It was a bright Sunday morning and I should be tearing at a roti canai and poring over the Sunday papers. Instead, I chose to follow a friend to a recycle centre in SS2 Petaling Jaya to help sort garbage.

    When I was first invited to go along it seem like a novel or somewhat nobel idea  – giving up some personal time to do something for the community. When I arrived I was handed a pair of gloves at the biggest stall where huge bags of plastic containers were left on the roadside and we had to sort out those that had high recycle value.

    It didn’t seem too difficult. Well, not until I started on bags of garbage that were not pre-sorted. The feeling of novelty quickly dissipated and I found myself muttering under my breath “why am I doing this? I don’t even go through my own garbage and now I have to go through someone else’s disgusting garbage.”


  As more people joined in the search for recycleable containers I felt I had to persist and many of them were young professionals and several more senior and seasoned “garbage – sorters” were professionals and spoke well. Their banter and jokes about how one can tell the lifestyle of a household from looking at their garbage helped me turn the corner of disgust.

  I have always been curious about  volunteers from the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation. The first time I saw them was on the TV coverage of the big flood in Kota Tinggi Johor, in 2007. They were spotted in yellow tee shirts diligently helping with flood relief. Subsequently they were seen as always the first to be on site whenever there was a disaster and yet I have not seen them openly raising funds or making press statements.

  Each time I catch them at a disaster scene they would be working diligently without fanfare. I needn’t say much about who they are because you can Google that background but my experience with them was indeed a humbling exercise and we certainly need not shout about it when we do our share for the community. And yes, there is a lot more we can learn about people we live with through their actions besides their titles and their social status. And, of course about their lifestyles too through their garbage.

  If you are game for a new enlightening experience, join the Tzu Chi volunteers every third Sunday of the month next to the police station in SS2, Petaling Jaya.

Yu Ying is a freelance writer who supports sustainable living .