When Your Trash Saves Lives

Buddhist Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre at Taman Lumba Kuda, Penang
Buddhist Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre at Taman Lumba Kuda, Penang

While I try to have a variety of topics in our business blog, I am also that anal sort (yes, slap me) who wants a blog post that is befitting of a business blog, one that’s thoughtful and not written just because I have to spit something out on the blog.
That is certainly not my style.
Which is why sometimes, just sometimes, I have too many things and topics to write about but not enough time to do so. Ah… the bane of 21st century living!
Buddhist Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre at Taman Lumba Kuda, Penang
A separate kitchen/pantry for volunteers to take a rest and have a snack or tea

But this blog allows me to ramble along – knowing that friends like you will forgive me if I ramble too much and get too “cheong hei”.
A few months ago, our  Taman Sri Nibong Residents’ Association hosted a short briefing by at the clubhouse for the volunteers of The Buddhist Tzu-Chi Merits Society.
Buddhist Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre at Taman Lumba Kuda, Penang
A bunch of us from Taman Sri Nibong visited to get a better idea what the centre does

To cut a long story short, the Tzu-Chi folks are proposing to convert an old, abandoned food court in our taman into a recycling waste sorting centre. It is by no means an easy or cheap endeavour.
It means taking up the entire food court area of 10,000 square feet and doing what’s needed to make it into a place where residents can come, drop off their recyclables and get an education about reducing the wastefulness of our daily lives.
Buddhist Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre at Taman Lumba Kuda, Penang
Different categories of recyclables waiting for manual processing

And they need to pay a fee to MPPP to use this abandoned food court.
Now what’s interesting is this – the money generated from recycling will be used to fund the Tzu-Chi Dialysis Centres (they have one in Gottlieb Road and another in Butterworth and they have plans to build another centre by next year). Tzu-Chi Dialysis centres are free for kidney patients. Yes, that’s right. Free.
Recycling areas clearly labelled
Recycling areas clearly labelled

Like all communities, you will get people who are downright rude and negative about change. Any change.
Anything is to be feared even before they hear why it’s needed.
The thing that plays in their heads is that tune they choose to hear.
Volunteers comprising elderly folks sorting out the different papers
Volunteers comprising elderly folks sorting out the different papers

And funnily, even another well-known social organization started joining the fray, saying that THEY should be given the priority to manage and turn the the abandoned food court into a library and community centre.
This organization which shall be unnamed (because it will certainly shame some people who’ve always associated this organization with good community work) had the cheek to say that they want to give back to the community here. They had 2 years to raise the funds to do something but never did. Not until Tzu-Chi came along and said they wanted to do something. All of a sudden, this other group felt threatened!
The recycling centre brings senior citizens together to contribute to their community
The recycling centre brings senior citizens together to contribute to their community

Anyway, I think many of them felt afraid that a Buddhist a.k.a religious group was coming into Taman Sri Nibong. All the silly comments from some residents just makes me feel that religion makes us all suspicious of each other.
Donated computers and monitors to be refurbished and shipped to Myanmar for a second lease of life
Donated computers and monitors to be refurbished and shipped to Myanmar for a second lease of life

That aside, Nic and I had to go see for ourselves a real working Tzu-Chi recycling centre in Taman Lumba Kuda. A bunch of us residents turned up on a Saturday afternoon to listen and understand how the recycling centre handles its waste as well as re-educate the people about recycling.
A thriving garden in the Tzu Chi recycling centre
A thriving garden in the Tzu Chi recycling centre

We saw a pleasant, quiet and green environment where volunteers silently sorted out the different piles of recyclables. Even with the paper category, there’s white paper and coloured paper. Above all, it was clean.
Tzu Chi recycling centre penang
Another angle of the garden

They even grew a garden around the recycling centre. It resembled quiet, restive area for communities to mingle, talk to each other and help sort and re-bundle trash.
Tzu Chi recycling centre penang
Here's a water garden!

They even accept old PCs and clothes. The PCs will be refurbished and sent to Myanmar. Many internal parts of the PC can be reused.
Tzu Chi recycling centre penang
Vegetable garden within the Tzu Chi recycling centre

The key to Tzu-Chi is education. They start with cultivating that spirit in all that they do. And unlike most Chinese organizations, theirs is done with style. Have you noticed how beautifully elegant Tzu Chi books and packaging are?  I am often delighted at their products because they do pay attention to design.
[Update: Here’s something to cheer about. After all the hullabaloo, Tzu-Chi managed to get approval from MPPP and the relevant authorities to rent and convert the old Medan Selera into its recycling centre. They fenced it up  and by 18 November (yes, this Sunday), the Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre in Taman Sri Nibong will be operational. Please support this centre with your recyclables.]

