People

Tan Jiau Hok: "Living each day with mindfulness and contentment brings me joy"

Engaging in activities like teaching children to swim or keeping Jing Si Hall clean requires us to be in “action”. If we focus our minds on our task at hand, we can be in “stillness”. Hence, by being mindful of our actions, we can achieve happiness.


"After entering the restroom, the first thing I do is to check the dustbin. I will swap out the bag for a fresh one if it is full. Secondly, check the restroom paper roll. I have to replace it with a new one when it is almost used up. The third thing to do is to scrub the toilet bowl with this cleaning solution.”

On a Tuesday morning, Tan Jiau Hok, a dedicated cleaning team volunteer committed to maintaining the cleanliness of the Jing Si Hall, was seen explaining in detail the steps of cleaning the restroom in English and Mandarin. It turned out that a male volunteer was at the Jing Si Hall on this day to learn how to become a Tzu Chi volunteer, and Tan enthusiastically offered to guide him.  

"Having a detailed checklist for cleaning the restroom is crucial. It ensures the task can be completed efficiently, even in my absence. That's why having a well-structured lesson plan is important," exclaimed Tan with a cheerful demeanour. He implements the SOP of restroom cleaning just like a lesson plan because making a lesson plan is his daily routine as a swimming coach.

 (Photo by Lai Tong Heng)

He kept his schedule full, saying, "My life is all about exercise, work and more exercise. Every year, my goal is to improve both my performance and speed and that of my students."

At the age of 12, Tan discovered his passion for sports after joining the track and field team. Running brought him immense fulfilment and joy. After completing his military service at 20 years old, Tan briefly helped in his family's business. During this time, he realised that he still had a strong passion and love for sports. Determined to follow his passion, Tan made the bold decision to resign from his administrative role in his family’s business and began his coaching career in swimming by teaching children at public swimming pools. This marked the beginning of a remarkable journey that spanned over forty years.

To maintain good level of energy, Tan loved to exercise when he was not teaching, dabbling in activities such as running, swimming and cycling. As an avid learner, Tan exhibited a steadfast commitment to mastering new skills. In order to become a lifeguard and a coach for competitive swimming, Tan continued to take exams to obtain new licences. Likewise, as a fervent marathoner, he joined the cycling club in order to compete in triathlon. He would wake up at 4am every weekend for gruelling cycling trainings to improve his fitness and endurance.

Although he worked as a swimming instructor on a freelance basis, he adhered to a disciplined lifestyle, waking up and sleeping on time to ensure sufficient rest, as well as having his three daily meals on time to meet his nutritional needs. For many years, he dedicated himself to teaching seven days a week. During his youth and middle-aged years, he was busiest during weekends, with teaching sessions stretching from eight in the morning until nine in the evening.

He loved how he could stay physically active while earning an income at the same time. He kept his schedule full, saying, "My life is all about exercise, work and more exercise. Every year, my goal is to improve both my performance and speed and that of my students."

 (Photo by Lai Tong Heng)

Unexpectedly, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic jeopardised Tan's career. Yet, it also ushered in a new chapter in his life.

After living this way for forty years, Tan's children had grown up and started families of their own. They advised him to retire and savour life's pleasures. However, unsure of what he should do in retirement, Tan persisted in his work at the swimming pool, finding solace in the familiar routine. Unexpectedly, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic jeopardised Tan's career. Yet, it also ushered in a new chapter in his life.

In April 2020, the island state implemented a nationwide partial lockdown to contain the worsening situation, leading to the restricted usage of all public pools. As a swimming instructor, Tan’s jobs were all halted.

At first, he could still enjoy his time of exercising alone. However, his joy was short-lived as his knee suddenly swelled up, causing discomfort, and he was unable to run or swim despite seeking medical treatment. This left him feeling anxious and stuck. With limited activities to occupy his time, his child suggested him to watch videos on YouTube. He refused at first but reluctantly agreed to learn at the end.

While browsing aimlessly on YouTube one day, Tan chanced upon a drama series on Da Ai TV and was intrigued by the drama that was spoken in Minnan, a dialect similar to the local Hokkien, a rarity in Singapore. The portrayal of Tzu Chi's commitment to environmental protection and their compassion towards the less fortunate in the drama deeply resonated with Tan, prompting him to watch other Da Ai dramas one after another.

Though he could not recall the title of the drama or the details of the plot, Tan struggled to hold back his tears at the thought of the beauty and goodness presented in the drama. As he continued to watch Da Ai dramas, Tan pondered if he could find a similar organisation in Singapore.

