Can You Feel A Big Love: Part 2

At a Tzu Chi recycling station in Hualien. Photo: Trista di Genova
Thursday, Feb 16: Several very interesting classes were held in the morning, and we visited the Recyling Station in the afternoon.

The first class, ‘Co-exist with Mother Earth’, was taught by Hsieh Ching-Keui, a field manager who told us he used to ‘cry at midnight’ every night, then put on a mask every day for his US$100,000/year job at Citibank. He was a ‘Wall Street guy in Taipei’, a job that would have become a half-million (US$) a year. But he left all that because he said he felt ‘a hole inside’, until alone with the remote control in his nice house, saw Master Cheng Yen speak on the Da Ai (Big Love) television station. It took him 5 years to persuade his father to let him do international disaster relief work, but since then he’s been to El Salvador, Japan (Fukushima), Brazil, Banda Aceh (tsunami), Afghanistan, many others. To him it is real, the classroom and being here in Taiwan is not as it takes him away from his humanitarian work. His tale was very moving; some quotes: “Please, go to the real world, see the suffering and you’ll connect.” “Great love transcends religion, treat them as your own, your own sisters. When I connect with them I feel sad. Be a gentleman, be a lady, be prepared to respond to tragedy.” He also showed ‘Blueman’ clip (, although he noted that the environmental wakeup call applies to the world, not just America, adding that the extreme weather phenomenon was seen now with simultaneous disasters with record-breaking floods, earthquake destruction. He also showed clips from ‘Suzuki Speaks’, that told about how we are interconnected with the environment and its four ‘profoundly scientific’ elements: earth, air, fire and water. Suzuki: “Everyone and the earth, we are connected together, in the most profound way.” Four million years ago, “Before there was any life there was nothing to eat.”

Chinese Cheese: Sampling wonderful tofu made from scratch. Photo: Trista di Genova
‘Go Veggie’, was a class with Julia Hsu, a Taiwanese, Harvard-trained nutritionist and author of two books on the subject. She talked about our treatment of animals and of their sacrifice for our entertainment and casual consumption, and its toll on the environment: 16kg of grain are used to yield 1kg of beef, 100,000kg of water. “There’s no death that doesn’t require suffering… all animals know they are next” to be slaughtered, she said and showed clips of mass husbandry practices such as for pigs (teeth pulled, ears clipped as tags, tale cut so they won’t bite each other in high-stress environments, castrated), and slaughter of cows, chickens. She freeze framed on the look of terror in a cow’s eyes, pointing out that they have seen others being slain before them and know they are next. She also discussed how “emotions affect the environment”, as heavy emotions “make the air denser, heavier”, and demonstrated with class volunteers two phenomena: forward walking motion strengthens energy flow in the body (pressing down on raised arm), backwards weakens it; as does a classroom of people thinking negative thoughts. She linked meat consumption with cancers, strokes, heart disease, noted great vegetarians in history.

Instant noodles used to feed people nutritiously during humanitarian missions. Not bad! Photo: Trista di Genova
We questioned her about genetically modified (GM) foods. Tzu Chi Foundation has taken no position on this, but she says “We are really taking a risk” with GM food, which comes from the need to raise so much fodder for cattle, in particular (cf. deforestation of the Amazon to grow soy beans for McDonald’s contractor). “Messing around with genes is very dangerous,” she added.