Tzu Chi recycling centre penang
What you cannot recycle!

Full of Beans

I was in Langkawi last week – it was a very quick trip to visit a client. At the same time it was also a meet up and discussion about a marketing project we are doing with another client.
As we were visiting a client who just had leg surgery, I was wondering what I could bring. Fruits was out of the question – I was not going to carry fruits onto the AirAsia flight (as an aside, I was on the same flight to Langkawi as celebrity chef, Chef Wan!).
Finally I settled on a very healthy gift – a packet of nutritious cereal powder from my favourite Buddhist society – Tzu Chi.

The green packet on the right contains Jew's Mallow.
The green packet on the right contains Jew's Mallow.

I’ve always been in awe of Tzu Chi because they’re a charity organization like no other. Instead of asking for handouts, they prefer to engage in honest business to help them fund their work. Their dialysis treatments for kidney patients are completely free. Amazing.
Nic and I decided to go to their Macalister Road building to get the nutritious bean powder. (You can also buy them from the Jing Si Book shop on Beach Street which is a lovely serene cafe with Buddhist books for sale. However, I prefer their Macalister Road outlet which is actually a huge grey building – you can’t miss this. Plus like everything else in Penang, parking is important. In this place, parking is very convenient. No doubt about it.)
Everything that's good for you is inside this beverage.
Everything that's good for you is inside this beverage.

The interesting part is, the ingredients for their products are mostly grown by themselves in Taiwan. Taiwan is the headquarters of Tzu Chi Merit Society – this is where they started some 40 years ago with just 1 nun (Master Cheng Yen) and 30 housewives. Today, Tzu Chi is a global phenomenon with a task force of volunteers all over the globe, ready to serve at any moment’s notice. Their dedication is truly incredible.
Tzu Chi sells about 4 different types of instant bean drinks
Tzu Chi sells about 4 different types of instant bean drinks

The bean powders are purely vegan and consists of ingredients like Job’s tears, almonds, Chinese yam, oats, sesame seeds, lotus seeds, black beans, brown rice and more. The bean cereal powder are suitable for both young and old and a good replacement for sugared beverages. I also discovered a plant called Jew’s Mallow when I bought one of the bean beverages which contain Jew’s Mallow which is cultivated in Taiwan by their master and her disciples.  Jew’s Mallow is also called Kerria Japonica – a yellow flowering shrub with leaves used as a vegetable.
While I was there buying these bean powder beverages for family and friends (and you know how suddenly one thinks of everyone who could and would benefit from this healthy beverage), the Tzu Chi volunteer asks if I’d like to try their instant noodles. She said their noodles were often in high demand and taste great, without the MSG! I am not a noodle fan so I politely declined.
They also sell a quick version of rice gruel or instant porridge where you just add hot water and presto, your porridge is ready. I heard that this was an innovation of theirs especially when Tzu Chi serves in disaster areas – easily cooked or hot food makes a big difference to disaster survivors. Even their rice is of this instant version – just add hot water and you get rice immediately.
What I especially like about Tzu Chi products is that they’re made with the Earth in mind. Their packaging is recyclable. And their design is simple yet elegant. None of the Jinjang designs – no way. Like their founder, Tzu Chi volunteers live a simple, practical lifestyle and often are serene, calm people. The entire Tzu Chi organisation lives and breathes simplicity and practicality.
And if I have a choice when buying responsibly, I will. In this case, you are not only buying a healthy bean beverage for yourself but also supporting an organization which does good.

One Woman's Inspiration

When Nancy invited me and Nic to join her and the rest of the Adventist Hospital staff to visit Tzu Chi Society building in Macalister Road, she had warned me.
“Bring lots of tissues.” It would be emotional.
I just didn’t know how emotional it would turn out to be.
In the end, I came home pretty humbled and yet inspired. I have written about Master Cheng Yen, the founder of this non-profit organisation, sometime before. I have friends who are volunteers in Tzu Chi. I myself contribute monthly towards Tzu Chi.
Master Cheng Yen embodies a woman with absolute strength of character, infused with a resilience that’s awe-inspiring. All this through the one video I saw of her. I can imagine seeing her in the flesh in Taiwan, if I am that fortunate to visit her country (she does not travel out of Taiwan for health reasons I believe).
4 Hours, 3 Times A Week
The first stop of our visit was the Tzu Chi Dialysis Centre on Gottlieb Road. Being a Sunday, we didn’t expect that many people around. The nurses had especially come in earlier at morning to prepare for our visit. The dialysis patients turned volunteers were also there to greet us!

