In the run-up to the Chinese Lunar New Year, it is common to see hundreds of red tables organized into rows in a makeshift dining hall in Gueilin Riverside Park in Taipei City, Taiwan. It is the scene of the “year-end banquet” held every year for the homeless by a man named Liao Rong-ji.
Known locally as Guabao-Ji (刈包吉), Liao Rong-ji is hailed by the homeless as a hero. He is the operator of a food stand selling a traditional Taiwanese steamed bun made with thickly-sliced fatty pork, peanut sugar, and cilantro called a guabao (刈包) in the Taiwanese dialect.
Liao was born into a poor family on the outskirts of Taipei City and lost his father when he was only two years old. His family could only afford to eat sweet potato chips and tofu curd when he was young.
After graduating from elementary school at age 13, he became an apprentice at a local printing press in downtown Taipei, where he earned just 12 cents a day. The money he earned was barely enough for one meal. He took over the printing press business several years later, but eventually closed the business, and has since made his living selling guabao.
The scale of the outdoor banquet had grown over the years, from 5 tables to 1,000 tables currently. The total expense for the banquet amounts to some $125,000, with $31,000 contributed by Liao, and $94,000 from voluntary donations.
Although Liao is in his late 70s and donations have dwindled lately due to a sluggish economy, he continues to provide the homeless with a banquet.
Knowing the pangs of hunger and witnessing the hardships that homeless people suffer every day, Liao decided to start treating the homeless to a meal during the period when most people are at home with their families. That was in 1987, and the banquet has been an annual event since.
Liao Rong-ji is not alone in providing a free meal to the homeless. Another small restaurant owner in New Taipei City also provides braised pork rice and soup to the homeless free of charge.
Nicknamed “A-Shin,” Chen is a 54-year-old owner of a small restaurant in the Zhonghe District of New Taipei City. In his late 30s, he tried to make his fortune by starting up a business in partnership with friends; however, he lost all his savings and ended up tens of thousands of dollars in debt.
When he was out of work with no money, he survived for three days with nothing to eat. With the help of friends, he eventually established a small food stand. Experiencing the hardships of starvation, Chen put up a notice in his window offering a free meal for those in need.
These two philanthropists’ generosity and compassion have warmed the hearts of numerous homeless people, and won the respect and admiration of many.
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