Sixty-seven-year-old Thiew Chai Wan, who lives alone, never craved for extravagant dishes but is contented with a simple meal to fill his stomach. His meals for a day could be a dish like stir-fried onion omelette with baked beans served with rice.
On the table in his living room were a few cans of food, like preserved vegetables, pickles and fermented bean curds, which he had stored up for his consumption anytime. “Price of goods have gone up a lot, including canned food,” said Grandpa Thiew, who cited that the price for canned baked beans had increased tens of cents within a short period of time. “I can’t afford to eat out often as things get very expensive and that is a burden to me.” He complained that a packed lunch will now cost at least RM5 instead of RM1.20 back in his younger days.
Living with inflation, one has to plan expenses wisely. When he is tired of cooking, Grandpa Thiew would opt for takeaway food, or eat out at a restaurant that provides free food for elderly people.
Grandpa Thiew lives a frugal lifestyle, where he only spends on daily meals and necessities, and some grocery. He hardly spends on clothing, and was wearing a pair of shorts with obvious traces of mending. He remarked nonchalantly, “It doesn’t matter as I only wear it at home.” He would accept happily when volunteers deliver secondhand clothes to him.
Closer than blood relation
Grandpa Thiew’s health has been deteriorating as age is catching up on him. He was hospitalized in July 2016 due to irregular heartbeats and pleural effusion. He had to quit his part-time dishwashing job at a restaurant due to poor health, and lives on subsidies of around RM500 from Tzu Chi and the Social Welfare Department. When he feels better, he would cycle around to collect recyclables, earning some extra allowances from the sales’ proceeds.
Conversation between Grandpa Thiew and volunteers was interrupted occasionally as he coughed acutely in the midst of talking. He sighed over the signs of aging that he was experiencing, like weakened heart, frequent panting, and other bodily aches. He also showed the volunteers various medications prescribed to him recently. As he is poorly literate and had difficulty identifying the medications, he just consumes them according to the time and dosage written in Chinese on the packaging. According to him, the instructions were written by volunteer Loo Mei Fong, for his easy reference, and to ensure that he is not taking the wrong medications. He said, “She visits me often on her motorbike. There is another ‘brother’ who often fetches me to the clinic. They are very nice people!” The “brother” that he mentioned is volunteer Yong Teck Pey, who is ever ready to extend a helping hand to him.
Pointing at his eyes, Grandpa Thiew shared, “It was Tzu Chi volunteers who brought me for my cataract surgery, and it was free of charge!” Grandpa Thiew was among the first batch of beneficiaries to receive free cataract surgery provided by Pantai Hospital to the low-income group, thanks to a joint effort between Tzu Chi and the Hospital in 2013.
Different teams of volunteers have been taking turns to visit Grandpa Thiew since 2010, extending their care and rendering assistance to him. Over time, they have developed a strong bond of trust. Although the Grandpa could not remember the name of each and every volunteer who had visited him, the warm feeling of being surrounded by the uniformed volunteers was unforgettable. He would refer to the volunteers when he encountered difficulty in understanding some documents. Whatever problems he faced, the first thing that would come to his mind was also the volunteers. During festive seasons, volunteers would deliver festive goods to him. This year, they even had Chinese New Year reunion meal with him, just like a family gathering.
Save to gain merits
Being elderly and childless, and with no relatives close by or in regular contact, Grandpa Thiew made a significant decision at the end of 2016 to donate RM6,000, which took him years to save, to Tzu Chi. He said, “I want to donate to gain merits.”
Although Grandpa Thiew has been a thrifty person, he is generous and willing to give. Aware of his financial standing, volunteers advised him to save the money for emergency use or for his daily expenses, but he declined and insisted by saying, “It’s OK, I can save on myself and I don’t need much.” Then, he added simple-mindedly, “I am worried if I pass away suddenly or spend unnecessarily, hence, it is better that I donate it now.”
