This was in fact my third visit to the island - my previous 2 visits were in 1980 and 1981, both official trips. During the first visit, I stayed for 3 months together with 3 other colleagues. A 55-year-old man was our mentor. I shall name him MX here.
The very handsome 55-year-old MX
I longed to meet him again on this trip. I got his latest postal address but the phone number that I had was very old. I tried calling him several times about a week before my departure - there was ringing each time but nobody ever answered. I feared the worst.
I decided to write him a letter 4 days before departure, hoping that the letter would reach him before I did. I was very much relieved when indeed he called me one day before my departure. He told me that his phone number had been changed. He would end a meeting early on 25 Nov just to meet up with me. How nice of him!
That night, I skipped the dinner with the tour group. I called MX at around 7 pm to confirm our appointment. Then I took a cab from Parkview Hotel (美伦饭店) in Hualien to his place. The fare for the 10-minute ride was about NT180 each way but I paid the cab drivers NT200 (about S$9.20). The cab driver was not very sure of the way there at first but eventually he found the place after some help over the radio from a colleague.
It was drizzling at that time (and for almost two whole days during that period because of the typhoon). When I arrived, MX was waiting for me below his 5-storey block here:
It was a grey-coloured building which did not look all too new. Here is a photo of the very retro-looking mailboxes:
It was not equipped with a lift. We had to climb the narrow stairway to his unit on the 4th floor.
Despite his age of 82, MX did not show any signs of it. (It must have been the benefit of repeatedly climbing 4 flights of stairs daily that contributed to his health. I am not joking, he even walks faster than me. I will not be surprised at all if he could outlive me.) To keep healthy, MX woke up early each day to do morning exercises. He even proudly showed me his scooter which he still rode (and it's a "Sport" model, don't pray pray okay?):
The apartment in which MX lived alone was simply furnished. There were some unsightly brown stains on the wallpaper which obviously had seen better days. MX's daughter, the elder of two children, was married and residing near New York. His son was also married and stayed in Taipei. The families each had two children, making MX a grandfather of 4.
There were photos of the two families taken with MX displayed in the cabinet. With MX's permission, I took photos of the 2 families.
Luckily, I had the foresight to bring along my camera stand and managed to take a snapshop with MX:
I presented MX with 2 copies of the stamp book which I co-authored. MX could not read English but he said that he could look at the pictures:
I also gave him 2 pre-1985 one-dollar coins (the ones with the large stone-lion design), 2 fish-design 20-cent coins and a Singapu-lah book (新加坡啦) comic satirical book which he promised he would read:
He told me that his apartment was once broken into and the thief stole the Singapore coin sets which we gave him previously. I asked him what was the meeting which he ended early in order to meet me. He said that it was a party meeting and that he was still active in party politics. He was pro-Mah Ying Jiu (马英九).
After that, we went to a restaurant nearby to have steamboat set dinner. The waitress served each of us a large plate filled with raw vegetables and mixed food:
"那就够了" (That would be enough), I told the waitress in Mandarin. Much to my bewilderment, she insisted that we each ordered a meat. It seemed like it was needed to complete the set. So I ordered sliced fish and MX had sliced pork.
We ate and talked about the good old times like what had changed and who had passed on. Dinner ended at almost 10 pm and we walked back to his apartment in the rain. I called the same cab company to send a cab over to pick me up in 10 minutes. I shook hands with MX and gave him a hug. He said that he would like to visit Singapore sometime. I told him not to let us wait too long.
I didn't tell him this but I certainly hope that I don't have to wait another 27 years for our next meeting.