A Life-changing Trip

By Huang Jia-hui (黃嘉慧), Lin Cui-lian (林翠蓮)
Abridged and translated by Kim Ning (甯素青)

A Life-changing Trip

By Huang Jia-hui (黃嘉慧),
Lin Cui-lian (林翠蓮)
Abridged and translated
by Kim Ning (甯素青)

A trip to Taiwan has transformed Li De-fu from drinking, gambling, and domestic violence to selfless giving for humanity.

"On the second Sunday every month, we'll be here to collect your recyclables. If you have anything to recycle, please bring it to us," explains Li De-fu (李德福) in Tzu Chi uniform to the residents of a community in Singapore. Bald and stout, Li is humble and full of smiles, completely different from the way he used to be.

Li is the second youngest in a family of ten children. Showered by attention from his parents and siblings since young, Li was spoiled and very willful. He dropped out of junior high school and became addicted to drugs when he was 15. To get money for drugs, he resorted to theft and robbery. The first time he attempted robbery, he got arrested and was sent to a juvenile detention center.

When he was released two years later, in order to cut his ties with his unwholesome friends, his mother took him to a Buddhist association. There, he met Guo Ren-dai (郭仁黛), who became his wife several years later.

Just as Guo thought they could live happily ever after, another crisis in Li's life almost shattered their family — After his painting job was done every day, Li would drink with his friends till he got drunk. Gradually, he became addicted to drinking.

In 1997, Li became a cab driver, and picked up a new habit — gambling. He lost so much money that he couldn't even buy gas for his cab and was buried deeply in debt.

Li De-fu and his wife, Guo Ren-dai (center), attend a study group for the Water Repentance text. He shares that every word in the text reminds him not to go astray ever again. (Photo by Liu Su-fang)

Guo had no choice but to drive the cab in her husband's stead in order to support their family with three sons. "For eight years, I drove 16 hours a day and didn't dare to call it a day until I made 300 Singapore dollars (around US$200)," said Guo.

Li was oblivious to his wife's hard work and continued to indulge in gambling. "When he couldn't get money from me, he'd kick and beat me. He didn't even come home for the family reunion dinner on Chinese New Year's Eve. To hold the family together, I could only bear with him," Guo choked up as she recalled the past.

In 2011, invited by his sister-in-law, Li came to Taiwan for their family trip. When watching TV in his hotel room, he chanced upon Da Ai TV channel and heard Dharma Master Cheng Yen (證嚴上人) said in a program, "The law of karma never fails. We should all be aware of the consequences of our actions." These words struck him like lightning. Lying in bed that night, as memories of his wayward past played one after another like movies, he tossed and turned, unable to sleep.

After quitting smoking, Li De-fu donates the money for cigarettes to help the needy. His eldest sister, Li Yu-ling (right), is very grateful to Tzu Chi for bringing her younger brother back to her. (Photo by Cai You-liang)

From that day on, when he returned to his hotel room every night, he'd tune in to Da Ai TV channel. At the time, Da Ai Drama was showing a story of a gambler and his elderly mother. Seeing how the son broke his mother's heart, Li thought of how he'd been disappointing his own mother and wife. He felt deep remorse for what he had done.

After returning to Singapore, Li quit drinking and gambling cold turkey. He even changed his phone number so his gambling partners couldn't contact him again. He watched Da Ai TV programs and listened to Master Cheng Yen's teachings every day, and also started to serve as a Tzu Chi volunteer by helping with recycling work, visiting terminal-stage cancer patients, and sharing Tzu Chi's value with others.

Seeing her husband's transformation, Guo was also inspired to join Tzu Chi. Now, the couple are both Tzu Chi volunteers. They have a nickname – recycling cab drivers, as they collect and deliver recyclables in their cabs.

"I have found my path in life and I'll walk down that path with all my heart," said Li. "I'll make good use of the body my mother gave me to do Tzu Chi's work as a way to repay my mother. This is the only thing I can do for her."

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