This was not an impulsive decision, but was made after years of personal interactions and observations, which led Grandpa Thiew to conclude that Tzu Chi is a trustworthy organization. According to him, “We must be careful when entrusting our hard-earned money. It cannot simply be given to anyone to avoid abuse of funds.” As for Tzu Chi, he has absolute faith and trust in the Foundation from his own experience and through information obtained from the Da Ai TV.
His television was given by Tzu Chi volunteers, who also installed Da Ai TV channel for him. His favourite is the evening news, which he watches daily to keep himself abreast of world events. He said, “I saw (on the Da Ai TV) that Tzu Chi volunteers are helping many needy people worldwide. When a disaster occurs, they will deliver relief supplies and cook for the victims. Master Cheng Yen also urged us not to forget anyone who is in need!” He remembers all the good deeds done by Tzu Chi volunteers globally, and the seeds of love have sprouted within him as time passes.
Sources of Tzu Chi’s funds
Apart from the RM6,000 donation receipt, there were other receipts of RM3, RM4, RM10-plus and so on, which he donated using his savings in his bamboo bank. Although not much, it was the thought of helping others that counts.
“Tzu Chi is not a wealthy organization. Its funds come from public donations and proceeds from the sale of recyclables. Tzu Chi uses its funds carefully. For my case, I get subsidy only after showing medical documentation to prove my illness.” Grandpa Thiew understood that raising charitable funds is not easy, hence, he contributes his efforts in addition to his monetary donations.
“I started doing recycling a year after Tzu Chi volunteers’ initial visit.” It was marked on his wall calendar that February 26 is the “Recycling Day” – a thoughtful note written by volunteer Chiew Lay Hsia to remind Grandpa Thiew to go for recycling activity on that day. Grandpa Thiew was absent from recycling activity for a while when he was unwell. But now that he is feeling better, he has agreed to continue with the activity.
Teck Pey, who has been caring for Grandpa Thiew for more than two years now, accompanied him to Tzu Chi Melaka to make the donation. He remarked that the Grandpa is an elderly who is rich at heart; and he expressed his joy over the Grandpa’s generosity. There were occasions where Grandpa Thiew would request volunteers to deliver his excess groceries from other charities to others who were in need. Teck Pey commented, “Grandpa Thiew’s spirit is worth emulating. Besides making donations, we can always make time and efforts to help others.”
On the wall of Grandpa Thiew’s room was the display of the words “Tzu Chi”, which was cut out from an outdated Tzu Chi monthly magazine. When inquired why he did that, he replied shyly, “I just wanted to look at it. Nothing else.”
He likes to put important documents and information on the wall, like the letter of subsidy payment from the Social Welfare Department, medical record card, Tzu Chi donation receipts and others. Perhaps, “Tzu Chi” holds a significant meaning in his heart.
Grandpa Thiew lives alone, and is contented with his simple lifestyle. Albeit materially poor, he is rich at heart. He has demonstrated to us that true wealth comes from a contented and generous heart that is always at ease.
Leading a frugal lifestyle, Thiew Chai Wan always consumes only canned food plus a few eggs for his daily meals. [Photograph by Yong Siew Lee]
Different groups of volunteers have been taking turns to care for Thiew Chai Wan since 2010. Thus, a strong bond of trust has gradually developed between them. Picture shows volunteers, Yong Teck Pey and Chiew Lay Hsia interacting with the Grandpa. [Photograph by Ngow Yoon Yoon]
So long as his health allows, Thiew Chai Wan will contribute his effort in recycling. [Photograph by Lee Chin Seong]
A joint effort between Tzu Chi and Pantai Hospital in 2013 had enabled Thiew Chai Wan to receive a free cataract surgery at the Hospital. [Photograph by Ngow Yoon Yoon]
Tzu Chi volunteers brought Thiew Chai Wan a television and installed Da Ai TV channel for him. [Photograph by Loh Siew Chien]