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Humanistic Culture

Propagating the Right Practices During the Lunar Seventh Month

“Shark”, “sea turtle”, “roast meat”, “a river” ─ these were just some examples of the exhibits which Tzu Chi volunteers helped transport into the Jing Si Hall for a two-day environmental exhibition, which started on 30 July 2016. It was timed during the seventh lunar month with the objective of educating the public about vegetarianism and environmental protection.

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Tzu Chi’s two-day environmental exhibition which started on 30 July 2016, was timed during the seventh lunar month with the objective of educating the public about vegetarianism and environmental protection. (Photo by Feng Gui Qiong) 

“A pack of joss paper retails for $18.80, that amount can feed us for two days, but some people burn that to ashes!”

A guide stands by a striking exhibit of three joss sticks and three piles of joss paper as he gives visitors some food for thought: when real money is used to buy paper money for burning, is that not equivalent to cold hard cash going up in smoke?

During the seventh lunar month in Singapore every year, regions of HDB flats become “smoke zones” and one can easily see small piles of ashes and ritual offerings on the ground. The burning smell carries with it chemical residues and this lowers the air quality. In addition, the ritual offerings are mostly meat products and such a practice is not in line with the philosophy of “environmental vegetarianism” (going vegetarian to save the earth), which has become popular in recent years .

Tzu Chi Singapore held a two-day environmental exhibition during the seventh lunar month. The event started on 30 July 2016 and attracted some 1,328 visitors. The objective of the exhibition was to educate the public about vegetarianism and environmental protection, where exhibits and interactive games sought to dispel superstitions regarding the seventh lunar month. By education, it was hoped that the public can adopt the right values and beliefs, and take the right actions to protect the earth.

Volunteers set up tents beside the Sungei Api-api, covered the floor and arranged tables and chairs neatly for the convenience of visitors when they changed out of their shoes. In the route leading towards the Jing Si Hall, exhibition zones were set up based on the themes of “Right Faith,” “Conserve our food resources,” “Recycle in daily life,” and “Reduce the use of plastic.” The last zone was set up at the ground floor multi-purpose room in the Jing Si Hall, with the theme of “Co-existing with the earth.”

The exhibition site was designed such that after they had finished touring the zones, visitors could take part in a Q&A game which would reinforce what they had learnt.

Upholding Vegetarianism and Protecting Life

“If only explanations were provided by volunteers, it would be (a situation of) ‘in one ear, out the other.’ With these exhibits providing visitors both visual and tactile experiences, (the learning process) becomes very effective!” said Luo Mei Li, a residents’ committee member, as she viewed the life-like “meat offerings” on display, which included roast pork and fish. Luo was invited to the event by volunteers and was there that day with 40 residents.

The guide explained that people who made ritual offerings normally chose to use meat to show their sincerity and this inevitably results in the loss of many animal lives and causes harm to the environment. Before she left, Luo suggested that the team should go for a vegetarian lunch later.

Patient Bashana learned about the exhibition at the Tzu Chi Free Clinic and decided to go to the event. After knowing that a vegetarian diet can decrease one’s carbon footprint, she decided to uphold vegetarianism for four days a week instead of her usual practice of observing a vegetarian diet three days a week. She also vowed to help out at the recycling point and do her bit for the earth.

Huang Shu Jun brought along her three children with her to the event as she hoped that they could consume vegetarian meals more frequently. Huang herself always ensures that her lunch is vegetarian, and tries to cook more vegetable dishes at home for her children. Her seven-year-old son Liu Zhen Hui took a liking to the Tzu Chi bamboo coin bank and decided to bring one home. Encouraged by volunteers, he made an agreement with his mother that for every vegetarian meal he ate, his mother would give him 20 cents so that he could make a donation into the coin bank.

Decrease the Use of Plastic, Conserve the Oceans

“Rearing cattle needs a lot of land and trees have to be felled for that; in addition, a lot of carbon dioxide is produced in the process of livestock farming,” Huang Xue Qing who had brought along her daughter Wu Jia Hui, was heard repeating what she had learnt to her daughter.

“When we throw plastic bags and rubbish into the sea, the sea turtle will think it is food and consume it. We should not throw rubbish into the sea and on the ground,” the little girl recapped what she had learnt as she timidly pointed at the “turtle,” “shark” and other “sea creatures” hanging in the air.

These “sea creatures” were the craftwork of Tzu Chi volunteers, who had fashioned them from discarded plastic material. They were hung up and surrounded by blue plastic sheets. In the sunlight, the display looked like a scene from the underwater world, yet upon closer examination, one could see that the underwater world was filled with plastic rubbish.

