Vegetarian Bento from a Loving Mother

When it comes to following a vegetarian diet, thirteen year old Fang Qiao is her mother Fang Yu Lan’s best buddy.  Though of a tender age, Fang Qiao will not hesitate to do what is right; she has gotten over her habit of not touching greens, and this has in turn been the motivational force for her mother to change her culinary habits.  Having left their hometown to pursue their Singapore dream, nothing preps them more for the day ahead than a vegetarian bento prepared at 5.30am every day!


“Mum, I want to be a vegetarian from today onwards!” In May this year, thirteen year old Fang Qiao declared her wish to her mother.

“OK, I shall prepare vegetarian fried rice tomorrow morning and you can take that to school with you.”Fang herself had already adopted a vegetarian diet for a month, but she was not fully convinced of her daughter’s commitment. Subsequently after having prepared a few vegetarian meals, Fang thought to herself : “My daughter is still growing, a vegetarian diet might not have enough nutrients. Surely meat once a week should be alright?”And so, she once again bought a pork rib home for her daughter.

“Mum, why did you buy meat again?”Fang Qiao would register her protest every time she saw that her mother had bought meat again. After a few times, Fang was finally convinced of her daughter’s determination, and thus started to forgo deep fried mock meat and other processed vegetarian food in favour of having the right mix of vegetables; she has also learned how to prepare tasty vegetarian meals that consist of vegetables of five different colors, is low in oil and salt and totally free of taste enhancers.

Taking Care of One’s Body and Being Mindful of One’s Actions

Fang is a single parent who came to Singapore from Putian, China, six years ago to pursue her Singapore dream with her daughter, Fang Qiao. They do not have their own house and being frugal, they have to prepare their own meals almost all the time. As the school canteen does not serve vegetarian food, Fang has to get up every morning at 5:30 am to prepare breakfast and a bento for her daughter. Sometimes she prepares an extra set of vegetarian breakfast for her housemate, in an effort to promote vegetarianism.

“Before attending the Tzu Chi Teenagers’classes, my daughter hardly ate any vegetables. Now she eats all types of vegetables and is not choosy about her food in the least, as a result she has become even healthier.” The mother and daughter pair love each other deeply. Fang is very proud of her daughter and this is written all over her face. Both of them also learned about the urgency to adopt a vegetarian diet after taking part in the “Dharma as Water”study sessions, and have been keeping a vegetarian diet since the Buddha Bathing Ceremony in May. Fang is repentant that in China, she used to consume snakes as a cure for her skin condition. She also boiled frogs and drank the soup. She could not help being reminded of the teaching in the “Water Repentence” text which exhorts all to stop killing and let all creatures live in harmony. Just like humans, all creatures have a right to live.

“Many in the Tzu Chi Teenagers’class are vegetarians and they are at about my age, I believe I can do the same!” Despite being young, Fang Qiao has great determination and the positive peer influence served as a strong motivational force. After participating in a section of the“Dharma as Water”entitled “The Four Evil Karmas of Speech,” she is repentant about having lied to her mother in the past. “I told my mother I was revising for examinations when in actuality, I was surfing the internet. And at school, I am the class monitor and have scolded my classmates when the class became very noisy, as nobody cared when I spoke softly.”

For having hurt people with her words, Fang Qiao shared her thoughts, “If you accidentally cut yourself or others, the wounds will eventually heal; but if you hurt them with your words, the wound may not heal even for a lifetime. So one really has to be careful with one’s words.”

With an Open Heart, We Can Proceed Forward

Fang participated in the totem formation at the Buddha Bathing Ceremony last year under the invitation of her colleagues, and she and her daughter have been enthusiastically participating in many large and small scale Tzu Chi activities, since then. The presence of both mother and daughter can be seen in the “Dharma as Water”stage adaptation in 2012 and 2013.

“So long as there are requests from fellow Tzu Chi volunteers, I will agree to help out whenever my work schedule permits.” Working as an hourly cleaner, Fang is eager to be part of any good deeds. That was why she jumped at the opportunity when invited by Tzu Chi commissioner Lai Zhu Fan to participate in the sutra adaptation as a sign language facilitator. Even though she does not have a strong waist and had to rely on a stretching tool to help relieve her back pain last year, it did not prevent her from mastering many postures that required her to bend her back or kneel. She also did not have difficulty demonstrating them to others at the study sessions and practice sessions.

“It’s not a problem for me!” Back pain has never been a problem for Fang and after having come across the “Water Repentance”text, she understands the law of karma better now. Fang views everything she faces with gratitude. “Master Cheng Yen says when one wakes up in the morning and finds oneself still able to breathe and move one’s limbs, one must be grateful for the fact that one is still alive.” After close to a year of acupuncture treatment, Fang no longer needs the stretching tool to relieve her back pain.

“I repent my impure attachments and desires, my greed for fame, wealth and power.” This lyrics from the“Dharma as Water”sutra adaptation has impressed Fang the most. She concludes that she is an impatient person who likes to make decisions for all based on her own opinions. She used to be envious of people who have big houses and cars, but has gradually learnt to let go of her greed. In order to take part in Tzu Chi’s activities, she even sacrificed the “golden period” of one and a half hours of work during the weekend that would have earned her more money to conduct home visits, so that she can remind herself how blessed she is. After letting go of her craving for fame and wealth, she is now always at ease with herself. Her ex-husband had an extramarital affair and she was very bitter about it, but after learning about the law of karma, Fang gradually freed herself from the negative feelings and found peace of mind. Foreign students have to pay school fees and even though her daughter’s school fees have raised substantially over a year, Fang is grateful that she has adopted a vegetarian diet in time and the savings she makes from forgoing meat and fish help to pay her daughter’s school fees.

Home is where one finds peace of mind. The mother and daughter came to Singapore to pursue their dream and they eventually found their spiritual home after some effort. Giving up their cravings for material wealth and food, they are able to lead a fulfilling life. With open hearts, one’s life path too, opens up with possibilities.

Fang, an hourly cleaner, understands how meaningful it is to be involved in good deeds.  She thereby readily accepts the invitation to take on the responsibilities as a sign language facilitator in the “Dharma as Water” stage adaptation. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)Fang, an hourly cleaner, understands how meaningful it is to be involved in good deeds. She thereby readily accepts the invitation to take on the responsibilities as a sign language facilitator in the “Dharma as Water” stage adaptation. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong) Fang Qiao used to dislike vegetables, so her mother was not fully convinced when she requested her to pack vegetarian bento for school.  Fang Qiao’s mother was only convinced after her protests whenever non-vegetarian food was prepared.  Now both mother and daughter are vegetarians. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)Fang Qiao used to dislike vegetables, so her mother was not fully convinced when she requested her to pack vegetarian bento for school. Fang Qiao’s mother was only convinced after her protests whenever non-vegetarian food was prepared. Now both mother and daughter are vegetarians. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong) As Fang lives in a rental house, she can only place the statue of the Goddess of Mercy, which she prays to every morning, atop her fridge. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)As Fang lives in a rental house, she can only place the statue of the Goddess of Mercy, which she prays to every morning, atop her fridge. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)

(By Bernard Ng Jia Han, Translated by Dr Ong Eng Hong15/10/2013)

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