“Come, here’s your hot coffee!” retailer Du Cheng Bao smiles as he hands over the beverage to his customer. A regular face for the past five years at the annual Tzu Chi charity bazaar, Du’s piping hot coffee is served up in a hearty mug this year as he has heeded Tzu Chi’s call for waste reduction by doing away with paper cups. With 33 mugs ready, he calculated that with approximate sales of 200 cups of coffee a day, he would avoid 400 paper cups being thrown away as waste over the two-day bazaar! He breezily said that after the event, he would store them away for use again next year.
To many Tzu Chi members and business people, the yearly Tzu Chi charity bazaar is like a fixed appointment, no matter how busy they may be, they still hope to do their part for its success. Some even took leave from work and brought along family and friends to the event. About 12,000 people were at the bazaar from 23 to 24 January 2016, and it was a bustling affair with the rise and fall of music and cheery calls from vendors lending a festive air all around.
Apart from exhorting visitors to “celebrate the lunar new year with kindness, “ Tzu Chi took the opportunity to promote vegetarianism and recycling. Years ago, it started advocating that visitors to the bazaar bring their own shopping bags and utensils, as well as carrying out recycling on site. In addition, through this special “green bazaar”, it hopes to see a reduction in the amount of rubbish produced and to promote the concept of “eating till 80% full” in order to reduce the consumption and wastage of resources.
Applying Green Concepts to Daily Life
“I remember that a few years ago, we did not provide shopping bags to customers and many of them were not used to it; now everyone arrives with their own shopping bag,” said Xu Yuan Xiong, one of the vendors at the bazaar.
The owner of a confectionary store, Xu has been supporting the bazaar over the last four years. This year, he sponsored 800 tins of new year goodies. He had observed that the planning and logistics of the bazaar was well done and systematic, plus every volunteer took their job seriously. Thus he felt very happy to be part of the team.
The recycling team involved in this year’s charity bazaar made some changes this year by strengthening the message of reducing consumption in order to support the green cause. They did this by displaying the slogan urging everyone to “consume till 80% full” at the food stalls instead of at the dining tables, so that the message to decrease food wastage could be brought across more directly at the point of purchase.
A few teams of Tzu Chings (Tzu Chi’s collegiate volunteers) also shuttled busily among the crowd with posters strapped to their backs advocating the same message. Lin Yi Shi said, “I’m really surprised that people respond so warmly to us; some will stop and ask questions out of curiosity and some encourage us by saying that young people should do meaningful things like this and request to take pictures with us. This made us overwhelmed!”
Wang Yu Jiao, a member of the public, said that she would be adjusting her dietary habits to include more greens as consuming a vegetarian diet can both protect lives and save the earth. She is inspired by the words of Dharma Master Cheng Yen (founder of Tzu Chi) to save small amounts of money to help others in need, and wants to return the three Tzu Chi “bamboo coin banks” which her daughter and her have filled up with donations to Tzu Chi.
“The 3Rs (Reuse, Reduce, Recycle) of recycling have been expanded to become the 5Rs in Tzu Chi, where “Refuse” and “Repair” are what the organization emphasizes on when it talks about “purity at source” and “extending the useful life of consumables,” explained Tzu Ching member Xiao Jia Chen. Having taken on the role of promoting awareness of recycling to the public during the bazaar, he and his team has decided to present their message visually. A big bucket filled with water was one of the displays and it showed the amount of running water used in three minutes during a shower.
Two staff members of the United World College SEA (UWCSEA) and six students also dropped by at the bazaar to observe how Tzu Chi carried out its recycling and trash management efforts.
Takamitsu, a Japanese student, was able to promote a “Thursday recycling day” at school after observing the Tzu Chi charity bazaar last year. The objective of his activity is to raise awareness of recycling among his schoolmates, and encourage them to engage in recycling. Takamitsu was in the team responsible for washing plates during this year’s bazaar, and was amazed at the systemic efficiency in the way things were done.
As the UWCSEA would be organizing a “Students’ Day” event in April, he planned to do what Tzu Chi did and set up a utensils washing area and do away with single-use (disposable) ones. He also saw the opportunity to spread the recycling philosophy among students and their parents.
A Yearly Appointment to Create Positive Affinities
Just like in previous years, the bazaar was demarcated into separate zones for (vegetarian) food, festive goods, recycling awareness and promotion, Jing Si books and natural products, etc.
The bustling fair conducted in such an orderly manner also attracted many passersby. Filipino Noma brought along her grandson and greeted volunteers warmly. She was familiar with Tzu Chi as they had received financial aid for her husband’s laser eye surgery four years ago. “I’m so glad to see Tzu Chi members here! Not only does the organization help the needy in Philippines, it also organizes a charity bazaar in Singapore; it’s very commendable!”
More than 800 volunteers help out at the charity bazaar which aimed to raise funds for the Tzu Chi Foundation’s local charitable work every year. In particular, members who normally do not have time to attend its activities will make time to help out and catch up with fellow members.
To Tzu Chi beneficiary Mr Li, helping others is a meaningful way to repay the financial assistance he received from the organization for his dialysis treatment. He accepted volunteer Zhang Ai Hua’s invitation to help wash vegetables at the food zone, and though it was not easy for him to sit still on a small chair due to the leg supports he was wearing, he remained cheerful as he worked.
When he first interacted with Tzu Chi members, he was distrustful and wary but after the care that Zhang had shown him over the past year, he opened his heart to them. Since last year, he has volunteered to help out at the Tzu Chi Free Clinic once a week and this year is his second year assisting at the bazaar. He described the experience as a self-development opportunity and said that he treated the whole affair as a means to cultivate himself.
The bazaar occupied some 3,500 sqm of space on the piece of land beside the Pasir Ris MRT station and had 48 food stalls in its confines. Such a large-scale bazaar is rare, and managing the food safety aspects as well as the utilities supply was a big challenge. These efforts, as well as contacting the stall holders, had to be planned two months prior to the event. A week before the bazaar, installations of the necessary had to be underway. Wang Wei Xun, the coordinator for the bazaar, described the provision of such facilities as a mammoth task, especially since without a water supply, the bazaar could not proceed.
In the past, they had faced many hiccups in the logistics and planning that had the organizing team worried; the water supply would only be confirmed the day or two before the event. However, since ironing out what was required in the process, they now apply to the Public Utilities Board first for the disposal of used water, while requesting a water supply and pipe connection from the Pasir Ris MRT station. The success of the event was reliant on many committed entrepreneurs and the respective authorities.
The organizing team is made up of some four to five entrepreneurs, and Wang has been the overall coordinator for the past nine years. Though he may experience dealing with complicated details and differing viewpoints, he has never thought of abandoning his post and sees the responsibilities as part of his life. This is because the charity bazaar is a platform for more people to get to know Tzu Chi; moreover, it is also an avenue for many to form positive affinities with others.