600km Walking Pilgrimage through Spain

Written by Denise Chng Lisan & published on September 2 2008

From the moment I discovered an ancient pilgrimage path in Spain in June last year, the attraction of walking hundreds of kilometres towards an assured destination grew on me daily. My eagerness to go on a month-long journey on foot across the steep slopes, lush valleys and forests of the Pyrenees, and through countless small towns and villages, was part of a subconscious quest to find depth and meaning in my life. At the age of 33, I was approaching – prematurely, perhaps – what seemed to be a mid-life crisis.

Straits Times Life! Article,Denise Chng Lisan,Camino de Santiago,Camino Frances

Letter from Quebec: Preserving Heritage

Written by Denise Chng Lisan & published on November 8 2008

'TRAVEL is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living,' wrote Miriam Beard. Life in Quebec is now my teacher, pointing out my knowledge gaps and honing my ideas of living - be it language, culture, life-skills, or the environment.

Denise Chng Lisan

Just us.

Posted by Denise CHNG Lisan On Friday, October 27, 2017 0 comments
Just us.

If I could make a difference...

Posted by Denise CHNG Lisan On Thursday, March 24, 2011 0 comments

A few days ago, I walked into a restaurant and an acquaintance I barely knew waved at me and said, "I dream't of you last night!" She went on to shrug it off saying that I was just a representation, a symbol, in her dream. She was planning to go a meditation session that night to pray for the victims of the Japan quake, she explained. Meditation? I had been wanting to meditate in a group for the last three years, but haven't gotten around to sitting regularly. The thought of inviting people to join me in this humble practice had been twirling around in my head. "You said it's tonight? Can I go?" It didn't occur to me that I was inviting myself uninvited. I wanted to be there.

When the Japan quake happened, I sat in front of the TV numbed in front of the heart-wrenching images of destruction. The feeling of powerlessness gripped me hard, and I unconciously wondered to myself, "what could I do?" 10,000, or even 20,000, lives have been destroyed within a swipe of Nature's hand. What could I, one person, do? Before this sense of helplessness, I did nothing. In the mean time, friends put up PicBadges on facebook, sent links of donation and ways to help. I stayed cynic, refusing to connect.

At the night of meditation, Eva, a reiki teacher and the organizer of the soirée, sat next to me. She explained her reasons for calling a group session with a calm and matter-of-fact conviction. We are not separate, she said. What happened to Japan, happens to us as well. In physics, we are all energy. And so, we sat in a circle. We held our hands and went into meditation, sending energy to the place and victims of the disaster. All the while, I felt energy pulling out of my right hand, and my hair standing and shivers down my spine. I went with the flow, leaving my cynic mind behind.

After the session, my cynic self caught up and I tapped on Eva's shoulder. "So, all that we did just really think it makes a difference?" I didn't know how else to phrase it. Her intent eyes seemed to look through me, and she said "Yes. I do." Her conviction touched me more than anything. She believes strongly that every person can make a difference. That even the words I shared needed to be heard by someone else (I shared my feelings of powerlessness with the group earlier.) That life is short, so what are we waiting for to do what needs to be done. That if we open our hearts to give and receive love, change will happen.

She was right. I didn't need to see scientific evidence of the results of our group meditation session. I knew I was changed already by the experience. I began to believe that I could make a difference too. And then now the question becomes: If each person could make a difference, what would I say next? What would I do next? And what am I waiting for?

Published in The CatholicNews Singapore Sep 27, 2009 : A Bath in Lourdes

Posted by Denise CHNG Lisan On Friday, September 25, 2009 6 comments
A time of inner preparation for the pilgrimage

By Denise Chng Lisan
27th September, 2009

It probably sounds crazy to wait five hours for a bath, but that was exactly what I did in Lourdes in France. The long line sifted out the faithful from the undetermined, as the hours of waiting got unbearable. I waited on, motivated more by curiosity than by faith. Inch by inch, the line moved. I was chanting the prayer of Hail Mary with the rest of the waiting pilgrims, remembering that it was not so long ago when my life was as empty as an arid land and faith had taken a long leave of absence…

A year before, in 2006, I had lost both my mother and my grandmother within months. The fact that both of them were named after Mother Mary, and that my grandmother left behind a picture of little Bernadette kneeling before Mother Mary at the grotto in Lourdes pointed my way to the sacred site. In my state of grief, Lourdes was calling out to me with the promise of Motherly love.

