“If doing something makes you worried, then it must be a wrong thing. If it makes you happy, then you must have done the right thing.”

An inspiring and motivational true story of a Taiwanese woman who sells vegetables……and donates generously to help the poor……
Wed, Dec 01, 2010 Reader’s Digest

The generous vegetable seller
by Esther Liang

After the morning hustle and bustle, the atmosphere at Taitung county’s Central Market quietens as every stall shuts for the day and their owners return to the comfort of their homes. A lone lamp shines on a vegetable stall. With head bowed, Ms Chen Shu-chu silently sorts out the vegetable leaves as she waits for the occasional afternoon customer. Decades of hard work have caused the fingers on her right hand to curl and joints to swell; her feet have deformed slightly.

Ms Chen leads her life with a daily routine. Waking up at three in the morning, she makes her way to the vegetable wholesaler and sets up her stall, which she tends till seven or eight in the evening. Being the first to arrive and last to leave, the other stall owners have fondly given her the title of “market manager”. In the dark and damp market, Ms Chen, nearing her 60s, holds the stall her father left her dearly. Yuan-Jin Vegetables is her everything. With her vegetables selling at “a bundle for NT$30 (S$1.30), three bundles for NT$50”, she earns only marginal profit.

Yet, her frugality has allowed her to donate about NT$10 million towards various charitable causes, including helping schools, orphanages and poor children. The selfless generosity of a woman with such humble income has placed her under the international spotlight. In March, Forbes magazine named her one of 48 outstanding philanthropists from the Asia-Pacific region. A month later, Time magazine selected the year’s top 100 influential people and she emerged under the Heroes of Philanthropy category. Fellow Taiwanese and Oscar- winning director Lee Ang wrote her entry personally. “Money is worthy only if given to those in need,” he quoted Ms Chen. He also wrote: “Amazing, but of all she has given away, her greatest gift is leading by example.”

Despite the honour of receiving the Time award in New York, gaining global recognition, and a personal meeting with President Ma Ying-jeou, all Ms Chen really cares about is her vegetable stall. If not for President Ma and the Foreign Minister personally convincing her to go, she would not have agreed to visit New York, as she felt that “this is not a competition and I did not win anything”. Amid the frenzy of applying for a passport and preparing for the visit, her main concern was that her regular customers would not get their vegetables.

Ms Chen has become a celebrity in Taitung county. The local authorities decorated her stall with congratulatory posters and banners hailing her as the Pride of Taitung and the Model of Philanthropy. There are fans who turn up at the stall with a vegetable basket and a camera, hoping for a picture with Ms Chen. Despite all the attention, she remains humble. “I have done nothing extraordinary and anyone who wants to can do it.

There are many other charitable people; we just don’t know about them,” she said. Ms Chen, who is unmarried, added: “I do not place great importance on money. When I donate to help others, I feel at peace and happy, and I can sleep well at night.” She also feels for the poor, having experienced hardship in her younger days.

Born in 1950, Ms Chen lost her mother after completing her primary-school education. Her mother was admitted to hospital because of difficulties in labour and the family had to pay an insurance of NT$5,000 before medical attention could be granted. Ms Chen saw her father asking their neighbours for money, but it was too late to save her mother. The eldest daughter in the family, Ms Chen had to grow up overnight. She gave up her studies and dedicated her life to helping at the vegetable stall. When she was 18, her younger brother fell sick and the illness dragged on for over a year, gradually depleting the family’s savings. Doctors suggested that the family send her brother to Taiwan National University Hospital, but they could not afford the fees. Mr Huang Shun-zhong, a teacher at Ren-ai Primary School, started a donation drive. Unfortunately, her brother could not be saved.

