The generous vegetable seller

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Chen's frugality has allowed her to donate over $3000,000 to many charitable causes. (Photo: Marc Gerritsen)

Chen's frugality has allowed her to donate over $3000,000 to many charitable causes. (Photo: Marc Gerritsen)

“This extraordinary woman thinks nothing of living a life devoid of luxuries in order to help those less fortunate than her”
By Esther Liang

After the morning hustle and bustle, the atmosphere at Tai-tung county’s Central Market quietens as every stall shuts for the day and their owners return to the comfort of their homes. A lone lamp shines on a vegetable stall. With head bowed, Chen Shu-Chu silently sorts out the vegetable leaves as she waits for the occasional afternoon customer. Decades of hard work have caused the fingers on the right hand to curl and joints to swell; her feet have deformed slightly. 

Chen leads her life with a daily routine – waking up at three in the morning, she makes her way to the vegetable wholesaler and sets up her stall, which she tends till seven or eight in the evening. Being the first to arrive and last to leave, the other stall owners have fondly given her the title of ‘market manager’. 

In the dark and damp market, Chen, nearing her sixties, holds the stall her father left her dearly. Yuan-Jin Vegetables is her everything. With her vegetables selling at “a bundle for 30 dollars, three bundles for 50”, Chen earns only marginal profits. Yet, her frugality has allowed her to donate about NT$10 million ($321,550) towards various charitable causes, including helping schools, orphanages and poor children. 

The selfless generosity of a woman with such humble income has placed her under the international spotlight. In March, Forbes magazine named her one of 48 outstanding philanthropists from the Asia-Pacific region. A month later, TIME magazine selected the year’s top 100 influential people and Chen emerged under the ‘Heroes of Philanthrophy’ category. Fellow Taiwanese and Oscar-winning director Lee Ang wrote her entry personally. “Money is only worthy if given to those in need,” he quoted Chen. He also wrote, “Amazing, but of all she has given away, her greatest gift is leading by example.” 

Despite the honour of receiving the TIME award in New York, gaining global recognition, and a personal meeting with President Ma Ying-jeou, all Chen really cares about is her vegetable stall. If not for President Ma and the foreign minister personally convincing her to go, she would not have agreed to visit New York as she felt “this is not a competition and I did not win anything”. Amid the frenzy of applying for a passport and preparing for the visit, Chen’s main concern was that her regular customers would not get their vegetables. 

Chen has become a celebrity in Taitung county. Local authorities decorated her stall with congratulatory posters and banners hailing her as the ‘Pride of Taitung’ and the ‘Model of Philanthropy’. There are fans who turn up at the stall with a vegetable basket and a camera, hoping for a picture with Chen. Despite all the attention, Chen remains humble. “I have done nothing extraordinary and everyone who wants to can do it. There are many other charitable people; we just don’t know about them.” Chen, who is unmarried, adds, “I do not place great importance on money. When I donate to help others, I feel at peace and happy, and I can sleep well at night.” She also feels for the poor having experienced hardship in her younger days. 

All she needs is food and a place to sleep. Everything else is a luxury.

All she needs is food and a place to sleep. Everything else is a luxury.

Born in 1950, Chen lost her mother after completing her primary school education. Her mother was admitted to hospital due to difficulties in labour and the family had to pay an insurance of NT$5000 ($160) before medical attention could be granted. Chen saw her father asking their neighbours for money but it was too late to save her mother. The eldest daughter in the family, Chen had to grow up overnight. She gave up her studies and dedicated her life to helping at the vegetable stall. 

When she was 18, her younger brother fell sick and the illness dragged on for over a year, gradually depleting the family’s savings. Doctors suggested the family send her brother to Taiwan National University Hospital, but how could they afford the fees? Huang Shun-zhong, a teacher at Ren-ai Primary School, started a donation drive. Unfortunately, her brother could not be saved. 

After experiencing the kindness bestowed upon her family, Chen made up her mind to help the poor once she was able. When her father passed away 17 years ago, Chen, a devoted Buddhist, generously donated NT$1 million ($32,140) to Fo Guang Shan Monastery. In 2000, she donated NT$1 million to her alma mater, Ren-ai Primary School, to set up an “Emergency Relief Fund” to help poor children obtain financial help. 

Assisting in the setting up and maintenance of the fund is Li Guorong, who teaches Chen’s nephew. In 2001, Li had a plan to build a library for the school and estimated the cost to be between NT$4 million and NT$5 million. When he approached Chen, in the hope that she might contribute NT$50,000, Li was shocked when Chen said she would fund the entire project. While the school was sceptical, Chen was determined. In May 2005, the two-storey library was completed and named “Chen Shu-Chu Library” in honour of the ‘Vegetable Market heroine’ alumnus. She had donated NT$4.5 million. 

