Once son-in-law to the owner of what was the largest wood materials company in Taiwan in the 1950s and 1960s, a boss of 500 employees and husband to a wife whose personal wealth was estimated to be large enough to sustain her family for at least three generations, Kuo Ching-ho (郭清河) had it all — until his fortunes took a dramatic turn because of one addiction: gambling.
Prior to his marriage, the 69-year-old Kuo had been in the oil importing business and said he had already been used to leading a lavish lifestyle, but after his marriage he really did not have to worry about money.
“When I married my wife, her dowry consisted of four pieces of real estate,” Kuo said, adding that she also had assets and cash totaling at least NT$10 million (US$334,800 at current exchange rates).
“The people I knew said I had hit a gold vein,” Kuo said, adding that with his subsequent position as president in his father-in-law’s company, it seemed that he was leading a charmed life.
However, as the saying goes, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely — and Kuo was no exception.
“It was all due to my greed,” he said.
The trouble started when he bought a lottery ticket for NT$100 and hit a NT$5 million jackpot. It all went downhill from there as he started betting big, winning or losing tens of thousands at a time and eventually losing millions, Kuo said, adding that whenever he won he would spend all the money on nightclubs or gourmet meals.
The lottery became his primary source of income and though fortune graced him several times, his gambling eventually destroyed his family and career.
“I was counting on the fact that my wife came from a wealthy family and would not ask for a divorce out of pride,” Kuo said, his tone of voice conveying his regret about his behavior.
He had felt certain that even if he lost everything, he would still have a job in his father-in-law’s firm and a home to live in.
The realization that his behavior would not be tolerated indefinitely hit him after he came home one day to find that the locks of the house had been changed and his wife was filing for divorce.
In one fell swoop he went from living the high life to having nothing to his name, from being someone with great fortune to someone whom the state welfare services could not help and who had to rely on the charity of the Grace Home Church in Taipei’s Nangang District (南港).
The ministers at the church were generous and despite not knowing where their next meal would come from, they still did everything within their power to help those that had fallen on hard times or those that had slipped through the cracks and been forgotten by society.
Kuo said it was when he compared his life at the church with his previous life, where his social circle had consisted of the rich and powerful, and his extravagant doling out of cash was seen as a pastime, that he realized the true meaning of life.
Tasked with feeding the old, the physically challenged or other disadvantaged people ignored by society, Kuo said he knew how he wanted to spend the rest of his life.
“Though physically, I’m 69 years old, I feel that I’m actually Kuo Ching-ho, a four-year-old who has been reborn at the Grace Home Church. My past life is truly behind me; the Kuo Ching-ho who treated money like dirt is no more,” he said.
Living and working at the church, Kuo has gone from the receiving end of the spectrum to the giving, preparing food and taking care of logistics for supplies, where he once was waited on hand and foot in luxurious restaurants.
“My joy in the past was the wanton spending of money, but now I realize that true wealth lies in simplicity,” he said, pointing to the clothes on his back as an example, saying that they were either donated or had cost less than NT$100.
“Now I can make NT$1,000 a month and still have some left over at the end of the month to help others,” Kuo said. “The sense of fulfillment and satisfaction I get from helping others is more exhilarating than spending money could ever be.”