Since end-May this year, Tzu Chi’s Da Ai TV station in Taipei has been running a “Decrease the Use of Plastic” campaign, hoping to educate others on the harm that plastic can wreck on ocean life and encourage people to refuse the use of it. In a show of support, Singapore volunteers decided to create a three-dimensional display of an ocean polluted with rubbish.

Volunteer Li Kui Mian had a flash of inspiration while preparing for the exhibition zone on reducing the use of plastic. He suggested that volunteers walk or ride their bicycles around the nearby residential and industrial areas, picking up plastic rubbish they saw along the way. In just two hours, the 14 of them actually picked up more than 250 pieces of plastic litter.

Commenting that the experience had greatly impacted them, Li said that the volunteers realized the extent of pollution that had been wrought on the environment and it shocked them more than any statistics could, and they now had more conviction in educating the public on the issue. Today, Li himself brings along a plastic bag whenever he rides on his bicycle. He needs it for his new habit—picking up rubbish he sees along the way.

Loving the Earth for the Next Generation

The group of Tzu Chi volunteers had two years of experience (setting up exhibitions) behind them. They started preparations two weeks before the event and set up the exhibition zones the night before.

Lin De Ming, the volunteer docent in charge of the “Co-existing with the earth” exhibition zone, and his team had discussed at length and came to the conclusion that it would not be impactful enough if visitors only saw screened video images. An exhibition of actual models that were installed on site would impact the senses more strongly and drive home the message more effectively.

Eventually the team decided to use the previous year’s model of a flourishing and ailing earth, and with some creativity, they worked within the confines of the multipurpose room and created a winding “river” made of blue plastic bags. “Plants,” “animals,” and “rubbish” were recreated and strategically placed to show how the clear river upstream gradually becomes polluted as it flows downward. The scene of gross pollution thus recreated was a strong visual reminder that jolted the viewer into pondering what sort of environment we are leaving for the next generation.

Grandma Wang Ke Fang is 79 years old this year and was accompanied by volunteer Lian Mei’E upon her arrival. Inspired by the explanation given by Lian, Grandma Wang who often visits the Tzu Chi Free Clinic for medical services, asked her if she could become a volunteer too and do her bit for the earth.

Member of the public Guang Qiu Qin’s father was a Tzu Chi volunteer when he was alive, and had repeatedly invited her to take part in the organization’s recycling activities which she had not had the opportunity to attend thus far. When volunteers arrived at his funeral to say prayers and chant for him, she was moved and became a donating member of Tzu Chi. Guang said: “We should donate the money used to buy joss paper, which can go towards helping more people. Even if we burn joss paper, it is not guaranteed that we will be blessed.”

Guang is active in evening recycling activities and this had had an indirect influence on her 13-year-old daughter Xie Hui Wen. Xie reuses empty body shampoo bottles, and is a member of her school’s green team. Seeing how plastic bottles can be recycled and made into other products, she is amazed and said, “If we want a clean earth we must recycle.”

Correct concepts must be nurtured in our young from an early age, thus ensuring that the right mindsets can be passed down from generation to generation. To save our beautiful planet Earth, let us start from vegetarianism, decreasing consumption, and saying no to burning joss paper!

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There were five exhibition zones set up based on the themes of “Right Faith,” “Conserve our food resources,” “Recycle in daily life,” “Reduce the use of plastic”, and “Co-existing with the earth.” (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)

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A volunteer working on the exhibits a week prior to the exhibition (Photo by Chua Teong Seng)

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Luo Mei Li (with hand raised), a residents’ committee member, went to the exhibition with 40 residents. She later suggested that the team go for a vegetarian lunch. (Photo by Wong Twee Hee) 

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The eldest son (first from left) of Huang Shu Jun (second from right) made an agreement with her that she would give him 20 cents for each vegetarian meal he chalked up. This would go towards his donations into the bamboo coin bank. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)

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Volunteers decided to use the previous year’s model of a flourishing and ailing earth, and with some creativity, created a winding “river” made of blue plastic bags in the exhibit area. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)

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Volunteer Li Kui Mian working on the  display of a polluted ocean in the exhibition zone. (Photo by Feng Gui Qiong)

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Volunteers realised how serious the problem of plastic pollution was when they managed to pick up 250 pieces of plastic litter in just two hours. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)

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Grandma Wang Ke Fang (left) was accompanied by volunteer Lian Mei’E (right) upon her arrival. Wang was later inspired to ask if she could become a volunteer too and do her bit for the earth. (Photo by Wang Jun Xuan)  

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Volunteer guide Lin De Ming (first from right) showing Madam Guang Qiu Qin (first from left) and her daughter (second from left) around the exhibits. (Photo by Wang Jun Xuan)   

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