Chen’s ability to donate such large sums of money has led many to ask, How can a mere vegetable seller earn so much? 

“Spend only what you need, and you’ll be able to save up a lot of money!” says Chen. Since 1996, she has been donating NT$36,000 ($1150) to help three children in the Kids-alive International organisation. To achieve this, Chen explains that she empties her loose change into three little cardboard boxes at home every night. “This is a simple act that can be done by anyone, isn’t it?” says Chen. 

Chen leads a very simple life without any luxuries. Neither does she have any desire for material gains nor any form of enjoyment. Work, she says, is her enjoyment. “I love my work. If I didn’t, would I be able to work 16 hours a day?” All she needs is food and a place to sleep. Everything else is a luxury. 

Has business improved after winning the award? “Business is as usual,” Chen says. “I still need to sell my vegetables, not much has changed.” Advertisers have approached her to film commercials, financial managers have offered to manage her finances and other well-wishers have offered to donate money. Chen rejects these advances politely. “It is easy to return borrowed money, but difficult to return a favour,” she says. 

“My philosophy in life is simple: If doing something makes you worried, then it must be a wrong thing. If it makes you happy, then you must have done the right thing. What others say is not important,” says Chen. She is content with what she has and feels that as long as she “lives a life she wishes for and does the things she wants, that is good enough”.

[article: Esther Liang, published in Reader’s Digest]
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Year of Rabbit – Chinese New Year couplets for charity

By | Chinese calligraphy, Involvement, Photography | 2 Comments
Chinese New Year couplets for charity sale

Chinese New Year couplets for charity sale

Malaysian Contemporary Chinese Painting & Calligraphy Association of Melaka are organising Chun Nuan Ren Jian, Jia Jia Tie Chun Lian (春暖人间、家家贴春联) to promote Chinese calligraphy and decoration of New Year couplets for the household. Experienced Chinese calligraphers including children are helping to write the couplets and promote the sale.

Chinese couplets known as dui lian (对联) or “contrapuntal couplets” may be seen on doorways in Chinese communities worldwide. Couplets displayed as part of the Chinese New Year festival, on the first morning of the New Year, are called chun lian (春联). These are usually purchased at a market a few days before and glued to the doorframe. The text of the couplets is often traditional and contains hopes for prosperity.

Chinese couplets are normally written on vertical strips of red paper in the best calligraphic style one can muster. The first (called upper) line is posted on the right side of the front door. The second (called lower) line is posted on the left side of the front door. The couplets should correspond with each other phonologically, syntactically and semantically word for word and phrase for phrase.

This coming Chinese New Year will be the year Rabbit and also the 8th year the Malaysian Contemporary Chinese Painting & Calligraphy Association of Melaka is doing the event. The sale of the Chinese couplets from this event is for charity as fund collected will be donated to the Bachang St John’s Dialysis Center providing treatment for patients suffered from kidney disease.

Unfortunately I am unable to join the team these two weeks for going to school by school in Melaka to promote Chinese calligraphy and the sale of the couplets, however I am doing my best to write as many as I can and pass to the team for sale. So far, I have written about 30 pieces of the couplets and will keep on writing before Chinese New Year.

Thanks to the organizing committee for your hard work and friends for you support. To my friends who are interested in buying the couplets and doing charity at the same time, kindly contact me.

Happy Chinese New Year to everyone! May all beings be happy.

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兔年“春暖人间、家家户户贴春联”活动开跑了

By | Chinese calligraphy, Involvement, Photography | 3 Comments
“八糟”(猫名)在春联中开跑了!

“八糟”(猫名)在春联中开跑了!

由马来西亚书画联盟甲州联委会发起的“春暖人间、家家贴春联”活动开跑了!

推广书法艺术、鼓励农历新年贴春联的文化之余,这活动还为峇章圣约翰洗肾中心筹款,帮助患有肾脏病的患者,十分有意义

我想感谢书法老师刘明亮一年的教导和鼓励,书法班的朋友丽丽时时分享书法的心得,筹委会主席戴桂珠女士不断鼓励我写春联,和宋群礼、邢福兴、蔡天成先生等等的书法家朋友响应这项活动和所肃立的好榜样。

今年由于工作忙碌无法参与这项活动巡回马六甲的一些华小挥毫,我还是会尽力在家帮忙写春联。至今才写了30多对,还要更努力。

有兴趣为家里贴上春联,增加家里的春意的朋友们能联络我义买,让人人在春节感受人间的温情。

祝大家新年快乐,身体健康!

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So why is toilet paper white anyway?

