Life of a Rooster

Memoirs of a psychiatrist, journalist and educator

Yeh Liu and Alishan

on August 30, 2014

Despite the immense weight of homework and tests, our class was allowed one field trip that year. We were to go visit Yeh Liu.

Of course, I had no idea up till then about Yeh Liu. What was it? To my amazement, it consisted of a number of strange rock formations resulting from sea erosion. We got there by coach. A young lady with a perky cap acted as our tour guide. Seated up front near the driver, she spoke into a hand held microphone and tried to get us all into a touristy mood. To no avail. We were middle school students, drummed into discipline and submission. She sand a song and asked us to sing along. We all muttered along. She asked us to clap along. We did so dutifully, with pitifully weak tapping of palms. She gave up after a while and stared at the scenery and occasionally chatted with the driver. We were relieved and started chattering among ourselves, albeit in muted tones.


Sea candle rock formations at Yeh Liu Geopark

Sea candle rock formations at Yeh Liu Geopark

Yeh Liu is now called a geopark, short I presume for geological park. We walked among the rocks and admired them and took photos. I must have been a rather silly goose because the only picture I have of that trip is one of us, a little group of friends in our school’s sailor uniform, somewhere near the parking lot with a water tank in the background. It was grey and rainy, a normal situation for the northern Taiwan area, and a bit cold. We had more fun feeling liberated and talking to our hearts’ content than admiring the rock formations.

Hoodoo rocks at Yeh Liu Geopark

Hoodoo rocks at Yeh Liu Geopark

After graduation, Papa decided to take Saadia and me on a tour of southern Taiwan. Mama stayed in Taipei with Abdul Kerim and Iffat. And, … although I am getting ahead of my story, another little sister had been born in December 1970, Nadia, Mai Dai-Lei.

Papa had the heart of an adventurer, something which he passed on to me, and probably the result of reading all those adventure classics. He had left behind his photography phase, which had produced many albums of our years in Paris, courtesy of his old faithful grey Konika box camera. I knew Papa was only a “paper tiger”, stern and strict on the outside, when need be, but a wonderful friend and story-teller when the mood took him. However, on that trip, I saw a new side of him I had never seen before.

A good friend of his, a Mr. Chen, who had been a schoolmate in his university days and a colleague in his Forestry days, remained behind when Papa moved on to the Foreign Ministry. He was still working with the Forestry Department in central Taiwan. We took the train southward, and Papa took us to visit his family. We slept on “tatami” beds –woven mats, Japanese style —  and fanned ourselves to sleep with a hand fan, which also doubled as fly swatter. Their daughter, all goggle-eyed, asked her mother, “Are they so white and foreign-looking because they lived in France?” The mother was slightly embarrassed and tried to hush her, “No, it’s because, well it’s because… no, they are not, well, whatever.”

Why did everyone think so? White? Was I white? Sigh. Still the outsider, I guess.

The next day, Mr. Chen took us on the rickety train up Mount Ali — Ah-Li-Shan. The train was rather empty, so he and Papa occupied one pair of benches that faced each other, and Saadia and I occupied another pair. We gazed absent-mindedly  outside the window at the changing landscape. But soon, our attention was on the comedy show that Papa and his friend were presenting! Our stern and strict father was behaving like a teenager! The two of them were arguing over everything and nothing.

“Haha!’ exclaimed Mr. Chen, “just admit that you have forgotten everything about plants!  — No, I don’t. I still know them all! — No, you don’t! This one here, this one right here, what is it? — Oh, I know, it is… it is… — Too slow! You’re too slow! You just forgot! — No, I didn’t! It’s an oleander, there! — Ha! What about that one then? Quick, say it! — It is… a cactus! Oh, no, oops… — Hahaha! A cactus indeed! Hahaha!” We were flabbergasted. We looked at each other. Was this our father?

The train made one stop halfway up the mountain. We got off and admired the “sacred tree”, supposedly a very very old tree, over 3,000 years old. It looked dead to me, a tree trunk that seemed broken

Fortunately, I found this picture on the web, taken in February 1970, a few months before our trip. The train and the tree are just the way I remember them. This tree finally collapsed in 1997 and now the Lulin Sacred Tree has been crowned king.

Fortunately, I found this picture on the web, taken in February 1970, a few months before our trip. The train and the tree are just the way I remember them. This tree finally collapsed in 1997 and now the Lulin Sacred Tree has been crowned king.

off on top. We dutifully took pictures. Back on the rickety little train, and we choo-chooed on. Once on the mountain top, it was lovely. I mean, the temperature was lovely. Nice and cool, and not as humid as down in the plain. We stayed overnight in a guest house, compliment of the Forestry Department. Papa called us up early, so we could go on the terrace admire the famed sunrise. It was rather dark and cold out on the terrace, so we scooted indoors in the restaurant and ordered some hot breakfast, keeping an eye on the glass walls around us.

Papa winked to us and said in French, “Look at the two guys at the next table.” Actually, I had already noticed them. They both wore a furry hat with ear patches folded up. With a conspiratorial half-smile, Papa whispered on in French, “They must be Russian spies…” I half froze. Papa had a way of talking like it was true, yet you knew it couldn’t be so. No, why would Russian spies wear Russian hats in Taiwan, where they would stand out like sore thumbs? And anyway, didn’t Russians all speak French? Should he not switch to Chinese?

Ah...! What beauty! Sunrise over a sea of clouds. That's the famed scene that we missed.

Ah…! What beauty! Sunrise over a sea of clouds. That’s the famed scene that we missed.

Outside, the mist did not lighten for a long time. Finally, we walked out to the terrace to survey the situation. Where was this famous sunrise over a sea of clouds? Papa pointed at a white round shape through the mist. “Ah, I guess we are too late. There! The sun is already up!”


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