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Last updateWed, 11 Nov 2015 11am

Saturday, 20 December 2014 00:00

Glowing Golden Years

Written by  Tan Kim Hion, KL & Selangor / Translated by Eg Zhong-Qi

Five days every week, Goh Siew Mooi is at the Jinjang Market, collecting donations and telling everyone about Tzu Chi. [Photograph by Low Mai Yin]

On December 20, 2014, volunteer Goh Siew Mooi, together with her husband, Law Peng Keon, and son, Law Ti Erh, stood in front of a large audience at the 2014 Tzu Chi Year-end Blessing Ceremony to share about her blissful golden years.


 
Enjoying life, not knowing what awaits her
 
Siew Mooi’s story must begin in her youth. At the mere age of 12 or 13, Siew Mooi left with her mother and siblings on a journey from mainland China to Malaysia to be reunited with her father, who was working there. As far as she can remember, even though the days were bitter and tough, they were peaceful, allowing her to successfully flourish into adulthood.
 
After marriage, her relationship with her husband was close and blissful. Her husband, Law Peng Keon, recalls that when he first wanted to start a business, he did not have a single ringgit to his name to be used as capital. When faced with this dilemma, Siew Mooi did not think twice about selling her valuables so that her husband could start his business.
 
This gesture of kindness and selflessness was forever etched in his mind. He will also never forget that during one particular year when the nation was facing a severe financial crisis, his construction business was hit hard. In order to provide for her four children, Siew Mooi decided to become a food vendor, selling mixed rice, and making coffee. Working from early in the morning till late at night, those few months were filled with untold hardships. But Siew Mooi braved through them all with a smile on her face, saying “Even though life is hard, my children are very filial and are mature enough to take care of themselves.” She feels that her efforts are not in vain.
 
“After the financial crisis, my husband’s business improved progressively. I was also no longer a vendor, but took care of the kids at home while helping my husband organize accounts and other trivial matters.”
 
Siew Mooi was grateful that she survived the tough times. As her children grew up and her husband’s business stabilized, she picked up on trendy things and branded products. She dyed her hair a deep red, painted her nails with flashy polishes, and loved wearing lipstick. Spending RM300/- to RM400/- on a bottle of perfume was nothing to her. Her shoes and handbags had to be branded, and she bought more and more of them. Despite all this lavish spending, she was never satisfied and was always feeling like her closet was still missing that dress or one pair of shoes.
 
Besides being materialistic, going on an overseas vacation with the husband became one of her annual plans. Siew Mooi believed that the only way to enjoy life was to play all day and buy plenty of branded products. And to make matters worse, at some point, she also started buying anything at her whims and fancies. Even though she never looked at or used these items again, she never regretted buying them.
 
“At the time, I thought that living like that was very blessed. It was only in 2010 when my doctor discovered a spur in my lower back that I realized money could not buy health or true happiness but only fulfil temporary materialistic desires.”
 
Siew Mooi was initially ready to enjoy her golden years in style. But, the spur in her back slowly put pressure on her nervous system, causing great pain to both her legs; and that made it difficult for her to even walk. The only way to reduce the pain was through getting painkiller shots.
 
Before her condition worsened, the pain was not uncontrollable. Instead, there were good days and bad days. When the pain kicked in, it kicked in hard. Indescribable pain would rack Siew Mooi’s body and she would need her son and her husband to essentially carry her up the stairs one step at a time. With her in such a state, the household chores naturally fall on her husband.
 
Siew Mooi said, “Looking back, I am so grateful to my husband. He went far and wide looking for medical practitioners or traditional Chinese doctors that were recommended to him, to treat me. One could even say that we have been to every single doctor in Malaysia. We even gave home remedies a try, but to no avail.”
 
After three whole years, and having had enough of pain and suffering, and still failing to find a successful treatment, doctors encouraged her to undergo surgery. However, there was only a 50 percent chance of recovery from an illness that had plagued her for so long. Also, there was a potential risk that she could be paralysed and confined to a wheelchair after the surgery. Faced with such an uncertain future, her family was adamant against her going through with the surgery.
 
The first step in recruiting members
 
In 2010, Siew Mooi’s son, Ti Erh, was introduced to Tzu Chi, and frequently participated in Tzu Chi’s activities after work, sometimes only getting home around 11 or 12 o’clock at night. Worried that her son was involved in some sort of scam, Siew Mooi would always call him to confirm his location and safety. To put his parents at ease, Ti Erh arranged for Da Ai TV to be installed at home, allowing the two of them to understand Tzu Chi better.
 
