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Last updateWed, 11 Nov 2015 11am

Sunday, 11 May 2014 00:00

Spiritual Cultivation through Vegetarian Steamed Bun Making

Written by  Tai Yuik Cheng, KL & Selangor

Volunteers busy rolling the steamed buns and putting them in trays for steaming. [Photograph by Lai Sui Chin]

Spiritual cultivation of the Dharma can be in many forms, not just praying and chanting in the temples. Master Cheng Yen always reminds her disciples to put Buddhism into action and spiritual cultivation into practice, be it planting vegetables or making soaps in the Jing-Si Abode in Hualien. Volunteers from KL & Selangor Branch also followed the Master’s advice by fulfilling their spiritual practice through mindfully making “bao” (vegetarian steamed buns) from May 4 to May 9, 2014 for the coming Buddha Bathing ceremony.


The expected turnout for Tzu Chi’s 3-in-1 celebration (Buddha Day, Mother’s Day and Tzu Chi Day) on May 11, 2014 was over 13,000; so daily for a week, volunteers from KL & Selangor Branch gathered at the newly-completed kitchen of the KL Tzu Chi Jing-Si Hall in Kepong to lend their helping hands and at the same time, received a free lesson in vegetarian steamed bun making.

A challenging task

To Brother Allan Chang, a restaurant chef and a master in steamed bun making, it was a challenge to make 11,000 steamed buns in a week assisted by volunteers, most of whom had no prior experience in steamed bun making. Nevertheless, he was very determined to go the distance.

Volunteers from every community eagerly came forward to selflessly devote their time and effort in the kitchen; likewise for the English-speaking Group volunteers, like Brother Calvin Lum, who came daily to help. He commented, “I do not know how to make steamed buns but I like cooking. As I have never been involved in kitchen duties in Tzu Chi before, so this is my first time to mindfully fulfil my pre-Wesak duty. I find the team spirit here most remarkable and I enjoyed steaming, cooling and packing the steamed buns for storage in the cold room.” In fact, he was so engrossed in packing the steamed buns in the cold room that he was once accidentally locked in for three minutes before another volunteer heard him knocking on the door and let him out.

Work with the right mind set and team spirit

Sister Saw Foong Lin, who bravely accepted the role as assistant to the chef and had been on kitchen duty for the entire week, explained, “Most of the sisters prefer to cut ingredients, knead the dough or roll the steamed buns, so I decided to help Brother Allan measure and mix the dough. Some complained it is very warm in the kitchen, but I feel that ‘a calm heart keeps one cool’. I feel that the kitchen is a very good place to build our character because we learn patience and teamwork here.” With the right mind set, one can work happily in any kind of environment, under any circumstances.

This kitchen duty posed an opportune time for bonding among volunteers, friends and families. Some volunteers brought their friends along, while some, like Brother Matthew Lim, Sister Michele Ng and Sister Yoke Mei, even encouraged their mothers to join in. The touching scenes of mother and child working alongside each other, bent on accomplishing a simple but meaningful task together, played out most delightfully. Sister Yoke Mei, a donating member, even took time off from her work to help make steamed buns. She exclaimed, “On normal days, my mum can’t stand for long. But today, she even refused the chair I offered! My mum used to be a professional steamed bun maker, so she must be enjoying herself today, so much that she didn’t feel tired at all.”

Though most of the volunteers were novices in steamed bun making, there were also a handful of housewives and professional steamed bun makers who volunteered their expertise. One of them was Madam Loke Kam Yau, an experienced steamed bun maker, who came daily with five of her friends. She said, “As most of the volunteers do not know the process of steamed bun making, so I thought I could assist Brother Allan to monitor the process and timing required in waiting for the mixed dough or steamed buns to rise. Though it was a tiring task, but I’m happy to teach others; and I know that when one feels happy while making the steamed buns, they will turn out looking fine.” Indeed, all the steamed buns displayed on the metal shelves to cool looked scrumptious, not only because they were the end products from the blood and sweat of the volunteers, but also the love and team spirit from which they were generated.

One of the Tzu Chi volunteers and a professional chef to boot, Sister Tang Shook Lin, tirelessly took charge of cooking lunch for the volunteers daily. She said, “Everyone is so busy and cooperative in making steamed buns, so I come to cook lunch for them to ensure their stomachs are filled. Only with a full stomach can they work hard and fast.”

