Just like the meaning of his name, Chen Zhong Hou, a Taiwanese, is a very sincere and simple person. Even though tea planting was new to him, Zhong Hou has taken over the Jing Si San Yi Tea Estate with sheer determination, coupled with his belief of doing good with one’s life, as well as his conviction to nature. Thus, he managed to give a new lease of life to the tea estate, creating a miracle for organic cultivation and opening up a sustainable business model.
Flying all the way to share
Within a short period of seven days from December 9 to 15, 2016, senior Tzu Chi volunteer, Chen Zhong Hou travelled to Melaka, KL, Seremban and Kuantan in West Malaysia, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu in East Malaysia, as well as Singapore to give nine sessions of sharing in the seven cities so that more will get to know the background stories on Jing Si (淨斯) Tea.
The KL sharing session was held at the Gratitude Hall in KL Tzu-Chi Jing Si Hall on December 10. “Isn’t Tzu Chi a charitable organization? Why tea planting? How would the volunteers know about tea planting? Let me share the answers with all of you.” That was the start of the sharing session when Zhong Hou talked about how he became associated with Tzu Chi and his story on tea and the human race.
About 30 years ago, with his two hectares of papaya orchard, the hardworking Zhong Hou laid the foundation of his wealth; and life has been good since then. Once he travelled from Puli, Taichung to Hualien for sightseeing. During the 8-hour bus journey, he watched the video shown on the tourist bus and gathered some basic knowledge on Master Cheng Yen.
Upon reaching Hualien, he was surprised the tour group was not brought to tourist attractions but was instead brought to visit Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital and Jing Si Abode. He was shocked to see the contrasting majestic Hospital with the simple Abode. He was also impressed with Master Cheng Yen giving sermons when she was still sick and on drips.
“Two thoughts came to my mind then. Why didn’t the hospital offer VIP medical treatment to the founder? On the other hand, I was very touched by this Master because, despite her sickness, she prayed to the Buddha and Bodhisattva for instalment of her sickness so that she can carry on relieving the pain and suffering of others, giving sermons and spreading the Dharma.” He was so moved that he decided to join as a Tzu Chi volunteer.
Impermanence versus vow to Master
However, when he reached home, he realized he still had to care for his parents, who had suffered from stroke; his wife, who was still studying night courses; and his young child. Due to the heavy burden of family and career commitments, he shelved the idea of joining as a volunteer. It was in 1999 when the September 21 massive earthquake struck central Taiwan that he became a very active and committed volunteer.
“The earthquake devastated Puli and all my four hard-earned houses collapsed with outstanding bank loans amounting to a few million Taiwanese dollars. Post-earthquake, we stayed in make-shift tents. After carrying out relief work during the day, when I reached home at night, the hard reality of how to cope with the future kept coming to my mind. Every morning when I opened my eyes, I needed money, money, money.”
Few days after the disaster, just when he thought of quitting as a volunteer, he received an invitation to dine with the Master. During her visit to the disaster zone, Master spoke to him at Puli Liaison Office. It was the bowl of “Grand Master Rice” (note), as well as seeing the fragile-looking Master coming down the stairs that the teary-eyed Zhong Hou made a vow to never retreat, to be mindful and to commit his life to shoulder what the Master had entrusted him to do.
Never give up mentality bears fruits
Zhong Hou could still recall vividly the past happenings. He told the audience how the tea estate had, within a period of 100 years, gone through the era of Hakka farmers from Qing Dynasty, Red Tea Company during the Japanese colonial era and later, the Kuomintang Government Ron Lin Company. For the sake of a better livelihood, the farmers applied fertilizers extensively. As a result, the soil condition was badly damaged, thus causing the tea leaves yield to drop, in terms of quality and quantity.
In fact, the original intention of buying this plot of land at San Yi Tea Estate was not so much for planting tea. Instead, it was meant for a Tzu Chi centre, a meeting place for volunteers from the North and the South.
Then when the earthquake struck, the building fund meant for the centre was used for disaster relief purpose. The mobilization of Tzu Chi volunteers from the communities to help in the disaster, and the disaster relief model of Tzu Chi had impressed and touched the kind hearts of many. Consequently, many joined Tzu Chi and more Tzu Chi teams sprouted all over the place like mushrooms springing up after the rain.
Master actually thought the plot of land was originally planted with tea and, as such, should be planted with the same again. However, as the land was so impoverished, it was not possible to apply fertilizers and so on. This had resulted in higher cost but lower output.
In 2009, when the Master entrusted the heavy responsibility to do planting up on the hill, Zhong Hou said: “Master, tea planting is new to me!” Master replied: “Although tea planting is new, but you have been a farmer. Just because it’s new, you surrender?”
Unexpectedly Oolong joins the elite club
Zhong Hou recalled that in the “Legend of the Condor Heroes” (a famous kung fu story) the cheeky old man taught Guo Jing (the hero in this legend) key points of “Jiu Yin Zhen Jing” (a secret kung fu scripture): “Before you learn any new stuff, you must empty whatever you have in your heart. Only by so doing, you can have space for new stuff.”
