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Returning Home for a Blessed Lantern Festival

The fifteenth day of the lunar year in 2014, also known as the Lantern Festival, coincided with Valentine’s Day. For the first time, Tzu Chi members celebrated the occasion by gathering at Jing Si Hall; a strong sense of family togetherness was in the air as everyone sat down for a meal together. The occasion was put together by a team of more than fifty employees working behind the scenes. To thank volunteers for their past contributions, they put their hearts and souls into the preparations as they busied themselves with the programme and the site decorations.

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At six in the evening, the Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore) management team kicked off the event with a lion dance item. (Photo by Tan Cheng Hwa)

Jing Si Hall, the spiritual home of the Singapore Tzu Chi volunteers, is situated in Pasir Ris and since its inauguration in 2005, has hosted many talks, camps, training courses and volunteer sharing sessions. On 14 February, 2014, the fifteenth day of the first lunar month, Jing Si Hall came alive with a strong festive spirit. Both its interior and exterior were gaily decked with lanterns and spring festival decorations.

Under the lead of Tzu Chi’s management, the organizing team worked to make the gathering a warm and memorable one, in the hopes of rewarding volunteers for their contributions and support for Tzu Chi activities over the year.

Shouldering Responsibility for a Festive Undertaking

That evening, volunteers returned to their spiritual home in Jing Si Hall after they got off from work. What greeted their eyes was a merry scene of festive decorations, game stands, food stands and a cosy gathering area in the multi-purpose room where volunteers could relax and mingle with each other amidst cups of tea.

“One, two, three, Tzu…Chi!”Right on cue, volunteers flashed a big smile for the cameras. Many volunteers and their families queued up to have their pictures professionally taken in front of the wall mural of the Jing Si Abode which is actually located in Taiwan. All of them were delighted that the photos could be printed out and brought home that very day.

Jing Si Hall had never been so festive in a long time! It was awash in bright red and orange; one saw spring couplets, hanging decorations, mandarin oranges, lanterns and bonsai in artful array amidst the fragrance of tea in the air and warm smiles everywhere. On entering the first level cultural hall, a partition decorated with numerous photographs of Tzu Chi staff proclaimed “welcome home” in huge lettering. Volunteers crowded curiously around the partition, examining the old photographs of staff in their childhood, and trying to match them with their current photos pasted on another panel. Those who guessed correctly could receive a gift specially prepared by the staff. In this light hearted way, volunteers got to know Tzu Chi’s staff.

There was something entertaining for everyone that night. The little ice cream stand set up on the slope outside the building was a hit with children, while those who liked the challenge of brain teasers could engage in the traditional activity of “guessing lantern riddles.”

Tzu Chi staff had racked their brains to come up with an interesting menu for 600 people, and the result of their efforts was a colourful and mouthwatering array of seasonal vegetables, mushrooms and fruits.

From decoration to cooking, staff took pains to bring out the festive flavours, and did not forget to inject a measure of Dharma wisdom into their undertakings. “The vegetable pieces are sliced to about an inch in length so that they are aesthetically more pleasing and also easier to eat. In doing so we are also reminded that we must have a sense of propriety in whatever we do,”said Chiew Lay Moi from the film and video team.

SG20140214 GNA WJX 001Staff began setting up the dining tables at eight o’ clock in the morning; rolling the tables along the ground, it was as if they were turning the wheel of the Dharma. (Photo by Ong Chun Suan)

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As staff busied about in the kitchen carefully slicing the vegetables to about an inch in length, they were reminded that in life, one had to also apply a sense pf propriety in whatever one does. (Photo by Ong Chun Suan)

Decreasing the Distance Between Hearts

At six o’ clock, as the sun set, a bright rainbow appeared overhead, and volunteers were quick to whip out their cameras to capture the auspicious sight.

Volunteers were treated to a lion dance performance by the Tzu Chi management team, and the food was served up accompanied by the loud booming of gongs. With three bows symbolizing the three wishes for the new lunar year to purify the hearts of humanity, harmonize society and have a disaster-free world, the team also hoped that everyone would pass the new year in peace and prosperity.

Emcee for the evening, Liao Jie Ying said “We hope that volunteers will view Jing Si Hall as their home and not just a place where they come for activities or sharing sessions.” Though located in the relatively far off northeastern part of Singapore, it is still Master Cheng Yen’s gift of a spiritual home to all, and it is hoped that everyone will cherish this gift and maximize its usage for the benefit of all. With this end in mind, an interesting programme lineup had been prepared for volunteers.