All for love, blessing and Dharma joy

Sister Lu Yu Chu, who took charge of attendance and quality control humbly narrated, “I’m grateful for the opportunity to help out. Since I don’t know how to make steamed buns, so I do a little bit of everything, taking odd jobs around the kitchen. I also took all the dirty aprons and head scarves home to wash, so the volunteers get to wear clean ones the next day. It’s a blessing for me to wash the sweat from these aprons as the volunteers worked so hard to make the steamed buns.”

Another English-speaking Group volunteer Brother Geoffrey Chan, who worked so happily shared, “A sister said to me, ‘Speak good words to the steamed buns to make them look and taste good.’” How true, because thinking good thoughts, speaking good words and doing good deeds will never fail to make all things better.

The process of steamed bun making involves cutting and frying the filling, accurately measuring the ingredients and mixing the dough, kneading and rolling the dough, cutting and weighing the dough according to specification, then putting in the filling, rolling the dough into shape and lastly, steaming them. Such details necessitate dedication, mindful coordination, gentle handling, vigilant monitoring and caring teamwork. In other words, this long process is akin to walking the Tzu Chi path mindfully, with the resultant Dharma joy of true teamwork and the glorious sense of joint achievement at the end of each day.

Cultivating Tzu Chi’s “Four Spiritual Soup” in the kitchen

As the coordinator for this steamed bun making duty, Sister Koh Phui Hwa appropriately summed up, “Upon entering the kitchen, we must let go of our ego, be tolerant and obedient, respect the chef and work as one family, otherwise, there will be chaos in the kitchen.” Effectively, the kitchen is a good place to cultivate and practise Tzu Chi’s “Four Spiritual Soup”, namely, contentment, gratitude, understanding and tolerance.

At the end of the week, the number of steamed buns made totaled 13,259, exceeding the target of 11,000. On the last day of the steamed bun making, Brother Allan thanked all volunteers for their dedication and hard work. As a token of his gratitude and appreciation, he and his assistant cooks prepared a “gan en” tea, served with delicious desserts and cakes for all the helpers.

It was a beautiful sight to behold, the finished steamed buns lining the shelves in the cold room, for they represented the love and blessings from the cooks and helpers; all ready for one of the biggest and most important events of the year, held for the very first time in the newly completed spiritual home for all Malaysian Tzu Chi volunteers.

 

Chef Allan Chang demonstrating to helpers how to knead the dough so that it will be perfect for to make steamed buns. [Photograph by Lai Sui Chin]   Volunteers packing the finished steamed buns into plastic bags, 15 in each bag, for storage in the cold room. [Photograph by Chia Heen Kheow]

Chef Allan Chang demonstrating to helpers how to knead the dough so that it will be perfect for to make steamed buns. [Photograph by Lai Sui Chin]
 
Volunteers packing the finished steamed buns into plastic bags, 15 in each bag, for storage in the cold room. [Photograph by Chia Heen Kheow]
 
Coordinator, Sister Koh Phui Hwa and CEO, Sister Echo Chien, went around thanking the helpers for their hard work in preparing lunch for the volunteers. [Photograph by Lim Su Nguan]   Brother Calvin Lum carefully taking the trays of hot steaming buns out of the steamer. [Photograph by Lai Sui Chin]

Coordinator, Sister Koh Phui Hwa and CEO, Sister Echo Chien, went around thanking the helpers for their hard work in preparing lunch for the volunteers. [Photograph by Lim Su Nguan]
 
 
Brother Calvin Lum carefully taking the trays of hot steaming buns out of the steamer. [Photograph by Lai Sui Chin]
 
Sister Lu Yu Chu gently placing the steamed buns on the metal shelves for cooling. [Photograph by Lim Shy Tean]   Madam Loke Kam Yau teaching the volunteers and helpers how to roll the Bao into shape. [Photograph by Yap Tsi Ti]

Sister Lu Yu Chu gently placing the steamed buns on the metal shelves for cooling. [Photograph by Lim Shy Tean]
 
 
Madam Loke Kam Yau teaching the volunteers and helpers how to roll the Bao into shape. [Photograph by Yap Tsi Ti]