“At the end of 2010, before the leg pains started occurring, Ti Erh had already taken me to join Tzu Chi, where I participated in volunteer classes and recycling events. Even after the pain got out of hand, and moving around became difficult, I would just sit there and help pile up newspapers or whatever. Just being at the recycling centre and chatting with fellow volunteers was greatly uplifting for me,” shared Siew Mooi. Even though Siew Mooi was facing health issues, she would head over to Tzu Chi and lend a hand whenever her health condition allowed. 
 
Karmic affinity is an incredible thing. Once at the recycling centre, volunteer Soh Geok Suan mentioned a Traditional Chinese medicine practitioner specializing in healing back spurs. Initially, Siew Mooi did not want to see this doctor, but at her husband’s insistence, she finally gave in.
 
After three months of treatment, the pain in Siew Mooi’s legs gradually disappeared, and with it, the spur in her back. During those three months, Siew Mooi, a devout Buddhist, prayed to the Buddha with a wish that should she recover successfully, she would give all her time and energy into doing good things and for Tzu Chi.
 
It is only when one is sick that one learns the value of being healthy and the frailty of life. In the September of 2013, Siew Mooi completed her treatment, and immediately launched herself into the world of Tzu Chi. Joining anything from study groups to home visits, she became as busy as Ti Erh. Eventually, even her grumbling husband was persuaded into joining them.
 
Peng Keon loves his wife more than anything in the world, and naturally was worried about her going about her events alone in her weakened state. And so, he decided that wherever she wanted to go, he would be right beside her. In doing so, he gradually discovered the inspiring power that Tzu Chi has that is used to help so many people.
 
“Now, he is my personal bodyguard-cum-chauffeur. Wherever I go, he follows,” Siew Mooi pointed to Peng Keon, with a dazzling smile. The fact that her husband is willing to join her and their son in walking on the path to enlightenment, is her biggest consolation. As it turns out, Siew Mooi has long wanted to respond to Master Cheng Yen’s call of recruiting one million donating members.
 
“That time (2013), I heard from the Master on Da Ai TV that we should all recruit donating members to allow everyone to find kindness within oneself. If there are a million such members, there will be a million good people. That way, society would not be in disarray and be peaceful for everyone instead. I thought it made a lot of sense, and therefore, I was inspired to do more recruiting work,” said Siew Mooi.
 
To Siew Mooi, recruitment is not hard but requires the support of the people around us; and her husband is her biggest backup in this grand mission. In 2013, she joined a community medical event, where one of the team leaders invited her to talk to the masses about Tzu Chi, and to make them find love in their hearts. Initially, she was afraid to do it, but as she gradually warmed up to everyone, some 60-plus new members were recruited that day, and she was personally responsible for 29 of them.
 
Even though it was her first experience in promoting Tzu Chi, she had touched all present; and Siew Mooi’s confidence was also greatly boosted. Therefore, after recovering from her illness, she bravely took the first step in recruiting.
 
Reporting to Bodhisattvas and the Master daily
 
How does one recruit? Where does one start? Who do we start with? Siew Mooi thought about the Jinjang Market, because most of the people she knew were always there. Also, the vendors there were frequently doing good and nice things for other people. When it came to fundraising and what not, they were always ready to chip in.
 
Siew Mooi informed, “The first person I thought of was a pork vendor named Yaw Kim Poh, because I have seen the very generous side of him when it came to donating. Therefore, he was the first one I approached.”
 
She poured her heart out about Tzu Chi and Great Love with confidence, but surprisingly, Kim Poh turned her down immediately. Not to be put down by one small rejection, she turned to other vendors in the market. This slowly became her daily “job”.
 
Once, she spent an entire morning holding a Tzu Chi Monthly Journal, tirelessly talking to all who would listen about Tzu Chi. Her admirable efforts earned Tzu Chi 37 new members. Despite the dryness in her mouth and extremely tired legs, she felt contented when she saw goodness being inspired within each and every person she spoke to.
 
When she went to a hair salon to collect donations, and noticed that it was filled with patrons, she grabbed the opportunity to seek the owner’s permission and start talking about Tzu Chi. Within three hours, she had recruited 17 more members.
 
