Once deemed a rising political star, former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator Lo Wen-jia (羅文嘉) is now surrounded by books and rice paddies after he chose a different path and stepped out of the limelight.
After graduating from National Taiwan University’s Department of Political Science, Lo entered politics shortly after completing his compulsory military service in 1991.
Under the DPP’s administration between 2000 and 2008, Lo was elected a legislator and served as chairman of the Hakka Affairs Council and vice chairman of the now-defunct Council for Cultural Affairs.
However, when his father passed away two years ago, he decided to move back to his hometown in Taoyuan County’s Sinwu Township (新屋) to help take care of his mother.
Lo found a new vocation by renovating his family’s housing compound that had fallen into disrepair and began growing organic rice on family-owned farmland nearby.
“I have learnt all the lessons the city has to offer, but my mind is only at peace after I roll up my sleeves and go to work on the land in the early morning,” Lo said.
He said in the world of politics, people were constantly engaged in the business of trying to change others and that had been the main cause of misery in his life.
“But now, although my livelihood depends on the weather, which isn’t always what I want it to be, I have learnt the art of acceptance and that has helped me to keep going,” Lo said.
Citing as an example an incident in which his entire rice crop was destroyed, Lo said he learnt not only a hard lesson from Mother Nature, but also how to let go and accept the unpredictability of life.
Lo took another leap of faith last year and purchased the Buffalo Book Co, which was founded in 1966 and has published scores of bestsellers, many of which provided “spiritual nourishment” to student activists in the past.
Lo then converted a house left by his father into a bookstore and named it the Buffalo Bookshop, where people can not only find the publishing house’s most classic publications, but also a wide range of second-hand books that Lo has accumulated.
“Certain types of soil will only grow certain kinds of flowers. Keeping a bookstore in a rural area afloat may be a challenging task, but the need to provide children here with a reading environment certainly outweighs any disadvantages,” Lo said.
Lo said that in an effort to promote reading in children, he also launched a campaign in which students aged 18 and younger could take home a book from his bookshop for free once they collected 20 stamps.
“Students get one stamp for each book they borrow from the Sinwu Public Library, which means whoever borrows 20 books from the library will be rewarded with a free book,” Lo said, adding that people were welcome to either donate their pre-owned books to the bookshop or exchange them for different ones.
Stepping up his efforts, Lo also put other plots of his family’s farmland up for rent and has been using the revenue from selling what he has named as Hsuehtien rice (學田米) to fund free English and drum classes in the township.
Lo said his idea was inspired by a popular Sung Dynasty education promotion scheme called the “Hsuehtien system” in which academies rented their fields out and used the revenue generated to keep schools going.
By living a semi-retired life Lo is not only able to do the things that matter to him, but also to spend more quality time with his own children.
“I was an unqualified politician and an unfit father. However, I gradually came to the realization that children are more than just the continuations of their parents’ lives, and I am glad that I have more time for them now,” Lo said.
Lo said if the weather permitted, he goes out rowing on a nearby pond with his children or takes them to the family’s farmland to experience the life of a peasant.
“Doing this always provides me with the purest joy,” Lo said.