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Last updateWed, 11 Nov 2015 11am

Thursday, 03 August 2017 00:00

Impromptu Transition into Vegetarianism

Written by  Julie Yen Yu Chu, Malacca / Translated by Tai Ren Yin

Leong Kee Soon used to love heavily-seasoned meat dishes. After encountering Tzu Chi, he and his wife, Wong Tyng Tyng, turned vegetarians. They also converted their food-stall into a vegetarian one. [Photograph by Hong Geok Hui]

Leong Kee Soon is a chef. Having savoured all kinds of delicacies, he would not touch vegetables at all. However, upon meeting Tzu Chi, he is willing to go vegetarian with his wife, Wong Tyng Tyng. They have even converted their food-stall into a vegetarian cuisine stall. Change requires courage and determination. With a simple belief, they adhered to their Master’s teaching.


At dawn, before starting work at their food-stall, Tzu Chi volunteers, Leong Kee Soon and wife, Wong Tyng Tyng, would turn on Da Ai TV, which accompanies them and their customers till the stall closure at 5 pm.

The couple moved to Jasin from Kuala Lumpur in 2010. They were selling mixed rice for about a month before listening to a Tzu Chi volunteer’s recommendation to install Da Ai TV at their stall. Without knowing it, they were guided towards Tzu Chi.

With determination, turning vegetarian is not hard

Tyng Tyng left her hometown, Jasin, to work in Kuala Lumpur when she was younger. There, she met Kee Soon, and after marriage, he worked at his own food-stall while she became a hairdresser. In 1996, when the couple visited their relatives in Jasin, they saw in the newspaper that Tzu Chi Malacca was asking for donation to build the Jing Si Hall. So, they went to Tzu Chi Office to make a donation, and this was the start of their regular donation for good causes. However, they only learnt more about Tzu Chi in 2010, when they moved back to Jasin. Upon seeing the “Dharma as Water” performance presented by volunteers, they were truly touched. That, and coupled with the influence of Da Ai TV, they joined the volunteer ranks in 2011.

Originally, the couple went vegetarian for a month for the sake of a pilgrimage. However, upon completion of the pilgrimage, Tyng Tyng expressed her wish to continue with vegetarianism. With her husband’s support, the couple started their vegetarianism journey. Tyng Tyng revealed that they had attempted to observe a vegetarian diet before that, but were tempted to take meat again after a week or so. “But it feels much easier this time,” she remarked.

Being a chef, Kee Soon had been very picky on food. He could not be satisfied without meat. For him to go vegetarian was really a very hard thing to do. Tyng Tyng related, “He loved meat to the extent that he could have a chicken, a big fish and half a kilogramme of prawns in a day. But, he would not take vegetables. If the first mouthful of vegetables was not to his liking, he would not have a second helping.”

Kee Soon agreed with his wife, and added that vegetable dishes tasted too bland for him to like them, but he is willing to accept them. Moreover, if he could overcome his smoking addiction of 30 over years, he should be able to take this on too. Initially, he added meat gravy to his rice to enhance the taste, he eventually stopped doing so when he got used to vegetarian taste. His wife is proud of his determination.

Experiencing physical and spiritual peace

In the beginning, the couple still sold meat dishes at their stall. This made Tyng Tyng feel uneasy. Firstly, they were encouraging others to eat meat even though they were vegetarians themselves. Secondly, there were not many vegetarians in the rural area, thus, turning their stall into a vegetarian one might affect their income. With these considerations, they designed a new half-meat-half-vegetarian menu. They also used only vegetarian seasonings in their cooking. However, even with that, Tyng Tyng felt a presence of pressure.

In 2015, the couple participated in the “Dharma as Water” stage adaptation performance. The repetition of the verses that reminded them of the karmic retributions of killing, had created fear in Tyng Tyng. She was in a dilemma as in Buddhism, all sentient beings are equal. One day, she shared her thoughts with her husband. The latter supported the idea and said, “Let’s change to selling only vegetarian food, no need to think too much. Earning less just means that we need to be more careful in our spending. Both of us do not spend much, so don’t worry.” However, Tyng Tyng’s mother disagreed and pointed out that the only vegetarian stall in the food court could barely survive and was planning to close down soon. “You are just digging your own graves,” she said.

Tyng Tyng convinced her, “This is a great time! By turning it into a vegetarian stall, we will not be competing with other hawkers, thus will not hurt our friendships; and we can continue serving the vegetarians around here. We can donate for good causes if business is good, otherwise, just be more frugal in spending. Don’t worry!”

Seeing her daughter’s perseverance, the mother finally gave her blessings. With the family’s support, Tyng Tyng felt relief. Her mother witnessed the benefits of going vegetarian from Tyng Tyng’s medical report and was convinced of it. Tyng Tyng proudly said, “Mum became a vegetarian herself a few months before her demise. Although the time was not long, she was willing to take up vegetarianism.”

Vegetarian food can be just as tasty

They officially started selling only vegetarian food in January 2016. The reactions from the customers were extreme on both ends. Thinking back, Kee Soon shared, “A regular customer only noticed the new signboard after half a year and asked, ‘When did you change to vegetarian?’” As it turned out, he knew the menu by heart and always ordered his food verbally, thus, did not notice the changes on the signboard. This went by for half a year, without him knowing that he was eating vegetarian food. Tyng Tyng expressed, since they were already using vegetarian sauces previously, the taste of the food does not differ too much; only some customers will notice the difference in the side ingredients added to it.