She revealed, “When I have successfully recruited people, I am always filled with joy. Once home, I will deliver a daily report to the Bodhisattvas, as well as, a portrait of the Master on how many new members I have found that day.”
 
Whenever Siew Mooi mentions recruiting, she lights up with a brilliant smile. To her, recruiting is important. No matter the number of people she successfully recruits, she records each donor’s name, occupation, address, contact number and donation amount in detail in her journal. Working her way from a small exercise book to a larger writing pad, the names in it gradually increased. From September 2013 until present day, she has completed four books filled with names of over a thousand donating members.
 
Siew Mooi could not be more grateful for every single one of the members. She also records in a diary the interesting or different stuff that happened to her while recruiting. There are uplifting and sad entries, as well as, those that tell of how she endured through the gossip and the shame thrown at her. 
 
In the market, there is one particular vendor, known as the ‘Black Patriarch’, who looked down on Siew Mooi. Assuming she had no money and was there to beg for her own benefit, he sneered at her on numerous occasions. Despite that, she did not lose her temper, but instead thanked him. When he saw her smile each time, he stopped his horrible actions and even decided to donate some money. Touched by her desire to do good, other less charitable vendors also donate their share.
 
Siew Mooi has met impatient customers at coffee shops on many occasions. When they chased her away, she would simply bow and say “thanks”. Her determination and manners gave her the utmost respect from the shop-owners, who would even offer to collect donations from their customers on her behalf.
 
One particular entry in her diary that stands out in her mind took place in a vegetarian restaurant, where she met an old lady eating with her family. When she approached the family to talk about Tzu Chi, she was immediately chased away by the old lady, saying that they were there to eat, not donate money to people like ‘you’.
 
In situations like that, Siew Mooi would usually bow politely and apologize. The second time they met, Siew Mooi gave her a warm smile, but it was ignored by the old lady. At the third meeting, Siew Mooi greeted her once again and quickly turned to leave. But to her surprise, when the elderly woman had finished her meal, she gestured to Siew Mooi to go over to her table. Naturally, Siew Mooi was a little nervous.
 
“The old woman told me that she had been watching me, going on and on about Tzu Chi, but no matter how the other person reacted, I would not lose my cool. She knows that I wholeheartedly want everyone to do good. So, she decided to donate. As I received the money from her, I was truly touched,” she related.
 
Sincerity can open up anyone’s heart to love and kindness. The old woman’s commendation greatly strengthened Siew Mooi’s resolve to help her fellowman. From that moment on, no matter where she went, or who she met, she would help them in the way she knew best.
 
Walking on the Bodhisattva Path diligently and patiently
 
Siew Mooi shared, “To walk the Bodhisattva Path, one must practice the Dharma. With that said, when I am out recruiting, no matter what kind of unkind words or unfriendliness I face, I take it as practice. As I aspire to walk the Path, this is my inevitable homework.”
 
When Siew Mooi recalls her recruiting endeavours, getting yelled at or chased away has never shaken her confidence, because she believes the Master’s words that everyone has innate Buddha-nature and the potential of reaching enlightenment. They just need a little motivation and guidance from the right people.
 
Despite the scolding and rejection by Kim Poh, the butcher, on more than 20 occasions, she was undaunted and would still head for his stall and start talking to him about Buddhist principles. She felt that because of their good rapport established through her frequent purchase of pork from him before she became a vegetarian, she owed it to him to guide him down the right path. She reasoned with him to stop slaughtering pigs. She added, “Kim Poh has been a butcher for many decades, and he slaughters more than 20 pigs daily. If I can convince him to stop, it would be equivalent to saving countless lives.” 
 
Unable to bear the loss of lives, Siew Mooi was motivated to repeatedly talk to Kim Poh about ‘samsara’, the endless cycle of birth and death, and the suffering that comes with being trapped in it. Once, Kim Poh suffered a stroke, and was left lying in the intensive care unit for three whole weeks. When he was finally discharged from the hospital and returned to selling pork, Siew Mooi selflessly decided to lend him a hand when he could not even pronounce words properly and messed up his accounts. While doing that, she never gave up on spreading her message.
 
One day, touched by her kindness, Kim Poh finally revealed to Siew Mooi that in the past, he had been cheated out of a great deal of money by unscrupulous people pretending to be collecting donations for charity. As such, whenever there is a fundraising for charity, he would be wary. He also told Siew Mooi that he never enjoyed being a butcher, but he has a family to support, and switching jobs at this point would be impossible.
 