Through a short video clip, the origins of Tzu Chi and the Jing Si Abode were retraced. The audience was also reminded of the Master’s exhortation of the importance of thrift and hard work, the exercise of self-restraint, and the determination to overcome challenges.

Volunteer Wang De Ming who came with his wife and granddaughter, expressed his delight at having the opportunity to attend the gathering. Wang had known of Tzu Chi since 1995. During those days, Tzu Chi volunteers had borrowed the premises of the Poh Kwan Temple to conduct its distribution events, and he and his wife had helped to give haircuts to the care recipients.

Guo Zhu Ming, another volunteer, praised the meticulous efforts of Tzu Chi staff in making the event a successful one. From the arrangement of the tables, to the decoration and programme for the evening, it was evident how much planning and effort had been put in, even though the event was to last only an hour and a half.

In addition, he shares how he feels: Jing Si Hall is not just a place to conduct Tzu Chi activities, contrary to what most people might think when they first catch sight of the lofty building structure. The event that night brought home this point, and also made community volunteers feel closer to the staff of the various Tzu Chi missions. He hoped that in future, more and more volunteers would joyfully “return home”to Tzu Chi and together, contribute towards the improvement and development of the various missions.

Volunteer Ye Rui Ping was diagnosed with second stage lymphoma in 2013, and though she worried about feeling weak after treatment, she told herself that she could not miss the event. Expressing her gratitude that staff had worked so hard for the sake of the many volunteers, she said that she could indeed experience the feeling of warmth in her heart.

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Apart from staff, there were volunteers who also chipped in to help prepare the dishes. (Photo by Zeng Mei Zhen)

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Secretarial staff Yang Zi Ying realised that organizing events is not an easy task and wished to thank the volunteers by allowing them to enjoy an event that was prepared especially for them. (Photo by Ong Chun Suan)

Persevering on with Mutual Gratitude

In the nine years that Tzu Chi Singapore had moved from its old Chinatown premises to the new Jing Si Hall in Pasir Ris, the four missions of Tzu had grown and the pool of volunteers had likewise increased. In preparing the programme for the night, both management and staff wished to thank the selfless contributions of volunteers over the years.

Starting from a few days ago, staff would take stock of the necessary items, clean utensils, tables and chairs after they officially ended work for the day. More than 400 white plastic chairs were taken out of storage and became spanking clean in preparation for the event.

On the day of the event, by early morning, the empty carpark space at Jing Si Hall had been transformed into a banquet venue for 400 tables, and lanterns had been hung up. In another corner of the premises, staff were seen busily washing, cutting and plating food.

That evening, volunteers got to know the various staff working in Tzu Chi via short video clips that were shown on the big screen and staff wished volunteers a happy new year via the pre-recorded clips. In addition, a light hearted play also introduced to volunteers the daily activities of staff.

Volunteer Bernard Ng said that it was his usual habit to arrive and leave Jing Si Hall in haste,so with the video clips and play, he was able to appreciate the beauty of the premises and gain an insight into the work that staff did. “Even as staff reward the contributions of the volunteers, volunteers themselves can emphatize the efforts and hard work that staff put in; this is a virtuous cycle in action!”

At the close of the evening, CEO of Tzu Chi Foundation Singapore, Low Swee Seh, lead staff in performing a sign language item entitled “Family,” and with much cheer and laughter, the event reached its conclusion. Brother Low hoped that in the new year, everyone could participate in the early morning Dharma sessions and benefit from the teachings. In addition, he welcomed all to return often to their spiritual home that was Tzu Chi. Afterall, Jing Si Hall is just like how the lyrics of the song “Family”describes – a place that is filled with love in every corner.

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Volunteer Wang De Ming, who attended the event with his wife and granddaughter,felt that it was just like attending a huge family gathering. (Photo by Zeng Mei Zhen)

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Staff put up a short skit after dinner  depicting how a normal work day is like for them. (Photo by Chai Yu Leong)

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Volunteer Ye Rui Ping (centre) who suffers from lymphoma, is filled with gratitude after seeing the efforts that staff and management have put in for them. (Photo by Chai Yu Leong)

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Volunteer Bernard Ng says that when staff view volunteers’contributions with appreciation, and volunteers in turn treat the staff with understanding, a virtuous cycle is set in motion. (Photo by Chai Yu Leong)

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Volunteer Guo Zhu Ming (centre) felt that the event has enabled closer bonds to be formed between community volunteers and Tzu Chi staff. (Photo by Chai Yu Leong)

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As volunteers sang along to the lyrics of the song“Family,” lead by staff on stage, they actually felt like members of one big family. (Photo by Wong Twee Hee)

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