Taiwan’s Source of Pride
A Chance Encounter with a Youth
Just a freshman in junior high, his father ill with cancer and mother afflicted with depression, he takes care of his family. Unbowed by classmates’ derisive comments, he finds strength in the words and deeds of his parents.
A Chance Encounter with a YouthBy Liu Ka-shiang
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 514 )
After sharing some adventure experiences with a group of youths at Erlin Senior High School, I told the event organizers I would not need a ride. Instead, I wanted to take a Yuanlin Transit bus back home to Taichung. The venerable transit company with its distinctive blue buses has been in business for a long time, yet I had never availed myself of its services for a ride home. With visions of traversing among country towns and villages along the journey, the duration of the ninety-minute ride was no match for my excitement.
Feeling somewhat obligated, Mr. Chen, a teacher from the school, insisted on accompanying me to the old bus station, where we sat chatting side by side on the 1950s-style wooden benches. Suddenly, a tall, lean young man turned to me, and asked with amazement, “Aren’t you Liu Ka-shiang?”
As I nodded a yes, I marveled that a young man recognized me here in this little village bus station. He looked like a high school student, and I couldn’t help but ask him, “Who are you, and how do you know who I am?”
It turned out that he had been in the audience two days earlier at a presentation I made at Dacheng Junior High School as part of a series of motivational speeches at remote schools around Erlin. A freshman at that school, he happened to be taking the Sigang line home and was in Erlin to volunteer at a church. Both Mr. Chen and myself were surprised and pleased at how he carried himself with straightforwardness and assurance far closer to that of a high school student than a freshman in junior high.
His name was Tsai Hai-hao, and next he excitedly told me that the most touching part of my presentation two days prior was when I described watching my mother’s back as she walked away, as it reminded him of his own family’s experiences.
Curious, I couldn’t help but ask about his family background.
He said his family received support from the Taiwan Fund for Children and Families. His father has oral cancer along with complications of diabetes and other ailments, for which he undergoes regular kidney dialysis. His mother, originally from Indonesia, suffers from severe depression, and with both parents unable to work, they rely on help from outside the family.
Listening, I started feeling sorry for him, but his eyes burned with spirit, full of strength and optimism. As the bus approached the station and boarding time neared, all I could do was give him a pat on the shoulder and wish him the best.
As I sat there waiting for the bus to depart, looking out from my seat through the windows covered in the misty rain, I could see him sitting on the wooden bench waiting for his bus. I couldn’t help but feel a bit melancholy. Just a freshman in junior high school, he faced a tougher road ahead growing up under his family’s circumstances. Before the bus got moving, I rushed back out to tell him that I would like to get in touch for another chat sometime.
As the bus rolled out, he turned towards me with a smile and a wave. Something prodded me inside, making me feel as if he was lacking something but that I was unable to help in any way. Out on the road away from home, such feelings of helplessness can throw a person into a boundless dark space. There on the bus, the image of the lonely Hai-hao waving goodbye lingered in my mind.
Giving Dad Insulin Shots
Once I got home I did some checking on the Internet and found out more about the Tsai family. They live in an old house made of black tiles with a white roof, nearly surrounded by fields. Hai-hao has a twin brother and a sister one year older than them. After getting home from school, Hai-hao usually gets busy right away making dinner for the family as soon as he puts his backpack down. The siblings take turns doing household chores and caring for their parents, like giving their father daily insulin shots to the abdomen or massaging their mother’s back from time to time, leaving little time to do homework.
Perhaps that is why he seems so much more mature than most children. Many children from poor households display self-pity, but Hai-hao not only accepts this life, he even feels fortunate and is grateful for his parents.
Several years ago Dacheng made headlines for the Guoguang petrochemical facility. No more than a village of a few quiet old streets, it is surrounded by countryside. Coming largely from disadvantaged poor families, most of the students are simple and naive, and can easily go astray without good guidance. Hai-hao is a disadvantaged youth even among the disadvantaged, but fortunately he is a boy of decent character that works hard to bring out the best he has.
Last year the Taiwan Fund for Children and Families selected Hai-hao as a notable youth, and he has won awards for his calligraphy and essays. Most important is his dedication to family, his resilience, and his strength in adversity.
I am not too sure how to express my mood as I bring this piece to a conclusion. With Hai-hao’s permission, I would like to share an excerpt of an essay he published on the Internet in hopes that this young man’s efforts will inspire his peers to grow with him.
I used to be so angry all the time – mad that my mom and dad are both sick, that I have to go to school and take examinations, and annoyed that I had to do so much work around the house while my parents stayed in the hospital. But Mom and Dad, I’ve never blamed you for anything, really, because you’ve taught me so many things.
Dad taught me a lot about children’s toys, and Mom taught me how to sing Indonesian folk songs. I’m so glad to have had you with me for a happy childhood.
I remember one time when you were sick a classmate said something disparaging about you being “handicapped.” I was so upset I cried and cried when I got home, but Mom consoled me and said it was okay, that others don’t understand our family, and all that matters is that we know the truth about who we are. Daddy also reassured me, telling me to disregard what others say, and believe in myself – words I remember well to this day. I know that my mother and father are just like everyone else’s parents.
Dear Mom and Dad, don’t worry about me. The Family Center social workers treat me well. They visit me at home and give me free computer lessons. And when I have trouble, a lot of people reach out to help. So when I grow up I want to be a social worker to help people even less fortunate than me…
Thank you, Hai-hao, for making friends with me, and for showing me the efforts of a young man from a remote village. I can see you there, shining brightly like a lone star over the horizon of a little coastal village.
Liu Ka-shiang is a nature writer.
Translated from the Chinese by David Toman.
The above article is featured in the new CommonWealth Magazine website, "Independent Opinion@CommonWealth Magazine" (http://opinion.cw.com.tw). The goal of this Chinese-language website is to present independent voices from Taiwan and the greater Chinese-speaking world, across the broadest spectrum of age, expertise, group identity and vantage point.
For its inaugural edition, "Independent Opinion" has invited ten writers to share their thoughts on two different themes: “Taiwan’s sources of injustice,” and “Taiwan’s sources of pride.” What aspects of Taiwanese society are most unfair, and call out for its leaders to urgently address? And what things should Taiwanese people be most proud of, and delighted to share with the world?