New Jersey fines those who engage in “dangerous walking”, such as SMSing while crossing the road, as its police chief had noticed a rise in such accidents. This is progressive.
However, this is not only a law enforcement issue. Road travel reflects the values we hold outside of the roads.
Do we care about the journey as much as the destination? That is critical.
Every day, many of us want to get to the destination as fast as possible, unaware of what happens on the way. At work, we may rush for deadlines or promotions, ignoring how we treat our colleagues.
At home, we may pressure our children to get good grades, without allowing them to play and enjoy their childhood. The road is just where such attitudes result in visible suffering. Let us create a new reality.
The roads could be spaces to say “thank you”, “sorry”, “I forgive you” and “I care about you”; spaces to demonstrate patience and kindness, qualities that many of our spiritual traditions teach us.
Spaces to show what we value, breakneck speed or ensuring that our necks do not break; spaces to show how we handle conflict and how we respond when others may upset us.
Spaces to show whether we care only about business contacts, family and friends we are going to meet, and on the way, disregard many strangers whose lives may be affected by our actions; spaces where we make someone else’s day more joyful, along with ours.
We could use the roads to teach us how to travel more mindfully in our personal lives.
The writer works in the area of organisational change.

Mind the Snails

Save lives – yours and others’. Walk mindfully.

About two weeks ago I watched with horror as I saw a man almost being run over by a car at Orchard Road. He was on his phone, oblivious, and facing away from traffic yet crossing the road. A few of us called out to him and he managed to step back in time. If the car had hit him, the few of us walking near him may also have been injured.

I also see many people almost bumping into me while they walk and look at their phones.

The other day I saw a crushed snail next to my friend’s foot. I wondered whether it had needlessly died because someone was looking at their phone while walking.

I see drivers looking at their phones while driving. I wonder how many lives have been lost because of this. The other day, as I saw a driver on the ECP look at his phone while driving, I actually felt tears well up.  I thought about how I would feel if my loves ones were hit by such drivers. Then I wondered how many of my loved ones were such drivers!!

Some of us have become zombies or addicts or nearing that, plugged into various electronic gadgets, disconected from the present and unable to be in silence or with our own thoughts for even a few minutes. Yet we are judgmental of addicts such as alcoholics and drug and gambling addicts. Maybe this addiction to electronic gadgets is bigger than all of that! (Watch video on smartphone addiction.)

There is an alternative – we could be walking around with vitality, connected to the present, aware of where we’re heading, what we’re stepping on, aware of who’s walking around us, smile at them, help someone who may need help, or send positive intentions to people.

So what can I personally do? I can stop looking at my phone while walking. I don’t do it much but if I want others to be more mindful, I need to be as well. “Don’t do it much” is poor excuse. Maybe on the day I do do it, I might hurt someone or myself.

I thank the series of incidents that have led me to this resolution to not look at my phone while walking and certainly not cross roads while using the phone. I especially thank the crushed snail and this beautiful one (in photo) in showing me how we can destroy a fragile and beautiful life if we’re not mindful…his fate lies in your hands…or rather feet..

As I have shared before, our behaviour on walkways and roads may reflect how we journey through life. Moving too fast and mindlessly, we may get crushed… or crush someone/something else….

Moving mindfully could bring us greater connection with ourselves and others…and hence, greater joy.

How to Break Free from Addictive Checking

Coping with Cell Phone Addiction

PS: Since I wrote this, I saw a pregnant woman crossing the road in Orchard looking at her handphone….I would like to invite you to observe others and yourself on this matter…and if you like, try using your handphone less…What do you see? What do you realise? What do you feel? What could you choose? Where would it bring you?




Speaking Up for Safety

I’m delighted to share that a barrier has been put up at the place where I fell and injured my foot a few months ago!

In July, I fell on what I thought was a flat surface but was actually a step.  I called a friend and when she came towards me to help me, she fell on the same place too! A food vendor who was nearby gesticulated to me that he had seen other people falling there, including an “ah-pek” (Hokkien for old man). This really disturbed me. Perhaps people could be more seriously injured than me or face financial problems dealing with the medical treatment…

At the hospital with a cracked heel and torn ligament.

