Wednesday, 18 January 2006

Tzu Chi experience

This morning, I paid a visit to the Tzu Chi (慈濟) center in Guandu (關渡), which also houses their TV station, Da Ai (大愛). Tzu Chi is an international Buddhist organization started in Hualien (花蓮) in 1966. It now has more than 4,5 million volunteers worldwide (Wikipedia). While I am Buddhist, I don't belong to their organization and haven't thought about doing so; I just want to do some charity work.

The building is quite something in itself. It's a brand new, 15-story building in the shape of a crescent, with the dome over the lobby looking something like a lotus flower. On one side of the building is the Danshui River, the other sides--mountains and fields. I drive by it on the way to work and on the way home every day.

You have to take off your shoes when entering the building, like when entering a temple. I was caught off guard, because I was just expecting to go to the news department at a TV station. Since the station was in the same building, I had no choice but to climb out of my stiletto boots and put them in a bag they've prepared for visitors. After a long shuffle in my now-too-long pants across the spacious lobby with pristine, polished, wooden flooring, I finally came to the elevators that would take me to the news department. The last time I moved across any surface without shoes or slippers on was in Japan, in a kimono. Somehow, I couldn't simply walk, I unconsciously "shuffled." A very strange feeling it was. I must have looked very strange, too, come to think of it.

I met the news director on the eighth floor. The first thing that caught my attention when I got there was her office, or the lack of. The newsroom was a barrier-free space with hexagonal computer stations. There were no cubicles and the news director sat at one work station within a group, with people on both sides. I almost thought I was back in Silicon Valley. And the ceiling must have been two or three stories high! It felt nearly pressure-free. Imagine if they gave us space like that at FTV. They can make us work much harder! Of course, it was much more quiet at Da Ai and there weren't any screaming production/editorial staff running around.

At FTV, we don't have cubicles either, but all the desks are lined up like a traditional Japanese office--workers face each other in rows with the supervisor on the end, perpendicular to the rows. It's the perfect setup for workers to exchange funny looks and glare sideways at the boss when he/she says something weird or unbelievable. I don't do that, of course.

The Da Ai news chief seemed quite interested in having me work for them full-time, but I told her that I wasn't quite prepared for it, since I was just looking to do some volunteer work that day. I told her that I would like to host events or do other things along those lines. While she said she'd keep that in mind, she also said I can get to know the organization better by first working with their English news team. Their English news program is basically 12 minutes of Tzu Chi promotion. They do stories on Tzu Chi volunteers' humanitarian efforts in Taiwan and around the world. This week, they added a new segment on international, humanitarian news. But for the most part, it's to promote the organization.

While I hoped that I would be doing things different from what I normally do for work, I was asked to help translate news for the English news team. I guess it's a way to get to know them and a place to start. I translated one article and was brought to the video editing center to voice it over.

The first thing I noticed at the VE center was that all the computers were Apples! There were the old lamp/swivel-style iMacs, there were the new ones where the CPU was attached to the LCD and there were other machines with Apple displays! Now I'm pretty sure the monks and nuns there listen to sutras on engraved iPods.

Stories were voiced in small, sound-proofed rooms with state-of-the-art equipment, and edited at different work stations. While FTV is a commercial TV news station, stories are recorded and edited in the same room with paint peeling off the bare, concrete walls. I won't even go into the equipment, or the long line of reporters glaring in from the outside, waiting for their turn in the room. What a difference in philosophy.

I'm not about to jump ship to Da Ai anytime soon, but I was just so impressed with impression it left me. I wonder where they stand in finances and also, the values they attach to quality and quantity.

It really is a totally different world in there, almost cult-like. Very interesting, indeed. Jade Weng will be back to find out more next Monday.

Imagine if my bosses found out that I'm volunteering at another TV news station...


fuigo said...

Did you know that TV station is Apple Macintosh-only???

Check out this article:

miNgo said...

you don't know what tzu chi is? it's the rich buhddist house wives with too much money and too much time so might as well be nice association.. only reason i don't bag on them is because they actually do good. it's like the salvation army of the ruling elite. well.. i just think, figure out what it is you want to do, and move to a better environment that will help accelerate your career. nice cush leather sofas as office chairs with sound proof rooms wouldn't be a bad start. tzu chi is one organization i have some respect for. and that in itself means alot..

Anonymous said...

Tzu Chi is not a proper Buddhist organisation. I would agree with your use of the word "cult". I would highly recommend that you do not associate anymore with this organisation.