Visiting Tzu Chi Dialysis Centre on Gottlieb Road with Adventist staff
Visiting Tzu Chi Dialysis Centre on Gottlieb Road with Adventist staff

Mr Lee, the centre manager, showed us around and explained about the dialysis machines. Every kidney patient would be hooked up to the machine for 4 hours each time, 3 times a week.
And Tzu Chi does not charge for these sessions – they are FREE.
(Under normal circumstances, each session would cost approximately RM150 to RM250 at private hospitals. In the Government hospital/general hospital, it would be cheaper but there is a long wait list.) Added to that, there are medications. So each kidney patient would need to spend at least RM2500 every month for dialysis and medicines.
For the first time, it dawned on me how magnificent our bodies really are. How each organ works to give us good health; when it breaks down, it becomes tedious, even exhausting. What our kidneys do naturally, the machine takes a good 4 hours each time.
Tzu Chi nurses and volunteers performing for us
Tzu Chi nurses and volunteers performing for us

The one thing I noticed is that the nurses were upbeat and cheerful (despite having to come in as early as 7 am on a Sunday so they could rehearse their performance for us, their guests). They beamed when they performed a song for us together with the dialysis patients/volunteers.
My little hanky rabbit!
My little hanky rabbit!

They were all smiles when they presented their gifts to us – white hankies folded to resemble cute rabbits with red eyes!
We were each presented with cute hanky rabbits!
We were each presented with cute hanky rabbits!

Mr Lee explained that these young nurses would also go beyond their call of duty – they’d drop in to visit dialysis patients after their work hours. All this without extra OT pay. And it is not a secret that they’re not paid as highly as private nurses either. But they do it with grace and cheerfulness.
What was the secret in Tzu Chi which motivated these nurses (who could work in any hospital given their dedication) to be more than they were? It was inspiring to know that there’s a deeper sense of purpose in these young nurses’ lives. It shone in their eyes. It shone in their heart. That word comes back to me – it was like staring at pure joy.
Stories of Hope and Humility
We were then whisked back to the main grey-coloured Tzu Chi building on Macalister Road. It was mid-morning but we were served a mini snack in the form of ‘ang koo kuih’ and jelly, to be downed by fragrant Chinese tea.
Snacks made with love!
Snacks made with love!

Before we drank our tea, we were taught the proper method of appreciating tea. When we sipped the tea, we had to be mindful and remember the 3 Goodness (a sip for good thoughts, a sip for good words and a sip for good deeds). The Tzu Chi staff mentioned that they were going to start their tea appreciation class soon. This class is held once a year and for free. You can call up and ask them when the next class is beginning.
Our fabulous vegetarian lunch at Tzu Chi
Our fabulous vegetarian lunch at Tzu Chi

I couldn’t help but admire the humility, tenacity and inherent mindfulness of these Tzu Chi volunteers, from the ladies dressed in demure dark blue cheongsams (very elegant!) to the men dressed in grey t-shirts or white t-shirts. When we were on the first floor watching a presentation of Tzu Chi, Sunday school for children was in session on the ground floor. In a way, this was a Sunday school with a difference because parents are enrolled with their children with the belief that good values must be taught from young but also with the direct support of the parents.
If only all vegetarian lunches were this delicious....
If only all vegetarian lunches were this delicious....