After experiencing the kindness bestowed upon her family, Ms Chen made up her mind to help the poor once she was able. When her father died 17 years ago, Ms Chen, a devoted Buddhist, generously donated NT$1 million to Fo Guang Shan Monastery. In 2000, she donated NT$1 million to her alma mater, Ren-ai Primary School, to set up an Emergency Relief Fund to help poor children obtain financial help. Assisting in the setting up and maintenance of the fund is Mr Li Guo-rong, who teaches Ms Chen’s nephew.

In 2001, Mr Li had a plan to build a library for the school and estimated the cost to be between NT$4 million and NT$5 million. When he approached Ms Chen, in the hope that she might contribute NT$50,000, Li was shocked when she said she would fund the entire project. The school was sceptical, but Ms Chen was determined. In May 2005, the two-storey library was completed and named Chen Shu-chu Library in honour of the “Vegetable Market heroine” alumnus. She had donated NT$4.5 million.Ms Chen’s ability to donate such large sums of money has led many to ask: How can a mere vegetable seller earn so much?

“Spend only what you need, and you’ll be able to save up a lot of money!” said Ms Chen.

Since 1996, she has donated NT$36,000 to help three children in the Kids Alive International organisation. To achieve this, she explained that she empties her loose change into three little cardboard boxes at home every night.

“This is a simple act that anyone can do, isn’t it?” she said. Ms Chen leads a very simple life without any luxuries. She does not have any desire for material gain nor any form of enjoyment.

Work, she said, is her enjoyment. “I love my work. If I didn’t, would I be able to work 16 hours a day?”

All she needs is food and a place to sleep. Everything else is a luxury. She does not buy expensive clothes as “I do not socialise much, hence, there is no need for such beautiful clothes. The clothes from the roadside stalls are good enough for me, and, even then, I like to bargain”. Her daily meals cost less than NT$100: a bowl of vegetarian rice and a bowl of noodles for NT freeze whatever that cannot be finished, spend another NT$20 on a can of gluten and add that to the rice with some hot water.

“This becomes porridge and is very tasty,” she said.

She also sleeps on the hard floor, a habit from her younger days when she started working at the vegetable stall. The comfort of her warm bed made getting up early to go to the wholesaler very difficult, especially during the cold winter months. Hence Ms Chen made up her mind to sleep on the cold floor, where she would not run the risk of being late. Has business improved after winning the award?

“Business is as usual,” she said. “I still need to sell my vegetables. Not much has changed.”

Advertisers have approached her to film commercials; financial managers have offered to manage her finances and other well-wishers have offered to donate money. She rejects these advances politely.

“It is easy to return borrowed money, but difficult to return a favour,” she said.

“I have to be very careful in handling money matters,” she added. Even when customers tip her, she refuses to accept.

“Buying from my stall is already a form of support,” she explained.

The only commercial Ms Chen was willing to take on was for the Bureau of National Health Insurance, in memory of her beloved mother. She requested all shoots be done beside her stall so as not to affect her business. The only payment she was willing to accept was a black T-shirt given by the Bureau. Since her return from New York, Ms Chen has been working even longer hours. She has a new goal: To collect NT$10 million to set up a Chen Shu-chu Bursary aimed at helping poor children pay for school fees and medical bills, things she could not afford as a child.

“All I need is to sell a few more vegetables, save a little more money, in addition to a number of insurance policies that are near the end of their term. A lot of people are also willing to donate. I am sure there won’t be any problems,” she said.

Mr Li, who treats Ms Chen like a sister, said that setting up the bursary is actually a good way to let her retire from selling vegetables and start influencing society with her reputation, in the hope that there will be more generous “Chen Shu-chus”. As for Ms Chen, she said: ”

My philosophy in life is simple: If doing something makes you worried, then it must be a wrong thing. If it makes you happy, then you must have done the right thing. What others say is not important.”

( I hope that Readers Digest does not mind that I reproduced this very moving story. It has been making the rounds of the internet and it was sent to me by a friend)
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11 Responses to ““If doing something makes you worried, then it must be a wrong thing. If it makes you happy, then you must have done the right thing.””