After searching online, Tan found out that Tzu Chi also has a presence in Singapore. During his first visit to the Jing Si Hall, he enthusiastically registered as a donor member and left feeling exhilarated. Returning a month later, he expressed his desire to volunteer and unhesitatingly cleaned the restroom at the Jing Si Hall on the same day. He then became part of the volunteer cleaning team, which plays a crucial role in maintaining the cleanliness of the Jing Si Hall.

(Photo by Goh Shoo Weng)

The manner Tan planned his cleaning schedule so systematically was akin to carrying out science-based gym training.

The more cleaning work he did, the more joyous he felt. He initially began by volunteering for half-a-day per week, gradually increasing his commitment to one, two and later, three days. He had even begun to volunteer at the Tzu Chi Free Clinic at Khatib, in addition to his involvement in various small and large scale activities.

The manner Tan planned his cleaning schedule so systematically was akin to carrying out science-based gym training. Tan divided his cleaning tasks into basic daily maintenance, such as cleaning the restrooms, corridors and stairwells; and areas that need to be cleaned periodically, such as sweeping dry leaves at the car park, wiping the glass on the exterior walls, and cleaning the VIP rooms, and so on. He arranged different cleaning "combinations" each week, and also monitored the frequency of daily cleanings, the physical exertion and time required for each combination, and the intervals between regular cleanings.   

Besides scheduling his maintenance work carefully, he would survey the entire Jing Si Hall to assess the level of tidiness and cleanliness in various areas. He would make necessary adjustments during each cleaning session, from cleaning of the ditch at the outdoor carpark that required bending low to sweep the leaves, to wiping of the glass windows that required stretching of body and arms to reach higher areas.

While Tan was effortfully wiping a large glass window and meticulously scraping away stubborn dirt, he was unperturbed by the beads of sweat forming on his forehead. A receptionist volunteer joked, "The glass is so pristine that a flying bird collided with the glass once. Fortunately, there was no damage to the window nor injury to the bird."

(Photo by Goh Shoo Weng)

Every Tuesday, as he meticulously sweeps the monotonous stairs of the four-storey Jing Si Hall from the top floor down, Tan would see his favourite Jing Si Aphorism displayed on a wall at the ground floor. 

Tan is always busy, covered in sweat and perhaps a bit dishevelled, but he does not mind that at all. He’s so engrossed in what he does that he literally forgot about himself, always wearing a satisfied smile. Tan believes that cleaning, when done with focus, can also serve as a form of meditation.

What leaves the deepest impression on him are the expressions of gratitude he receives from the passing volunteers each time he tends to his cleaning duties.

"You guys came out of the office and said to me, 'Thank you,' 'Thank you, brother,' 'Take care of yourself, drink lots of water.' Many people said that to me. I feel that it's a very well-mannered organisation, and it touches my heart."

Tan smiled broadly when he shared this joy eloquently until his smile suddenly faded, replaced by a slight choke in his voice as he continued.

For this reason, he has made it his mission to ensure that visitors to the Jing Si Hall are greeted by an ambience that is both tranquil and welcoming. With unwavering dedication, he meticulously tends to the cleanliness of the premise.

In order to clean the floor of the Jing Si Hall, Tan would first arrange the small chairs neatly from front to back, and start wiping from one end to the other. Tan said with satisfaction, "This way, it will ensure thorough cleanliness and leave a good impression on the visitors." At the same time, he told his fellow volunteers that the mop must be wrung out to avoid damaging the wooden floor.

(Photo by Goh Shoo Weng)

Every Tuesday, as he meticulously sweeps the monotonous stairs of the four-storey Jing Si Hall from the top floor down, Tan would see his favourite Jing Si Aphorism displayed on a wall at the ground floor. It reads, "Be more mindful in everything you do”. By cultivating the mind through engaging in activities, one can develop a disciplined mind, thus reducing uncontrollable thoughts and temperamental anxieties associated with perfectionism.

After resuming his job as a swimming instructor, 65-year-old Tan prioritises his time for Tzu Chi activities. The former "workaholic", who was once busiest on weekends, now regularly participates in various weekend events such as training sessions, charity home visits and environmental sustainability day, and rarely misses any.  

But what brings Tan the greatest joy is still the time he spends cleaning and wiping in the Jing Si Hall. He said with a smile, "I enjoy the feeling of sweating after 'moving' the most, and the more I clean every day, the better I become!" Behind his genuine and kind smile lies a clarity that emerges after “cleansing” his heart.


Related Articles