Ho Bee Hong is a senior lady over 70 years old who exercises on leisure to keep fit and even coaches others in doing exercise. At home, she has a domestic helper and also filial and successful children. She goes overseas for vacations with the children and grandchildren and lives an affluent, comfortable, carefree and happy life which is the ideal retirement life of many.
At this stage in life, if destiny leads you to Dharma, would you be willing to step out of your comfort zone to become a volunteer, learn new things and serve others?
Among her group of friends who chanced upon Tzu Chi during their morning exercise trips, Ho Bee Hong was the only one who has retained her initial aspiration and worked for it diligently, charting for herself a path filled with beautiful landscapes in life!
Diligent and thrifty – Moving from a humble background into the public eye
Ho Bee Hong’s father left the family when she was a child. Her mother sold pastries carried on a shoulder pole to make a living and brought up her sister and herself. As the family was poor, Ho Bee Hong worked in her cousin’s barbershop after completing primary school. She married a primary school teacher when she was 23 years old and gave birth to two girls and a boy. Teachers did not earn much back then, so her husband gave Chinese tuition after school to earn more income. Ho Bee Hong was thrifty and took care of the family diligently. The couple worked together as a team and the family was happy.
Decades later, her children have grown up one after another. In 2008, her morning exercise companion, Lim Lay Khing introduced Tzu Chi to her group of friends and encouraged them to do charity work together. Out of a sheer wish to do good deeds, Ho Bee Hong became a donor member and decided to make good use of her free time to be a volunteer at Jing Si Books and Café.
As she introduces Tzu Chi’s publications and daily necessities to customers, she gains a deeper understanding of Jing Si’s culture. She also participates actively in charity home visits, free-clinic services, and environmental protection, and other activities. At the ripe age of 70, she has even assumed the leadership role of a community collaboration team, motivating members to perform Tzu Chi work and actively guiding new members.
Dressed modestly and gracefully, soft-spoken, friendly and approachable – this is the common impression that Ho Bee Hong gives others.
Ho Bee Hong would tell people about Tzu Chi whenever she gets a chance. “I will always begin by telling them how Master Cheng Yen became a nun and hope to elicit the love in them." Humble as always, she claims to be non-conversant in English and poor with words but with her sincere attitude and gentle voice, she never fails to inspire others to join the ranks of volunteers to help those in need.
In 2013, Ho Bee Hong was officially certified as a Tzu Chi committee member and was given the Dharma name of Tzu Min. When she went to Hualien, Taiwan for her certification, she had the opportunity to stay at Jing Si Abode as a volunteer. Following the lifestyle of the resident nuns, she woke at 4am daily to commence a day of farming and meditation and was deeply moved by her experience of the ‘no work, no meal’ rule practised by Jing Si Abode.
The Jing Si culture that promotes the use of the abode’s resources makes her more determined to press on with her work. Rain or shine, she continues to perform her duties at Jing Si Books and Café week after week.
Whenever she speaks of Master Cheng Yen, she would subconsciously clasp her palms with full respect for the Master and feels moved from the bottom of her heart. Although she does not fully comprehend the challenges and hardship faced by Master in her early years as a nun studying in a small wooden hut, Ho Bee Hong can relate to the Master’s life because she had led a simple and impoverished life during her childhood.
As she ages, her bones and legs become weaker and her feet are often painful and out of shape when they are swollen. She can no longer stand for long hours nor walk long-distance, but that has not stopped her from her volunteer work. Although her circle of Buddhist friends has expressed their concern, as long as she can walk, she plans to adjust to her condition and continue to fulfil her duties. In the eyes of the community leader, she is one of the strongest members of the team.
The manager of Jing Si Books and Café, Quah Lay Beng is full of praise for her. "Every time Sister Bee Hong is on duty, she will wipe the glass inside and outside the bookstore, greet the guests with a smile and help me with some of my work. I feel relaxed whenever she is around."
Be gentle and kind – Overcome impermanence with Dharma
Ho Bee Hong used to go vegetarian on the 1st and 15th every month. At Tzu Chi, the Master was always encouraging everyone to be a vegetarian to protect lives. She was convinced and decided to become a full vegetarian. Initially, her husband objected as he was worried that she would stop cooking for the family. But Ho Bee Hong only insisted on being a vegetarian herself and did not try to change her family's diet. Gradually, the children shared the benefits of vegetarianism with their father, and her husband became more accepting of her choice and started to eat the vegetarian food she prepared. She is very moved by her son’s support through eating only vegetarian food when he is at home.