The summer of 2007, I arrived at Lourdes, at the foothills of the Pyrenees, with a heart palpitating with both excitement and anxiety. It was hard not to gasp in fear at my first sight of the mountains looming in the background. I almost regretted planning to trek over the Pyrenees on my 600km walking pilgrimage from France to Santiago in Northern Spain. But the pain of loss and emotional emptiness within me demanded that I conquer this feat, perhaps to balance the equation with matching physical discomfort and spiritual anguish. Lourdes became a natural sanctuary for my inner preparation before I embarked on my pilgrimage on foot.

Those who have gone to Lourdes have told me that taking a bath in Lourdes is a special experience not to be missed. The spring water of Lourdes is believed to be a sacred source of life and has miraculously cured many. By the number of sick pilgrims who arrive in busloads, it is evident that many come in faith and hope that the Lourdes water will heal them. I saw women coming out of their baths, somehow looking different, as if they were carrying a world of importance in them. One woman who left crying marked me with the intensity of her experience.

After a long five-hour wait, and five minutes later, I came out of the bath feeling completely cleansed in spirit, leaving behind the imaginary soil of my life. I walked out with hands over my heart, guarding the precious gift of the Spirit inside me. Everything started anew from then on. It felt like baptism.

In the silence of that evening, I knelt before the statue of Mother Mary, as Bernadette did, to give thanks. I offered up my fears and inadequacies in prayer. In return, grace and love washed over me, and I ended up sobbing like a baby. Nothing heals more than the powerful and direct experience of Motherly love. I was ready to take on my long journey ahead.

A video of Lourdes made in memory of my mother:

To read blog posts written during the 600km Pilgrimage, you can begin here.
(Click 'newer posts' to advance or follow drop down menu 'Camino de Santiago' on the top menu)

Living History at Manoir Hamilton, New Carlisle

Posted by Denise CHNG Lisan On Monday, August 31, 2009 1 comments

(Travel Article to come)

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Meeting 老路 Lao Lu

Posted by Denise CHNG Lisan On Friday, August 21, 2009 2 comments
The least I would expect on this road trip would be to meet a fellow Chinese. But meeting 老路 Lao Lu caught me with a greater surprise than meeting a Chinese. She is a 77-year old Gaspesian strong-minded lady who came up and spoke to me in fluent Mandarin.

On many occasions, from the streets of Bangkok, New York or wherever, people throw a few words at me in Mandarin, like 'Ni Hao' (How are you, in Mandarin), to demonstrate their little connection with the Chinese culture. Some even take me for Japanese and say 'sayonara'. But Lao Lu is not one of those. On our first encounter, she held her solo introduction so well that I was in awe. The thought that here I am in Gaspesie, near the tip of the vast land, in a little quiet village, coming to face a Quebecoise lady who spoke Mandarin in such fluency left me dumbfounded.

We spoke a little more at length, and she shared that she has been to China 28 times. 28 times. I wonder if I have been home to Singapore 28 times, that often, in my life. She was even passionate enough to pack her bags and leave for China to study the language for 6 months before the Olympics. But by the stroke of luck, she met with an accident and had to return back to Quebec with the unfinished dream. Her passion for the language remains alive and her love for the Chinese people and culture is evident and contagious. I could not help feeling a little ashamed of my lack of fluency in my own mother-tongue. Maybe she would be my spark, lighting the interest in my own language back to life.

She invited me and Richard to her home for breakfast the next morning. This is what I love about travel - meeting special people and connecting with them in ways unplanned and unimaginable. Lao Lu's youth and wonder in her heart connected with me and Richard.

At Lao Lu's home, I learnt that she was a tour guide for many years and traveled far and often in her younger days. She shared with me her 'Chinese room' where she kept Chinese paintings, vases, dolls, souvenirs and carvings. We poured over albums of photos from her travel, and I even got to 'meet' her long-time friend from Singapore, Lilian, or Pek-yi Kok. Richard and I marveled at the synchronicity of our encounter. Here, this special lady is talking to me about 'Bukit Timah' and durians from Singapore. She said her friend lived at Bukit Timah and she stayed there while visiting Singapore many years ago. Suddenly, then, Lao Lu made me feel homesick, right in the middle of my travel.

Richard and I are camera-addicts. We took pictures and videos to keep souvenirs. When I suggested putting up the pictures on my blog, Lao Lu said, "I want to say hi to my friend in Singapore!" I became excited. If I could do something to connect Lao Lu with her friend, that would give me lots of pleasure.

One thing led to another. By the time we left her cosy home, we had eaten three toasts each (because of her delicious homemade strawberry jam) and sung a couple Chinese songs to celebrate. Imagine Lao Lu singing 'San Zhi Lao Hu' (Three tigers). That was what she did. She sang it with such gusto and enthusiasm that I would like the world to see. I hope she is as proud of herself as I am of her.

    Ave Maria - Lourdes, France

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