‘The use of environmental technology’ class was taught by Volunteer Larry Lee, Da Ai Technology Cooperation, Ltd. Larry showed us a chilling video: it takes 20 seconds to cut down a tree, skin off the bark, cut it in 3 sections. Taiwan uses 4.5 billion PET (plastic) bottles a year. These bottles can be broken down into raw PET, and a Da Ai Tech Yarn used in making blankets (30,000) which Tzu Chi has already distributed in 24 disaster-affected countries. There are 4,800 recycling stations around Taiwan, with tens of thousands of volunteers. To recycle the plastic, they remove caps and neck rings, it’s stomped into flakes, turned back into fibers that are a high-quality technology yarn. This an important part of environmental protection: beyond simply recycling bottles into blankets, polo shirts are manufactured absorb moisture well. Donate all of profits to Szu Chi Foundation. Two brothers spent a year and a half determining how to do this; then it took 6 months for Master Cheng Yen to agree, on Oct. 10 2008, to take all responsibility and potential heat from the media and public for starting this commercial arm of a non-profit organization. The business model receives support of recycling stations, and helps many mentally challenged and “some old people find true meaning in life,” by helping out. “What else can they do? At home, they will sleep and wait for death. They can contribute their personal love to help other people. Not only this, recycling stations help the disabled find confidence in work.” He showed us a Da Ai newsclip of Volunteer Lin, who has cerebral palsy. Before helping with recycling he didn’t like to leave the house or talk to other people; now he’s talking to the media. “They find another meaning, true meaning of their life. Never look down on those people, they are doing more than you or I,” Larry said. “You too can do much better to contribute to society, as long as you reach out and help more people.” Another volunteer, a rich stock broker, started picking up recycling. “If they know I’m collecting garbage on the street, stock prices will go down.” But he steps out and doesn’t care what other people think.

Separating green and clear glass bottles at Tzu Chi's Recycling Station in Hualien. Photo: Trista di Genova
The recycling business, through the efforts of around 40-50 volunteers, has raised 20 million NT dollars’ profit over the last 3 years. It also won an award from the Taiwan EPA, and CSR – Corporate Social Responsibility award. Awards are also a tool to get more market share, reaching out to “the new enlightened consumer who wants to make a difference with their spending”. Larry pointed out the market for fair trade business is rising at an exponential rate, compared to other types of farming; also organic food. Media are playing a part in frightening corporations into doing something new; also pressure groups play a role, for example McDonald’s subcontractor, Cargill, who cut down Amazon forests and grew soy products to feed chicken. The Greenpeace publicity campaign was mounted against them; now McDonald’s is key to setting up developing best practices in the Amazon.

Introduction of recycling station (hui shou zhan).
The recyclable goods are donated by private citizens, and have no connection with the Taiwan government’s recycling system. It was explained that there are seven types of recycling the station does: ping (clear plastic bottles); ping (other plastic bottles); guan, guan (green, brown and clear glass bottles); zhe (paper); dian (batteries); yi (clothes); san (3C or computers); wu (5, metal); chi (7, motorcycles, umbrellas etc).

We also discussed how we should “buy only things we need; it’s enough”. Every time we buy something think if it’s necessary to buy it. Do we want it or really need it, and is it necessary? We can also change the way we live our lives daily, in small ways that cut down our personal consumption; eg after drinking a box drink, rinse it out with water then sort it/put it in the right place. Or when the washing liquid is empty, use it one last time by rinsing out and using the residue. Or bring a bowl/chopsticks everywhere so trees are not chopped down. “We can save our planet by eating,” by the food we eat, preferably vegetarian.

We then split into groups and started sorting recyclables. One suggestion (Olaiya) for future such conferences was for there to be actual instruction or a site visit to learn about the production process of turning recycled plastic into ‘new’ items.

Tea ceremony as a way of cultivating a thankful and reflective attitude. Photo: Trista di Genova
Jing Si tea ceremony, with volunteer Andrew LiuDuring the Jing Si (‘still thought’, or ‘quiet thinking) tea ceremony, we learned about the history of tea ceremony 5,000 years ago – in China, not Japan, which perfected their own ceremony. Then we learned how to, with mindfulness and respect: prepare tea, offer tea, accept tea, sip tea and clean utensils. After taking off shoes, go up the step right foot first; when descending, left first. There was meditation beforehand with Chinese music, then we watched the teacher perform the ceremony, which involves warming the leaves, pouring water with raised arm up and down three times; filling the teacups 70%; doing everything with both hands as a means of respect; putting excess water in a separate bowl. Offering tea means thumb on the tray, other fingers beneath, always gripped with 2 hands, then put under left arm when emptied, and both bow: Sipping tea involves right hand with thumb inwards, index finger on outside of cup, rotated as it’s raised, with other hand beneath ‘to protect the cup’. Smell the tea and regard its color first, then sip thrice, wishing: 1) xin jiang hao shi, peace through good thoughts; 2) ko shuo hao hua, speak good words; 3) sen chi hao shi, do good deeds.

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