Volunteering at Tzu Chi Jingsi Books & Café in Yishun was my first volunteering activity since I joined Tzu Chi in July 2021. I remembered feeling surprisingly tranquil inside the cafe on that Saturday morning although it was my first time volunteering as a service crew to serve customers and I was already at a senior age. The café was eventually filled up with customers toward the afternoon but the atmosphere remain the same.
Since that first experience, I have since volunteered on a regular schedule every Wednesday morning and Saturday afternoon. While serving customers required full attention on the job at all times, I felt fortunate to have the opportunity to work in such a tranquil and beautiful environment and I took some notes from my time there for personal reflection.
I always wondered what made the tranquil atmosphere at the Jingsi Books and Café, and I eventually made my own conclusion that it is due to a combination of the harmonious co-existence amongst the various objects in the premise, from the inspiring spiritual books by Master Cheng Yen on display, the healthy natural products sold and served, the minimalist and tasteful set up of the place, the green and beautiful view of the Yishun pond, and more importantly, the genuine and friendly people working and frequenting the café whose behaviour reflects the values taught and advocated by Master Cheng Yen in terms of compassion, kindness and the spirit of giving. Collectively they generate positive and peaceful energy and create a calming atmosphere. I noticed customers were usually deeply engrossed in their works or reading and would converse in thoughtful low voices. Most of the time they would go outside to take the phone calls so as not to disturb other customers although the café doesn’t have such a rule.
I have learnt many valuables lessons while volunteering at Jingsi Books & Café. While it is run by a charity organization and volunteers, the cafe practices a high standard of customer service and professionalism. I was inspired by the strong spirit of saving the environment being practised and advocated by the staff and the customers. Whenever possible we would try to re-use and recycle. I saw most of the time customers brought their own bags when making a purchase at the café. I also learnt to live well and consume more healthy plant-based foods.
During my volunteering at the café, I have come across many humbling experiences. I have met a humble-looking elderly gentleman who visited the cafe several times just to bring in the Tzu Chi bamboo bank full of heavy coins plus several hundred dollars worth of notes. On one occasion, I saw an elderly lady looking curiously and unsure through the glass window. She was still hesitant when I invited her to come in so I assured her that she could just look around at the products or browse through the books. She spent some time browsing through Master Cheng Yen’s books so I decided to give her some space and attended to other activities. I thought I would be happy if at the end of the day someone new would learn a bit more about Master Cheng Yen and her teachings and wisdom through browsing the books and the various healthy natural products sold in the cafe. Little did I expect that she would end up purchasing two books by Master Cheng Yen and a full range of noodles and oatmeal. It was one of the highest single purchases from a customer I have seen during my time volunteering at the café.
Volunteering at the Jingsi Books & Café allowed me to read some of the books by Master Cheng Yen when the café was not that busy. I have since learned a bit more about Master Cheng Yen and her teachings and wisdom.
I would like to end my reflection by sharing the following quote from Master Cheng Yen: “In the reservoir of life, time is limited. Each morning as we open our eyes, we should realise that there is only so much time. Time unused is time wasted. Not only should we make good use of each day, but we should also seize every moment to do good deeds and accumulate merit.”