I was touched by so many things I saw that day in Tzu Chi. They believed in doing things with passion, loving-kindness and mindfulness. As a 10 million strong organisation worldwide, they are always the first to attend to any disaster area and the last to leave. Due to their strong belief in helping people, they have also come up with their own innovation such as instant rice which does not need to be cooked. In disaster areas, fuel is hard to come by so instant rice (which is now part of a range of products they sell in their Tzu Chi shop) with the addition of hot water for 20 minutes makes a nutritious and quick meal. This is also a good product for campers!
They also showed us a short video which made all of us weep once more (we wept when Mr Muck, a dialysis patient recounted his story of how he went from being a patient to actively volunteering with Tzu Chi).
The video was of an 80-year old woman who still holds onto her job as an office cleaner because she is the sole breadwinner in her family of four – her husband is blind and cannot work while her 2 grown-up children are disabled and cannot take care of themselves. She has in total 7 children but the other 5 children were also disabled and had passed away.
And yet, this old woman who rides her motorbike to work daily never once complained about her lot in life. The hunched up little old lady cheerfully goes to work, riding her old little Honda motorbike. Incredibly, after she heard how Tzu Chi gets money to help dialysis patients from recycling household wastes, she started collecting newspapers, tins and plastics to do her bit for Tzu Chi!
I was absolutely floored by this story.
Mr Lee then took over to show us via some slides about Tzu Chi’s work in Indonesia. Tzu Chi volunteers helped to clean up one of Jakarta’s dirtiest rivers and squatter areas. Together with the Indonesian Government, they built flats for the squatter families. They also helped rebuilt tsunami-hit Acheh – rebuilding schools, mosque and houses for the Achehnese.
The local religious leader of the town was so touched by the generosity of Tzu Chi that he asked for 60 pieces of Master Cheng Yen’s photo to be place in every classroom. He wanted the Muslim school children to give thanks and remember the woman who started Tzu Chi, the organisation which helped them.
This contrasts so strongly with what we know and perceive about religions. Would this happen in Malaysia? Would a Muslim religious leader ask for photos of his benefactor to be put in every classroom so that the children do not forget to be grateful each day to the woman and the organisation which helped them? While watching the video of the Muslim children sing a Bahasa Indonesian version of the Mandarin Tzu Chi song, I was terribly moved by the Indonesians’ ability to be all encompassing in their thankfulness.
All I can say is, Tzu Chi is an amazing organisation just like many of the amazing organisations out there who are helping people in their own ways.
Life is sometimes about the lessons we learn and also about the lessons we re-learn.
** You can read more about the inspiring life journey of Master Cheng Yen.
** If you want to help, you can contribute money on a monthly basis with a minimum of RM1 per month. Please contact the nearest Tzu Chi in your town/city.

Chinese Dumpling Festival

I love being Chinese because we’ve got a tonne of festivals where we get to celebrate with food and snacks and other yummy delicacies. Any way, the zhang or chinese dumpling festival is back again.
Chinese bak zhang for Duan Wu Festival
I love zhang! I love it in all its incarnations. From kee zhang (lye water dumpling) to bak zhang (meat dumpling), I’m mad over these glutinuous rice dumplings.
And to think it was inspired to save a Chinese poet from being eaten by fish in the river! The zhang or Duan Wu festival is celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month in the Chinese calendar. This year it falls on 28 May, Thursday.
I’m no bak zhang expert maker so I leave this to my aunt who makes the most scrumptious zhang ever. Of course as age catches up with her, she makes fewer and fewer. A short supply always makes this festival much anticipated – I look forward to this festival with relish and a growling tummy.
Not all zhang is full of glutinuous rice containing fatty pork meat, chinese mushrooms, salted duck yolk, chestnut, dried oyster and dried prawn (hae bee).
There are those with very little ingredients (some just filled with beans) but they taste just as good. Then there are the zhang made with lye water which has nothing at all. But eaten with rich, eggy kaya or melted gula melaka, hmmm…..heaven!
While most zhang are triangular in shape, my Grandma used to make pillow shaped zhang, a larger zhang which could feed more than 2 persons happily. Sadly she does not make them anymore!
But if you are like me and can’t wrap a zhang properly, you can buy them. Every street corner in Penang seems to sell the zhang during this time.
And if you’re feeling particularly healthy, how about vegetarian zhang? Not made by me. Made by the Buddhist Tzu Chi Society.
A friend who volunteers at the society writes:
“Yes, it’s that time of the year again and we are now starting to take orders for the famous Tzu Chi vegetarian dumplings for this year. If you have any friends or colleagues who would like to buy from us, it would be great if you can help to consolidate the order and send to me. The sales of dumplings will start from 22 May 2009 onwards at RM5 each. Please let me know the date you need to have the dumplings delivered and where so that I can make the necessary arrangement. If you are not into eating dumplings, you may want to consider donating to the ingredients for the making of these dumplings.”
If you want to order, you can email Swee Yong at sycheok at gmail dot com or call 012-423 8700.
So you see, there ARE more ways than one to get your zhang if you’re not adept at wrapping them yourself!
More zhang links to feast on:
Making your own zhang – nah, too tedious for me but you may try it if you’re adventurous.
Another one but with video of step-by-step process of wrapping the zhang.
Or take a look at the recipe for peasant zhang.