By | Wisdom | One Comment
Toilet paper (photography by Jordi Gallego)

Toilet paper (photography by Jordi Gallego)

I recently wrote an email to Kimberly Clark (famous for their paper products including Kleenex, Scott, Viva and Cottonelle) and asked why they bleach their toilet paper white. Their customer support explained that bleaching is not only for aesthetic purposes – it also removes the lignin or glue from the wood. The removal of lignin helps improve the strength, feel and shelf life of their tissue and paper.

Unfortunately, most paper mills and companies like Kimberly Clark use chlorine to bleach their toilet paper. The chlorine bleaching process creates many incredibly toxic by-products including dioxins which end up in our water systems and soils.

Humans are most often exposed to these chemicals by eating contaminated food (e.g. fish), drinking contaminated water, or by working at companies that produce dioxins (e.g. paper mills). It is believe that populations exposed to high levels of dioxins have increased risks of birth defects, cancer, diabetes and heart disease. You can learn more about studies on dioxins at the Nation Institute of Health.

I also wrote an email to Seventh Generation and asked why they whiten their toilet paper and why they, in contrast to Kimberly Clark, bleach without chlorine. Here’s Seventh Generation’s response from the Director of Contract Manufacturing:

“Our tissue products are whitened using processes that are chlorine free. Hydrogen peroxide and/or sodium hydrosulfate are typically used to whiten. Because our tissue products are made from 100% recycled feedstock, this lignin (glue) is not an issue for us. It has already been removed. The whitening process helps provide a tissue with consistent look and feel.

Although I tend to agree directionally with the statement about the lignin and its potential undesired impacts on tissue characteristics, I don’t necessarily agree that chlorine containing substances are the best overall methods for bleaching wood pulp when considering the potential adverse impact on the environment in which we live. Furthermore, I am not necessarily agreeing so readily that bleaching is absolutely necessary in order to make a tissue product that can meet consumer’s expectations. As a matter of fact, we offer an unbleached version of paper towels and napkins which tend to be well accepted by the Seventh generation customer. So, I am suggesting that even if bleaching result in somewhat better tissue characteristics, the value added may not be worth it if all aspects of the situation are being considered.”

As Seventh Generation mentions, there are alternatives to the chlorine bleaching processes. Here are your more eco-friendly options when it comes to toilet paper:

  • Unbleached: Completely natural – no bleach added. May not be a winner on softness or comfort.
  • Processed Chlorine Free (PCF): Recycled paper bleached with oxygen, ozone, or hydrogen peroxide. Examples brands of PCF toilet paper: Seventh Generation, Green Forest, Planet, 365 Whole Foods, Earth First. See the NRDC’s toilet paper comparison chart.
  • Totally Chlorine Free (TCF): Non-recycled paper bleached with oxygen, ozone, or hydrogen.

That was the good, now here’s the bad (and the ugly):

  • Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF): Paper bleached with chlorine dioxide. This process releases fewer dioxins than bleaching with chlorine gas, but it is still is harmful to the environment. Examples brands of ECF toilet paper: Charmin, Quilted Northern, Cottonelle, Angle Soft, Kleenex, Safeway Select
  • Chlorine Gas: Dioxins galore!

So the next time you’re purchasing toilet paper, try out paper that is chlorine free. It’s better for the environment and still white and soft.

[source: http://thegreentoilet.blogspot.com/2008/02/so-why-is-toilet-paper-white-anyway.html]
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Blood donation at Mahkota Parade, 22rd and 23th January 2011

By | Involvement, Photography | One Comment
"You are my hero, dad"

"You are my hero, dad"

We don’t need a special reason to give blood. We know that a family member or a friend might need blood some day and it’s the right thing we do. Donating blood is simple and is a safe process:

A tiny drop of blood is taken from your fingertip. This allows the staff of hospital to check your haemoglobin levels and ensure that giving blood won’t make you anaemic. If all is well, you will be able to donate blood. You will donate about 350ml or 450ml of blood – this amount of blood is quickly replaced by your body. Once you have given blood, you should have a short rest before being given some refreshments usually a drink and biscuits. All in all giving blood shouldn’t take more than an hour.

There was a blood donation event held in Mahkota Parade of Melaka last Saturday and Sunday. The event was organized by University of Malaya, Fifth Residential College of UM, Lions Club and Mahkota Parade. While we had some free time to shop for Chinese New Year goods in Mahkota Parade during the weekend, Wee-Peng and I dropped by the venue and I took some shots over there. Sharing some shots here:

crowd registering

crowd registering

Wee-Peng was waiting

Wee-Peng was waiting

blood grouping tiles

blood grouping tiles

accompany

accompany

donating blood

donating blood

busy medical assistants

busy medical assistants

Give HOPE! Save LIVES!

Give HOPE! Save LIVES!

adorable blood cell

adorable blood cell

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