The problem with San Yi Tea Estate is that because of market demand, it started with the planting of Oolong tea, a supposedly high altitude tea. But, San Yi Tea Estate is a low altitude estate. In order to give life back to the soil, allowing the land to lie farrow, coupled with working on the seasons and weather, are essential before doing any organic farming.
He added, “As you may be aware, green tea, Oolong tea or little leaf red tea can all be produced from the same tea tree. It all depends on the timing of plucking the leaves, drying temperature and fermentation process. We have adopted organic planting, which follows nature’s cycle, free from pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and animal-based fertilizers. Let nature’s cycle of rain and morning mist to nourish the soil back to good health.”
Zhong Hou went on to passionately share his success story of Jing Si Tea: “At the same time, forget about previous experience, seek guidance from other tea growers and start planting the better commercial-valued green tea. Due to San Yi’s location, which faces the Straits of Taiwan, with wind crossing from the North and South, and the sea breeze that brings along sea salt to the tea leaves, an exceptionally high quality of hand-plucked green tea was produced.”
“It was summer. Thanks to the tips from experts, we produced small-leaf red tea instead. With organic farming, the small-leaf red tea produces mild warm taste, which does not hurt the stomach. In 2010, when we started the Oolong tea plantation, we experienced a drought that summer and the tea leaves were barely half an inch long and not ready for plucking. I then prayed for rain and later light rain did come. The tea leaves grew broader and it was our first success with Oolong tea. After many years of hard work and perseverance, I can proudly tell the Master that our Oolong tea has managed to join the elite club,” Zhong Hou proudly said.
Organic certification is the best report card
“Respect nature and be with nature” – that is the success factor of San Yi Tea Estate. It is also another testimony that “mindfulness makes one excellent”. In 2016, Zhong Xin University, a well-recognized authority, issued a certificate of organic farming to San Yi. This is indeed the best report card Zhong Hou could present to the Master.
Ye Tian Qiang, a long-time tea drinker, started drinking tea with his grandmother since young; and tea drinking is now his daily routine as well as spiritual diet. However, with the rampant pollution caused by pesticides, he was worried as to whether tea drinking is good or bad for the body.
“After listening to the sharing by Brother Zhong Hou, I finally found a tea that I can drink comfortably. Thanks to the mindfulness and perseverance of Master and Brother Zhong Hou, we feel very assured now. Though the price maybe slightly dearer, it is still worth it,” Tian Qiang stated.
“In our work, we frequently look at how to make our food more appealing. From today’s talk, I am very impressed with Brother Zhong Hou’s sincerity and his story of hard work and perseverance. This gives me confidence in introducing Jing Si Tea to others,” expressed Chen Xue Wen, a Food Technologist, who came with her mother for the talk. This sharing had given her a good insight into food resources.
Attendee Zheng Jia Mei, a participant at the half-day Tzu Chi Youth Camp, commented that at home, her parents have many varieties of tea that were mostly given by friends. She never realized there are so much efforts involved in the making of tea.
“After listening to the sharing on the processing of green tea, red tea and Oolong tea, only then can I appreciate the significance and story of tea leaves. Next time when drinking tea, I would do it with utmost appreciation and gratitude,” Jia Mei shared.
Because of his kind thought, perseverance and mindfulness, Zhong Hou did not fail in what the Master had entrusted in him; and with that, a legacy of man and tea is written. He flew all the way to Malaysia and Singapore because he wanted to share his fruits of success and the spirit of San Yi tea. Towards the end of his sharing, there was a Q&A session which gave the attendees the opportunity to ask more questions and thus, have confidence and affirmation on Jing Si Tea.
Note: The daily busy workload and many concerns have occasionally affected Master Cheng Yen’s appetite for meals. Whenever the disciples noticed the Master had no appetite, they would use soy sauce to prepare fried rice for her. This specially-prepared fried rice is more appetizing and it has later become a standard meal whenever the Master does her walk-about. When a Tzu Chi Commissioner’s child came to know of this, he also requested his mother to prepare the same for him. The savings were then donated to Master Cheng Yen for charity purpose. This little child coined the term “Grand Master’s Rice” for this soy sauce fried rice.
About 400 attendees were at the KL Tzu-Chi Jing Si Hall for the sharing session. [Photograph by Low Mai Yin]
Tzu Chi Youth, Zheng Jia Mei said when drinking tea next time, she would do it with utmost appreciation and gratitude. [Photograph by Low Mai Yin]
Volunteer serving Jing Si Tea to attendees. [Photograph by Low Mai Yin]
Chen Xue Wen (left) was impressed with Chen Zhong Hou’s sincerity and his story of hard work and perseverance. [Photograph by Low Mai Yin]
Ye Tian Qiang, a tea drinker for many years, was very concerned with the rampant pollution caused by pesticides. Because of this, he was worried as to whether tea drinking is good or bad for the body. He felt relieved after listening to the talk. [Photograph by Low Mai Yin]