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Home Our Missions Environmental Protection Maintaining the Natural Beauty of Penghu - An Old Veteran in MAGONG

Maintaining the Natural Beauty of Penghu - An Old Veteran in MAGONG

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Maintaining the Natural Beauty of Penghu
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An Old Veteran in MAGONG
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An Old Veteran in MAGONG
It was 4:00 p.m., and the afternoon sun slanted across the Magong Recycling Station. A truck full of flattened cardboard boxes backed into the station. Chen Xin-ji, a recycling volunteer, climbed onto the truck and covered the load of cardboard boxes with a net. Fastening the net to the sides of the truck, he remarked, "It's very windy here in Magong. Securing the recyclables with nets will keep them from being blown away."

Off to one side, some female volunteers were squatting on the ground, deftly sorting PET bottles. In an indoor area, several dark-skinned elderly men were taking apart copper wires and electronic appliances. Their swarthy complexion led me to conclude that they were fishermen. Upon inquiry, they confirmed that they indeed used to make a living from the sea.

One of the volunteers, Chen Qiu-ji, remarked, "I used to work on an ocean liner. Now that I'm retired, it's nice that I can come here and keep myself occupied." Today, Chen is always the first to come to the recycling station and the last to leave. He is really dedicated to the recycling work.

The Magong Recycling Station, now bustling with life, was not always like this. Eight years ago, it was still a "wasteland" as the idea of recycling and environmental protection was still new to the local residents.

Tourists and garbage
In 1998, Chen Jin-hai, a Tzu Chi recycling volunteer, paid a visit to Magong. At the time, the foundation had already been promoting recycling in Taiwan for eight years. When Chen saw how the amount of garbage was multiplying in Magong following the development of tourism, he encouraged local Tzu Chi volunteers to recycle resources and help protect the environment. Thus the recycling program was started in Magong.

Xu Jin-feng recalled how she came to join the program. Eight years ago, her husband had just passed away. Tzu Chi volunteer Xu Wang-shi saw how depressed she was and invited her to join in the recycling effort. Xu and another volunteer, Weng Xiu-zhen, would patrol the streets of Magong by motorbike, and when they saw any plastic bottles or aluminum cans at the side of the road, they would pull over and pick them up. They also rummaged in roadside garbage cans for recyclable resources. "At first, we felt embarrassed about doing that. We'd wait until no one was around before we sorted through the cans and ferreted out the recyclables."

As time went by, more and more recycling points were set up in Magong and more volunteers joined in to help. With the recycling effort gathering steam, the Magong Recycling Station was established and went into operation last year. Today, trucks make daily trips to hospitals, stores, and other places to collect recyclable garbage. With the help of volunteers like Xu Jin-feng and Weng Xiu-zhen, the recycling scene in Penghu has come to be full of life and vigor.

An old veteran in the market
At 10:00 a.m., the Beichen Market in Magong is bustling with people. People's voices mingle with car noises, the smell of fish mixes with the aroma of food, vendors hawk their goods, vegetables of different colors lie enticingly in different stalls, housewives weave in and out of the crowds looking for the items on their grocery lists--what a lively spectacle!

Wearing a smile, Xue Pei-qi pushes a cart loaded with cardboard into this scene. Although he is already 78 years old, his steps are firm and steady. He comes to the market every morning to gather recyclable resources. One can often see him slitting open cardboard boxes and loading heavy piles of cardboard onto his cart. When vendors bring him empty bottles, cartons or cans, he always folds his palms and says "Thank you" politely to express his gratitude.

Xue used to be a vendor in the Beichen Market after he retired from the military with the rank of major. For more than 30 years he sold vegetables in the market to support his family. After his children had all grown up, he began thinking about retiring and leading a carefree life. Just then his wife, Zhang Feng-yu, introduced him to Tzu Chi's environmental protection work, and he consequently became a recycling volunteer. "My wife and I were already in the habit of collecting recyclables when we sold vegetables in the market. So when people invited us to engage in recycling four years ago, we agreed without any hesitation."

But where should they start? In Xue's opinion, the market was the best place. "Because I sold vegetables, I knew when the ships from Taiwan came in and when their cargo was unloaded. The cardboard boxes containing the cargo would just be thrown away if we didn't collect them and put them to good use. So I thought of starting by gathering those." However, it is not an easy task to put cardboard boxes in order. "As you can see, some of the boxes are very dirty and some are wet and as soft as pulp. Besides, there are always so many of them. It takes a lot of time, energy, and patience to sort them out."

Even so, he always single-handedly sorts out all the recyclables with no need of help from others. He can work for three to four hours nonstop.

A modest attitude
We followed Xue as he wove his way through the market. After stopping at a vegetable stall to collect some boxes from a peddler, he slit them open, flattened them, and put them on his cart. A young woman selling sunglasses at a nearby stall walked toward Xue to give him a hand. "He works so hard. I've been doing business here for several months, and I see him collecting resources here every day."

Xue proceeded farther into the market, gathering empty jars, string, and other recyclables along the way. An elderly woman passing by greeted him. A middle-aged vendor gave him a thumbs-up, saying, "Nice job. You're good." Smiling shyly back, Xue kept pushing his cart, which was getting heavier as the morning went by. Almost everyone in the market knew him and praised him highly. It must have had to do with his admirable work attitude, which he had acquired while he was in the army.