I had to use a walker, then crutches and an aircast. Those were painful and cumbersome days!

The place where I fell, a few days after the accident. Yellow line didn't help me I'm afraid!

I wrote in to Minister Khaw of the Ministry of National Development, Land Transport Authority (although I learnt later that this wasn’t within their purview) and the Building and Construction Authority, asking for empathy in design and for a barrier such as a railing to be put up.  I’m very pleased to report that  a railing has been put up! Lots of thanks to all who took action.

Accident-site, with new railings

This is only one small action I took but I’m a little more at ease knowing that railing is there, preventing more people from falling. That yellow line was meant to signal a potential hazard and that’s a good start but it wasn’t enough for me, my friend or the others who had fallen there.  I hope architects and others can pay more attention to greater empathy in design.

Let’s dare to care and take action on things that matter. Let’s ask for meaningful changes adopting a positive, constructive and helpful tone. Let’s thank the relevant parties when action has been taken. And let’s share our stories so we can improve our community in our own small ways…it adds up…

Where could you take similar action and speak up to prevent suffering to others? Are you a pedestrian who has fallen or almost fallen or even just noticed a safety hazard on the road/pathway?  Are you an engineer or safety inspector at construction/worksites who has witnessed safety violations? Have you noticed workplace safety hazards in your office?   One action of yours could make a huge difference to others’ lives – as well as yours, one day.

Or do you have a successful story to share on taking constructive action and having made a difference?

PS: As mentioned, I wasn’t using a phone when walking that day. Yet I fell. I often see people texting while walking. The chances of them falling or getting into accidents is even higher. One taxi driver shared with me that more people have been knocked down while crossing the road and looking at their phones….


Ever wondered what could be behind poor service?

I got into a taxi two days ago. And the moment I mentioned my destination, the driver already starting speaking in a frustrated and negative tone to me. Not very welcoming. It continued for a while. 

Soon after, he started coughing and holding up his hand. And I said, “Are you ok?” He said, “No, my cancer, my cancer.” He stopped the taxi, got out and looked like he was going to vomit. I asked if I could help in any way. He said he would be be ok, apologised that he couldn’t ferry me and drove off.

Some suffering is easy to observe. But some is invisible. You just never know what is behind someone’s rudeness/unkindness/poor decisions/arrogance. It could be a broken heart, overwork, family stresses, or even just not having been taught on how to treat others with care and dignity. If we can view people with this lens,  instead of feeling victimised or offended by them, we can forgive.  

I was only with that driver for a few minutes and I felt de-energised. Of course, this gets more difficult if people who are hurting themselves are impacting us in the long-term – relatives, bosses, colleagues, leaders –  and we feel trapped that we cannot get out the taxi we share with them, figuratively speaking. We then need to balance our own long-term welbeing with supporting the healing and growth of these individuals. But we can do this with more compassion. 

It is also why I believe it is especially important for people in positions of impacting many lives to be self-aware, to surround themselves with people who are courageous enough to give them honest feedback, humble enough to know what challenges they have, and how their ignorance or wounds may be impacting others. (Remember that some people don’t look like they’re suffering. For example, some may be wealthy but may be suffering from poverty of the spirit, not raised to be empathetic etc. In my eyes, that is suffering too.)

Also, we can see other people’s flaws very clearly but we can have many blindspots about ourselves. Sometimes the very things we dislike in others are things we do in our lives too, just in different ways. So when I encounter unpleasant actions from others, I just try to ensure I heal my own difficulties and not inflict them on others. 

As we remember our common humanity, failings, and also potential for great and wonderful things, we are less judgmental. And when we are less judgmental, something just loosens up in our being and there is a freedom in that. And compassion arises for us all.

Even if we don’t condone certain actions and need to take actions to stop that, we do that with a spirit of understanding and connectedness that finally we’re all in the same taxi together and are more similar than different… 

Try it?

Related: Honouring our Common Humanity on Vesak Day