A Tale of Three Chans: Two Crooks and A Grocer

When I was in Form V (11th grade) in Hong Kong, there were 40 kids in my classroom. Ten of them, yes ten, had the family name Chan. Suffice it to say that the Chinese name Chan 陳, also spelled as Chen, Chin, Chinn, Tan, Tijan, etc., is very common.

That name is equally popular among criminals and frauds. That leads me to the most famous of them in modern history: Chen Shui Bian 陳水扁. Chen was a folksy type of guy. He liked to be called Ah Bian 阿扁. Ah Bian was a A Tale of Three Chans_1successful lawyer who went into politics and became the president of Taiwan. One day he looked up Black’s Law Dictionary and discovered that the word “president” was synonymous with “king.” So Ah Bian and his royal family started to treat the national treasury like a big jar of fortune cookies and dipped their hands in it whenever they felt like it. They were very generous with public funds but were meticulously frugal with their own expenses. They would turn in receipts for their grandchildren’s diapers so that no pooh-pooh would be wasted.

After a few years, the Taiwanese people got tired of Chen’s edition of laissez-faire presidency.So they prosecuted him, put him in jail and got some of the money back. It’s believed that he and his family still have a few billion dollars stashed around the world, but His Majesty remains mum on those alleged secret accounts.

There’s another celebrated man with the family name Chan and he lives in Hong Kong. His full name is Tony Chan 陳振聰. Chan was a fortune teller by profession. He looked into the swirling smoke of some burning incense and found a new girlfriend. Her name was Kung Yu Sum 龔如心, aka Little Sweetie 小甜甜. Little Sweetie was considered by some as the wealthiest woman in Asia. When she died, she left all her estate to Chan.

Kung’s family contested the will, which was presented for probate by Chan. In open court, Chan testified that his relationship with Kung was one of pure love and sublime sex, and it’s logical, foreseeable and truthful that Kung would leave everything to him. The hand-writing experts who examined the signatures on the will did not agree with him. Neither did the court. The judge ruled that the will was a forgery. Chan was awarded a lot of zeroes after the decimal point. That was something few clairvoyants could have predicted.

But wait, not all Chans are bad people! Let me introduce you to Chen Shu Ju 陳樹菊. Until a few months ago Chen was a regular middle-aged grocer in a local market in Taiwan. Chen owns a vegetable stand there. She’s sold vegetables there ever since she was 12 years old when her mother died and she had to take over the family business as the oldest daughter of the family. (Her older sibling, a brother, did not quit school and did not work full time there. He finished college.)

A Tale of Three Chans_2Then Time Magazine named Chen as one of the fifty most influential people in the world. What did she do? It turns out that she’s practically donated all her money to different charities over the decades, mostly to grade schools and hospitals. This is not a person who had a guilty dream last night and decided to give away her worldly belongings in the morning. Here’s a lady who got up every morning at 3 o’clock to get ready to sell ginger, onions and other vegetables, only to give away her fruits of labor at the end of the day. It’s estimated that over the last twenty some years she’s given away the equivalent of US$300,000 to different causes. This amount may not sound like a whole lot to some of you, but try to imagine donating, say 80% of what you could save every month (your income minus taxes, housing, food, medical care, kids’ education and other necessaries) – month after month, for 25 years. Can you do that?

Miss Chen has 100% of my admiration and respect, although I can’t even imitate 1% of what she does. But here’s my cop-out and humble proposal. Can we start with one tenth of one percent (0.10%)? If you can save $1,000 a month, will you make a donation of $1 to charity?

Try — it may buy you some of the nicest feelings you ever had.

*** The End ***

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