Xue recollected that he was stationed on the island of Kinmen when the famous artillery duel broke out on August 23, 1958. (The barrage lasted 44 straight days, during which the Chinese Communists fired more than 474,000 shells at Kinmen.) The troops under Xue's command were responsible for moving artillery shells. His soldiers carried one shell at a time, making slow headway. Seeing this, Xue began carrying two artillery shells at a time, hoping to speed up the work. When the soldiers saw him do that, they followed suit and began to move two shells at a time. "What should have taken four hours to finish was done in less than three hours. It demonstrated how important it is to lead by setting a good example ourselves first."

He applied his work attitude in the army to his recycling work at the market. "At the start, when I asked the vendors for recyclables, they refused to give them to me. It was not until they saw how hard I worked that they began to give me recyclable items. In the end, they even helped me on their own initiative."

Xue is polite and modest, which accounts for his popularity at the market. A vendor once said to Weng Xiu-zhen, a senior Tzu Chi volunteer, "Does that elderly man who collects recyclables work for Tzu Chi? He's a really nice man, very humble and amiable."

Hearing the compliments, Xue remarked, "As the saying goes, the humble receive benefit while the conceited reap failure. When I was young and selling vegetables at the market, I used to fight with other vendors to win customers. But now I treat everyone politely and thank them sincerely for their help. No matter how difficult a person is, as long as you treat him or her with a polite, humble attitude, everything will turn out all right."

Donating time, energy, and land
When Xue first started collecting recyclable resources for Tzu Chi, there was no fixed recycling station to store the resources in. All the items collected were placed in the open, exposed to the elements. If they were not tightly tied up, the strong wind in Penghu could easily blow them all over the place.

"No recyclers wanted to purchase wet paper, so when the paper we collected got wet on rainy days, we had to spread it out and let it dry in the sun as soon as the weather cleared up. But the paper often got blown all over the place when it got windy, creating a great mess. And the local residents often complained to us about it." After doing recycling for some time, Xue knew that they had to find some way to solve the problem. "I talked to a senior Tzu Chi volunteer about the possibility of setting up a recycling station. I told her that all of us recycling volunteers worked very hard, but we didn't even have a place to rest. I hoped we could set up a recycling station.

But it took land and money to establish a recycling station, and it was especially difficult to obtain suitable land. After talking it over with his wife, Xue decided to donate a plot of ground located in the downtown area of Magong to Tzu Chi. With the money contributed by other Tzu Chi volunteers, the Magong Recycling Station was set up.

"Although our recycling station is not large, it meets our needs perfectly," said Xue. "We sort out recyclables on the first floor, and we use the second floor as a meeting room. Because the station is near the market where I work, it's convenient for me to transport what I collect at the market to the station. In the afternoons, Tzu Chi volunteers come to the station to help sort out garbage. With their help, I no longer have to work as hard as before."

A strong body
Xue finally finished his rounds in the market. With his cart brimming over with recyclables, his shirt all drenched in sweat, he strode in the direction of the recycling station. When he saw that the traffic light was about to change from green to red, he broke into a run and deftly pushed the cart, which weighed more than 100 kilograms (220 pounds), across the street. When he had arrived at the station, he pushed everything off the cart with one shove. Xue is nearly 80 years old, but his tremendous physical strength and energy certainly belie his age.

There is no lack of recycling volunteers in Tzu Chi who are as old as Xue, but very few can compete with him in physical strength. Xue himself contributes his ebullient vigor to his habit of regular exercise.

We went with Xue to his clean, bright dwelling. He took out a large album in which were pasted many photos and newspaper clippings that recorded his participation in different long-distance races. "This one shows me taking part in a 21-kilometer run; it took me two hours and 14 minutes to finish. In this photograph, I'm in a 10-kilometer race...." Every picture documented an unforgettable experience.

Every evening, Xue goes out to exercise. "We need to exercise regularly to keep fit. My good health is the reason I can keep on doing recycling." In addition to this work, Xue goes to an old folks' school, and he also does Chinese calligraphy as a hobby. He is full of passion for things. His curious and open heart nurtures his wisdom and keeps him forever full of vitality.

A change of heart
Xue recalled an episode that happened when he first started doing recycling.

Because he used to be a market vendor, he knew how to tie cardboard into neat bundles. He tended to make very large bundles because he was strong and did not find it difficult to move them. However, this was not the case for the other volunteers.

One day a piece of paper was pasted on a wall of a recycling point. It read, "Please make the bundles smaller. Thank you." When Xue saw the paper, he thought to himself, "Who cares about you? As long as it's convenient for me, I'll do things the way I like."

But another day, some volunteers came to the recycling point to take away the recyclables that had been sorted out and bundled up. It took two or even three of them to lift one bundle, which Xue could easily pick up single-handedly. "Seeing them moving the bundles with such difficulty, I began to feel bad about it. I thought to myself that the bundles I made were really too heavy. I shouldn't have been so stubborn and ignored that piece of paper." After that episode, he began to change his attitude.

By dedicating his retired life to environmental protection, Xue has learned to be a more modest and amiable person. "Master Cheng Yen teaches us not to lose our temper and to constantly reflect on ourselves. That has a great influence on me. I must do more and say less, so I can learn more." His silvery white hair seemed to be radiating the light of wisdom.

By Lai Yi-ling
Translated by Wu Hsiao-ting
Photographs by Yen Lin-zhao



 

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