I don’t know that man’s name, yet I came across him
twice—or perhaps two times and a half!
It was around 1991 when I went to Beijing for a conference. On my departure a kind-hearted yet meddlesome friend gave me the address of a remarkable doctor. Off the top of my head, I couldn’t think of any medical condition that I’d want advice on, so I threw the address carelessly into my trunk.
During the conference sessions in Beijing, I realized that I could manage to take two hours off on a certain morning. Accordingly, I went to the place indicated by the address to see what it was like. It was located in a dingy alley. To my surprise, at eight o’clock in the early morning, one hour before the doctor started to work, more than a dozen patients were already queuing in the doorway. All of them, with no exception, were from Taiwan.
Each of them brought a thermos. I asked them what the thermos was for, and they told me that the doctor would give them medicine. I asked again about the cost of diagnosis and treatment, and they replied that they paid as much as they considered appropriate, yet they usually gave about one thousand NT dollars.
Among them was an emaciated, dejected-looking veteran soldier standing at a distance from the queue. How did I know that he was a veteran? Perhaps it was because his mien disclosed the kind of desolation that follows in the wake of a devastating war.
“Are you from Taiwan?”
“Which part of Taiwan?”
“Ah!” I almost leapt up in surprise. “My parents also live
in Ping-tong. Which part of Ping-tong do you live in?”
“Close to the airport.”
“Ah!” I couldn’t refrain from crying out again. “My parents
live on Shengli Road! And your native place?”
“Xuzhou City, Jiangsu Province.”
I could have saved myself the last question. Actually, I had
guessed his answer before asking, for his accent was almost
exactly the same as my father’s.
“What are you suffering from?”
“A growth in the lungs.”
“Does this doctor’s medicine work?”
“I seem to get better. Who knows?”
It was indecorous to probe into the state of his illness since
it was the first time we met. However, as he was a fellow townsman and neighbor, I felt reluctant to leave after such a short exchange. So we just stood facing each other without further conversation. Yet he spoke all of a sudden,
“I didn’t tell anyone about my illness. My children are studying in the States, and I don’t want to let them know. What’s the use of telling them? Why should I worry them? They are occupied with their schoolwork. I didn’t tell anyone. I always come here to see the doctor by myself.”
“Ah! This won’t do. You cope with everything alone. You’d better tell your children!”
“My children have their own problems, so I don’t want to bother them. What’s ailing you then?”
“Me? Oh, I am not suffering from anything. People told me about this renowned doctor, and I’ve come here just for a look. Ah, it is indeed packed with visitors. But I’ve got some other business to attend to and have to go now.”
I left, and his face gradually faded from memory as I carried
on with my busy daily schedule.
I took my father back to his hometown to visit his family in 1993. Because my father was an aged man, in addition to my mother and me, we had a nurse, Ms. J, to accompany him on the trip.
After having completed our homecoming visit with all its peculiar formalities, the four of us were sitting in the departure lounge of the Nanjing airport and waiting for the return flight. In China, whether you have a meal or need to catch a plane, people always rush and bustle as if their very livelihood depended on it. At this moment, as passengers were required to check in two hours prior to the departure time, we were able to sit at our leisure after the completion of necessary procedures.
Thus Ms. J and I stood up and strolled about in the departure
lounge. The lounge was of a moderate scale and the shops
were not very attractive. . . .