Even though until now, some people would turn away upon hearing the word vegetarian, there are some who come purposely in search of vegetarian food. Some old customers, who were reluctant to give it a try initially, are returning. They even commented that the food tasted as good as the non-vegetarian. It is these sweet memories that give the couple some encouragement to persevere.

A customer, Wee Mee Chin, became a vegetarian 20 years ago for health reasons. Being a sales person, she has to travel around. Previously, she would always stop in Malacca for lunch before going to Jasin for business matters. Then, at a stranger’s random recommendation, she visited Kee Soon’s stall. Since then, she would always have her lunch there whenever she goes to Jasin, and even recommended it to her colleagues.

Another customer, Tey Kock Suan, whose furniture factory is opposite the food court, has also become a vegetarian for more than 20 years. He shared happily, “Previously, it was really hard to find vegetarian food. So, I used to take bread and coffee to fill my stomach. Since the couple opened the half-vegetarian-half-meat stall, I always came here for lunch. Now that they have turned the stall fully vegetarian, and since this is the only vegetarian stall here, I have my meals here practically daily. I am thankful for the convenience.”

Kee Soon often encourages his customers to eat more vegetables and less on the mock meat. In his conversation with Kock Suan, he regretted having insisted that meat was the only good food. Due to his ignorance, the lives of many animals were sacrificed. Since turning vegetarian, he has found meat dishes very smelly. He hopes that by actively encouraging vegetarianism, he can transfer some merits back to the sacrificed animals.

Encouraging the public to embrace vegetarianism

Ganamanickam has been the couple’s faithful customer for three years. He said that although he himself is not a vegetarian, he would go vegetarian for two months each time before he went for religious pilgrimage in India. Previously, it was hard to find vegetarian food so he would cook at home most of the time, but the dishes were always the same. He shared, “Now that there is a vegetarian stall here, with a variety of dishes, I come here almost daily. Vegetarian food has become my main diet choice.”

Munuyan Amutha looked at the menu and wanted to try everything. She asked Tyng Tyng to help pack some food. She usually cooks herself but once in a while, she would visit the couple’s stall to pack some dishes. She said, “I am not a vegetarian although I always cook vegetarian food at home. I come here to pack food sometimes just to learn some Chinese vegetarian dishes.”

Zakariabin Wahab is one of the few Malays who support their stall. He said, “Mixed dishes cost above RM8, but the vegetarian dishes here are only RM3 to RM4. The money saved every day is good. Moreover, vegetarian is healthy. I used to have high blood pressure. Now everything is normal.”

Previously, when the couple consumed meat and fish, rashes would continuously develop around their bodies and ulcers popped up regularly. They did not realize the “root cause” was because of what they ate. Since going vegetarian, these symptoms have disappeared. They now realized that going vegetarian is good for their health physically and spiritually, and they would like to share with more people the benefits of going vegetarian.

 

 

In 2015, the couple participated in “Dharma as Water” stage adaptation performance. Reminded of the karmic retributions of killing, Wong Tyng Tyng proposed to convert their food-stall into a vegetarian one, with support from her husband, Leong Kee Soon (1st left). [Photograph by Quek Kah Hoon]   Wong Tyng Tyng served with her hairdressing skills during Tzu Chi year-end distribution event. [Photograph by Quek Kah Hoon]

In 2015, the couple participated in “Dharma as Water” stage adaptation performance. Reminded of the karmic retributions of killing, Wong Tyng Tyng proposed to convert their food-stall into a vegetarian one, with support from her husband, Leong Kee Soon (1st left). [Photograph by Quek Kah Hoon]
 
Wong Tyng Tyng served with her hairdressing skills during Tzu Chi year-end distribution event. [Photograph by Quek Kah Hoon]
 
Ganamanickam has been frequenting the couple’s food-stall for three years. He has been visiting the stall even more frequently after it was converted into a vegetarian stall. [Photograph by Hong Geok Hui]   To adapt to vegetarian food, Leong Kee Soon would serve the dishes with curry sauce or gravies. He stopped doing so after he got accustomed to the taste of vegetarian food. [Photograph by Hong Geok Hui]

To adapt to vegetarian food, Leong Kee Soon would serve the dishes with curry sauce or gravies. He stopped doing so after he got accustomed to the taste of vegetarian food. [Photograph by Hong Geok Hui]
 
 
To adapt to vegetarian food, Leong Kee Soon would serve the dishes with curry sauce or gravies. He stopped doing so after he got accustomed to the taste of vegetarian food. [Photograph by Hong Geok Hui]
 
Leong Kee Soon (1st left) shared with his customer, Tey Kock Suan the benefits of vegetarianism. [Photograph by Hong Geok Hui]   The couple officially started selling only vegetarian food in January 2016. It received support from labourers working nearby. [Photograph by Hong Geok Hui]

Leong Kee Soon (1st left) shared with his customer, Tey Kock Suan the benefits of vegetarianism. [Photograph by Hong Geok Hui]
 
 
The couple officially started selling only vegetarian food in January 2016. It received support from labourers working nearby. [Photograph by Hong Geok Hui]