  1. kavitha says:

    You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.
    ~ Kahlil Gibran

    …………………

    Call that a gift to needy men thou dost dispense,
    All else is void of good, seeking for recompense.
    (To give to the destitute is true charity. All other gifts have the nature of (what is done for) a measured return)

    ~ Thirukkural

  2. Chaitali Shah says:

    One of the reasons I like reading your blog is:
    Positive stories from across the globe gives me hope.

    There are many more reasons:
    1) Your poems make me wander
    2) Few articles make me question myself
    3) Few articles inspire me to be a director
    4) Few articles cheer me up
    5) few articles just touch my soul

    I can go on 🙂

    The point is always enjoy reading your blog

    I have a question, why did you choose to explore opportunity abroad and why dont you have more work in our country???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

  3. Nadezda says:

    I prefer another story of vegetable stall-woman raising to glory.
    Vodyanova’s one:)

    Irony apart, nice story, yet it’s didactic meaning is scarcely fair: we are in XXI century, there were Frances of Assisi, Thomas More, French Revolution, Marx, Gandi, Lenin and 74 years of social justice in Soviet Union.

    And now this story of a Good Millionair still is the only way to earn a little piece of Justice?
    Very bad result.

  4. Punya says:

    There is another important message in this article. If you like something, just do it wholeheartedly. And the secret behind great success stories is to “enjoy your work”.

    Thanks for sharing the nice article!!

  5. george says:

    Thank you for sharing this Shekhar! very touching.. and love your blogposts!

  6. paromita says:

    i am crying shekhar

  7. ravi shankar says:

    Dear Friends!!
    We have been forwarding so many fun mails daily, but think for one second and just forward this mail and request people to sign on the petition (sign meas put your name in the space given). Thanks in advance.

    Dear all!

    Just think one second what are we giving to our smiling kids? What are we giving to our future generations? Dont we want to give our future generation a clean environment and a developed nation? One thing always comes to my mind, for the last 60 years, we have been calling Indian as developing nation, can I ever see India as a developed nation in my lifetime. This question really bothers me every second.

    With the recent scams in every department, the ground is cracking under our feet and we are losing ground to corrupt politicians. Some think that they are living happily in their homes and why they need to think about country. Just think, if the country suffers, you will also suffer, your children will suffer. We know what is happening in our neighboring countries. Come let us pledge today to do something to save our nation. You may be thinking is this possible? Yes this is possible. When a person like Obama against all odds can become president of America, we can also change this country’s fortune. Yes we can change if we fight united.

    To send a satellite to space the cost is 176 crores (satellite GSat-5 Prime costs 176 core), just imagine how many satellites can be sent with 176,000 crores (1.76 lakh crores 2G scam), 1000 satellites. Black money lying in foreign banks 73,00000 crores (73 lakh crores). Hope you imagined how big an amount this is.

    I have started a petition-signing program on bringing the Black Money back to India. I would request to all the people of India to sign this petition and also send this link to their friends and relatives to sign it. Lets save our country!!!

    http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/blackmoney/

    Jai Hind

    Video Links to support my petition:

    1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQ7BSx511uk
    2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7A5DtNI9YY4&feature=related
    3. Also watch Rajiv Dixit videos on black money.

  8. Ruchi says:

    I am feel very small and very self centered after reading this.
    Great we all need reality check

  9. Appu says:

    very nice – very true. soul or inner-voice knows the best but the question is:
    The most powerful – soul or mind?

  10. TME says:

    Hi Sekhar,

    Nice post. I couldn’t find a way out here to upload this link to my facebook so that my friends can have a read of your post. Hope you will give such a provision for sharing.

    Thanks,
    TME

  11. Konkurrencer says:

    Come again soon and tell us just about all more, it is boy good to finally have found a website with a few sort of high quality rather than all the bad websites on the internet, make sure you update often, we’re a lot sitting in peaceful and enjoying your ideas!

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