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Recycling Volunteer for Past Decade

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Recycling Volunteer for Past Decade
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He used to spend thousands of dollars on lavish banquets without a moment’s hesitation. Now he savors a bowl of noodles sprinkled with sesame oil as a scrumptious delicacy.

Xu Qin-lin (許欽琳) carries around many titles. He is on the board of a financial holding company and president of several companies and organizations. In addition, he serves as a volunteer at a Tzu Chi recycling station in Yonghe, Taipei County.

Xu has devoted at least 30 hours a month to recycling over the past decade. Even though he is 72 years old, he still goes out on truck runs to pick up bulky items, like refrigerators, that people donate for recycling. The way he carries those items down stairs certainly doesn’t betray his age. He is almost as fit as much younger men.

Working as a Tzu Chi volunteer has profoundly changed him. He has come to the realization that a simple lifestyle is much more durable than the one he followed in his spendthrift past.

A spendthrift past and a wiser present
Xu’s life used to be centered on running his business. He and his clients frequented expensive restaurants or bars. He never thought twice about blowing thousands of dollars on a banquet. He ordered one tailored business suit after another, as if money grew on trees. He neither conserved nor cherished money. In fact, it ran through his fingers like water.

"I lived extravagantly in my younger days, but I’ve become much more moderate since then,” says Xu. “Thanks to Tzu Chi, I’ve changed a lot. The gratification provided by a luxurious lifestyle is actually rather artificial and ephemeral. Now I’ve come back to a simpler and more natural life. Now I enjoy being able to love and help others. It makes me feel good.”

"He really had a bad temper, and he was very stern,” according to his wife, Bai Mei-jin (白美津). “If he didn’t like the food or the maid’s service, he would push the table over and throw the dishes to the floor! It was scary. When he was working as a plant manager for the Tatung Company [a major Taiwanese electrical appliance manufacturer], he would mercilessly scold any employee who had made a mistake. He didn’t care how the employee might feel, even if the employee began to cry.”

Xu’s callous harshness drove people—even his pets—away. “We had Dalmatians at home,” says Mei-jin. “When they heard his car approaching the house, they’d dash into hiding and stay out of sight.” She laughed as she talked about the past. “But it’s all different now; even stray cats and dogs love to be around him.”

Cleaning up streets
In a sharp turnaround from his immoderate past, Xu now eats most meals at home with his family. He dines out with his clients only when absolutely necessary. He cherishes simplicity. What he loves the most are inexpensive vegetarian boxed meals. Sometimes his wife prepares a simple bowl of rice noodles sprinkled with sesame oil for him. He savors it as food from heaven.

"Dear, there is still a little bit of food,” Xu says, as he gently reminds his wife to finish the last grain of rice at the bottom of her bowl. Master Cheng Yen instructs her followers not to waste even the tiniest bit of food.

Except for business meetings, Xu always gets home on time. He was never one to do housework, but now he mops the floor, does the dishes, washes and folds the laundry, collects used water to water plants or flush toilets—the whole nine yards.

"Be industrious and thrifty, and use the money you save to help other people,” Xu says, exhorting his family and friends to follow his lead. Influenced by his example, his oldest son and some of his employees have also become Tzu Chi recycling volunteers.

He usually goes to bed at 9:30 p.m. and gets up at 4 a.m. Then he goes for a walk, sweeps the streets near his home, tidies up the yard, and bows to and pays his respects to the Buddha. This simple morning ritual gets him off to another good day.

"The Japanese people feel responsible for keeping the area within 200 meters of their home clean and tidy,” observes Xu. He fully supports and embraces this concept, and he has practiced it in his community for the past 30 years. He cares for the earth in other ways too. For example, he composts the leftover food in his house and derives useful organic fertilizer from it.

Xu, clad in T-shirt and shorts, was once sweeping the street and picking up recyclables when a woman bicyclist said to him, “Sir, it’s dangerous to clean the streets here amongst so much traffic. If you need money, apply for financial assistance from the government.”

He just smiled to himself, not offended in the least. Although he was a man of substantial means, the woman had meant well. Xu was grateful that there were so many kind-hearted people looking out for him.