Situated along Sims Avenue, the Jing Si Books and Café opened its doors to the public on 1 April 2016. Prior to the opening of the bookstore, the planning and organizing committee had specially visited two successfully-run branches of the Jing Si Books and Café in Johor Bahru, to learn from their experiences in store planning and management. A Tzu Chi volunteer from Johor Bahru, who had previously designed the interior of a few branches of Jing Si Books and Café, helped create the interior design of the SIMs Avenue branch, and the store’s furniture was partially sponsored by a generous Tzu Chi donor, also from Johor Bahru.
As the opening date of the book café loomed closer, the art of welcoming visitors became an important issue. Every little detail had to carry the spirit of Tzu Chi’s humanistic culture and could not be overlooked. To instill volunteers with the same spirit of service, staff from the Jing Si Book Hut, together with Tzu Chi Singapore’s cultural promotion team, organized a training session for 56 participants on 27 March 2016.
Bookstore Volunteers Learn About “Tzu Chi Etiquette”
Upon arrival at the Jing Si Books and Café, the trainees were greeted by the sight of elegant decoration, soothing music, and the gentle fragrance of tea wafting in the air. The focus of the lesson was to familiarize trainees with an understanding of Tzu Chi’s etiquette, the appropriate manner of welcoming guests, and the operations of the store.
“We may not be professionals in the service industry, but we can (still) let our visitors experience our thoughtful service.”
After hearing these words from the manager of the bookstore, Liao Jie Ying, the trainees, who came from all walks of life, gained confidence and were determined to receive every visitor with joy and sincere respect.
“Because Singapore is a bustling city, I see that everyone here speaks fast, eats fast, and lives at a fast pace. The book café provides a place of respite; when visitors step in, their thoughts and minds calm down, and they can find their direction in life again,” said Liao.
Humbleness in Service
Two weeks prior to the training, Liao and her co-trainers Xu Li Zhen and Qiu Min Hui from the cultural promotion team studied teaching materials from the Penang, Taiwan, Selangor and Kuala Lumpur branches of the Jing Si Books and Café, in order to prepare course contents that are suitable for local use. For the simulation and role-play segment, they scripted and acted out the parts of customer, volunteer, and staff so that the trainees would have a better understanding in an actual situation. From the moment the customer entered the bookstore till they settled the bill and left, every detail was carefully taken into account. Trainees were also invited to take turns presenting in role-play scenarios while the trainers gave pointers from the side.
Trainee Chen Bao Cai announced that he was willing to rise to the challenge even as he admitted that he used to think that serving others was a feminine job. Now that he had signed up as a volunteer at the bookstore, he had to speak gently and be aware of details, such as placing tableware down quietly, while interacting with all types of customers. Chen is a boss in the food and beverage industry and is used to having his drinks served to him by others, but that day, he finally understood that the act of serving is not an easy task. He was willing to humble himself in the belief that the job would help him develop a more meticulous bent.
“I’m a teacher (so) basically I speak and my students listen, and they don’t really dare to disobey,” said another volunteer Ji Cui Yun. She added that helping out at the bookstore is not only a challenge but also a role-changer for her. As she switches from being an educator that commands the respect of students, to a service staff that serves customers to the best of her ability, Ji is happy to learn as she feels that Tzu Chi’s humanistic culture lends a uniqueness to the bookstore.
A Spiritual Sanctuary of Great Love
How does one attract the attention of a customer? The answer lies in the decoration of the establishment. The Jing Si team from Selangor and Kuala Lumpur made a special trip down on the 28 and 29 of March 2016 to share their experience in dressing up their local branches of Jing Si Books and Café and whipping up drinks. The team members even delayed their return so as to ensure that the decorations, product displays and planning for the public talks could be discussed and perfected.
Even before they enter the book café, passers-by can have a clear view of its beautiful interior through the full-length glass windows. With oriental-inspired décor infused with Zen-like ambience and creativity, it is a perfect place for families and friends to unwind and relax with a book and a drink.
On display are exquisite tea-making utensils, eco-friendly utensils as well as books. The most prominent item display is the work of famous Taiwan photographer Ruan Yi Zhong’s photography series of Dharma Master Cheng Yen.
When one opens the door of the bookstore, a picture of the Master reading the newspaper greets the eye. The picture illustrates how the Master is always up to date with the world news, yet nothing can disrupt her peace. On the left one sees a display of Jing Si products while the shelves set against the walls are filled with Dharma publications.
The space can accommodate 25 chairs and 8 tables, providing a quiet reading sanctuary for visitors. Amidst them, there is a kitchen island table meant to function as a demonstration platform during the Jing Si culinary classes. Adorning the area behind this table are images of the monastic disciples of Master Cheng Yen hard at work at the Jing Si Abode in Taiwan, living by their motto of “No Work, No Meal”. A cabinet placed here appropriately displays the Jing Si line of instant rice, instant grain powders, and other nutritious offerings from the product range.
“The Master cannot come to Singapore but through these books and other products, others can get to know the spirit of Great Love embodied by Tzu Chi,” said Liao. With this in mind, the Singapore team decided on the placement of the Jing Si products by the doorway, and the introductory booklets on Tzu Chi and its periodicals at the cashier counter.
The book café has attracted many visitors since its opening, including Singapore’s most-celebrated multi-media artist Tan Swie Hian. Many Tzu Chi volunteers, too, dropped by or volunteered to help out during the shifts. With volunteers welcoming the public in getting to know more about the spirit of Tzu Chi’s Great Love here, the book café truly feels like a living room belonging to the community.
Editor’s note: The Jing Si Books and Café offers a range of English and Chinese books, CDs, DVDs, and other multimedia materials produced by Tzu Chi HQ’s Jing Si Publications, as well as a variety of lifestyle products, such as eco-friendly utensils, and all-natural, additive-free instant rice, nuts, powdered soup, multigrain/bean drink mix, handmade soap, hydrosols, etc. Most of these lifestyle products are made by the monastic disciples of Master Cheng Yen in Taiwan. Instead of relying on public donations, the monastics support their livelihood by doing various works; “No Work, No Meal” is their motto.
Jing Si Books and Café (Sims Ave Branch)
Opening hours：10am - 9pm
Add：BLK 134, GEYLANG EAST AVE 1 #01-219 S(380134)
Jing Si Book Hut
Opening hours：10am – 6pm (Closed on Tuesdays)
Tel：65825598 (EXT 114)
Add：Level 1, JING SI HALL, 9 ELIAS ROAD, S(519937)