Upon hearing Kim Poh’s plan to stop slaughtering pigs, Siew Mooi was filled with joy. Since then, Kim Poh has changed his business from the actual killing of pigs to only an outlet that purchases pork for sale. He has never regretted his decision, for the pain of illness had led him to believe in the Karmic Law of Cause and Effect. Kim Poh also promised Siew Mooi that he would slowly stop killing altogether.
 
Following that incident, other volunteers have lovingly called Siew Mooi the ‘Pig-saving Bodhisattva’. What she does every single day is far from easy. But so long as she successfully talks someone into doing one good thing, she feels that it has all been worth it. When she is out collecting donations, she is also imparting priceless knowledge to them on how they can better their lives for themselves, as well as, others.
 
Realizing what she does is actually an act of purifying minds, Siew Mooi is not concerned about how tough or how tiring it is. Five days every week, she is at the Jinjang Market reporting for duty, collecting donations and telling everyone about Tzu Chi. The new Siew Mooi, the one we know and love, works hard to make the Master’s three vows – “Purify the human minds, a harmonious society, and a world free of disaster ” – a reality.
 
• 
 
Having given up on branded products and returning to the purest, most natural being, Siew Mooi’s old friends are always shocked to see how far she has come when they meet. They also envy her for her successful pursuit of inner happiness. Siew Mooi is ever so grateful to be given a second chance to see another side of life and to give love and bliss to everyone around her.
 
 
In response to the Master’s call for the recruitment of a million Malaysian donating members, Goh Siew Mooi actively promotes Tzu Chi to everyone, even at a vegetarian restaurant. [Photograph by Wang Kum Choon]   Most of the vendors at Jinjang Market have been recruited by Goh Siew Mooi as donating members. [Photograph by Low Mai Yin]

In response to the Master’s call for the recruitment of a million Malaysian donating members, Goh Siew Mooi actively promotes Tzu Chi to everyone, even at a vegetarian restaurant. [Photograph by Wang Kum Choon]
 
Most of the vendors at Jinjang Market have been recruited by Goh Siew Mooi as donating members. [Photograph by Low Mai Yin]
 
With great determination and compassion, Goh Siew Mooi finally managed to persuade butcher Yaw Kim Poh to change his business from the actual killing of pigs to only an outlet that purchases pork for sale. [Photograph by Low Mai Yin]   Goh Siew Mooi could not be more grateful for every single one of the members. She records their personal details in exercise books. [Photograph by Low Mai Yin]

With great determination and compassion, Goh Siew Mooi finally managed to persuade butcher Yaw Kim Poh to change his business from the actual killing of pigs to only an outlet that purchases pork for sale. [Photograph by Low Mai Yin]
 
 
Goh Siew Mooi could not be more grateful for every single one of the members. She records their personal details in exercise books. [Photograph by Low Mai Yin]
 
Goh Siew Mooi recorded her inspiring or sad encounters in her journal. [Photograph by Low Mai Yin]   Before joining Tzu Chi, Goh Siew Mooi was one for fashion and branded products. Going on an overseas vacation with her husband was one of her annual plans. [Photograph courtesy of Goh Siew Mooi]

Goh Siew Mooi recorded her inspiring or sad encounters in her journal. [Photograph by Low Mai Yin]
 
 
Before joining Tzu Chi, Goh Siew Mooi was one for fashion and branded products. Going on an overseas vacation with her husband was one of her annual plans. [Photograph courtesy of Goh Siew Mooi]
 
Goh Siew Mooi loved buying shoes and perfumes. Now, she spends her time for a good cause rather than dressing up. [Photograph by Low Mai Yin]   Volunteer Goh Siew Mooi, together with her husband, Law Peng Keon, and son, Law Ti Erh, shared her blissful golden years with audience at the 2014 Tzu Chi Year-end Blessing Ceremony. [Photograph by Leong Chian Yee]

Goh Siew Mooi loved buying shoes and perfumes. Now, she spends her time for a good cause rather than dressing up. [Photograph by Low Mai Yin]
 
 
Volunteer Goh Siew Mooi, together with her husband, Law Peng Keon, and son, Law Ti Erh, shared her blissful golden years with audience at the 2014 Tzu Chi Year-end Blessing Ceremony. [Photograph by Leong Chian Yee]