Ho Bee Hong is very grateful that under the guidance of the Master, she has learned to adjust her mindset to embrace a “no fighting” mentality, be it with a person, a matter or with the world in performing her duties. She would leave the house for Tzu Chi work and return to tell her husband about it. Her husband understood that there was suffering around the world and was supportive of her work at Tzu Chi. This allowed her to balance her work and family commitment. She is very grateful for her husband's kind understanding and tolerance over the years. She has also learned to let go and to be more composed and candid in her interactions with her family.
The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 has disrupted the lives of many including that of Ho Bee Hong who had to stand face-to-face with the impermanence of life and death.
Before Lunar New Year in 2020, her husband suffered a second stroke and was admitted to the hospital. Although the Circuit Breaker had not been implemented back then, the hospital was very strict with its preventive measures and imposed a limit to the number and age of visitors. Ho Bee Hong was not allowed to visit her husband at the hospital but fortunately, airplanes have been grounded and their son, a pilot, took over the responsibility of caring for his father.
One day, Ho Bee Hong accidentally had a fall. She had to be admitted to the hospital to treat her dislocated shoulder and upper arm fracture. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise when she was warded in the same block as her husband and was then able to visit him daily. "On the second day of the Lunar New Year, I even managed to give him a haircut in the hospital", she recalled.
Ho Bee Hong was discharged from the hospital but her husband was critically ill. She could only bid a sad farewell to him through the mobile phone screen. It was comforting to her that her husband passed on peacefully with his children and grandchildren by his side and his wake could be held at home so that relatives and friends in Singapore and Malaysia could take part in the memorial service.
A year after the passing of her husband, she is still teary whenever she recalls her partner who has shared her life for half a century. Choking with emotion, she said, "Although I was unwilling to say goodbye, it was a relief for him. I will always give him my blessing." The deep affection she has for her husband is beyond description.
Improve with Dharma – Work till the last breath
Ho Bee Hong would seize every chance to encourage others to be kind and charitable, and to persuade caring people to join Tzu Chi. When it comes to questions arising from the incident where Taiwan Tzu Chi was attacked with baseless accusations a few years ago, she would patiently listen to the concerns which the public or committee members have, and clarify matters, hoping to dissipate the misunderstanding they had towards Tzu Chi.
Under Ho Bee Hong’s dedicated guidance, her neighbour Chng Ah Neo and daughter, Bay Poh Guat, engaged in environmental protection step by step, embarked on a journey of selfless love and were both appointed as certified committee members in the year 2020. “During the pandemic, although her arm was injured and her legs were weak, she did not rest at home but persisted on contributing. She is such a role model to me." Bay Poh Guat praised Ho Bee Hong for being sympathetic and caring towards fellow members. Whenever they face difficulties or are not well, she would check on them and show concern, making them feel warm at heart.
Ho Bee Hong started attending the online Dharma Incense Permeation since May last year. She would wake up at 4.30am daily to dress up, switch on her laptop and devoutly chants scriptures and listens to Wisdom at Dawn. She continues to do so today. To be able to go online to listen to Dharma teaching every single day is a huge breakthrough for her.
Lim Lih Fang, the community collaboration team leader, wondered: "When I reach her age, will I be just as brave and overcome my fear of technology?" Ho Bee Hong did not even know how to send text messages in the past but in order to participate in the online Dharma sessions and Tzu Chi activities, with the help of her son, she worked hard to learn to surf the Internet and improved day by day. Today, even if her son is not at home, she is able to go online smoothly!
When Singapore entered Phase 3 of re-opening after Circuit Breaker, there was still a limit set to group sizes. So, many Tzu Chi activities such as training, networking, reading clubs and so on were still conducted online or at volunteers’ homes which were referred to as “Lotus Points”. Whenever a need for a venue arises, Ho Bee Hong would not hesitate to offer her house to the volunteers and would even prepare sumptuous refreshments for everyone. “She always entertains us with the same devotion as she would make offerings to the Buddha, so we love to go to her place for the reading activities”, said Ho Bee Hong’s groupmate, Tan Bee Hong.
“Just like how the Master stands firm and is not affected by anyone or anything in life, I will uphold Tzu Chi's bodhisattva way right to my last breath!” Ho Bee Hong's gentle eyes sparkled with devotion and determination. Thanks to Tzu Chi, her golden years are now filled with tremendous joy and purpose.