In colorful shades, Hsieh Kun-shan (謝坤山) puts down on canvas nature's wonders -- sunrise and sunset, mountains and beaches, flowers in the wilderness and fish in a stream. His latest work, a half-finished oil painting of Guanyin mountain (觀音山), stands on an easel in the small living room of his home in the capital's suburbs.
Hsieh's vibrant artworks have won him fame if not fortune, having been exhibited around the world. The feat is made all the more remarkable by the fact that, following a devastating electric shock 31 years ago, the artist was left without arms, only one leg and sight in only one eye. Hsieh holds his paintbrush between his teeth and has become one of the world's most esteemed "mouth painters."
Talent aside, Hsieh's tale of triumph over adversity has led him to become an inspirational role model for those with physical handicaps and countless others: students, patients, prison inmates, charity workers and the underprivileged.
"To me, there are no difficulties in life. There are only challenges to meet and problems to solve," says a smiling Hsieh, 47, in his second-floor apartment in Banqiao (板橋), which is neatly arranged by his wife Lin Yeh-chen and their two teenage daughters.
"I always think about the bright side -- appreciating what is left in me rather than wallowing in regret over what has been taken away," Hsieh says, gesturing with the stump of his right arm, which was amputated after his life-changing accident.
It happened when he was 16 and working at a factory. He was carrying iron rods that touched high-voltage cables overhead.
"Loss of the limbs and physical pain did not weaken me. But my heart was broken when I saw the tears, despair and helplessness on my mother's face," Hsieh recalls. "I was only adding more sorrows to the woman who was already leading a miserable life. She had to take care of me like I was an infant. I made up my mind then that I must make myself useful and I would never let her cry again," Hsieh says.
Against all odds, it was a promise he kept.
Born in 1958 in a remote, mountainous town in the eastern coastal city of Taitung, Hsieh's parents, poor and illiterate, could only find odd jobs for meager pay to feed the family of five. As the eldest child, Hsieh was a man in the house at an early age.
"Very often I had to carry my months-old sister on my back and walk 2km or 5km to reach my mother so she could breast-feed the baby," Hsieh recalls.
"Childhood hardship strengthened my willpower. In a way it
prepared me for future adversities," he says. Aged 12, he quit school to find work to help support the family. He found his first job at an animal feed farm before moving on to factory work.
As the country's industry started to boom, the father sold all their belongings and moved to Taipei dreaming of a better life.
But the family's newfound hope suffered a cruel blow.
"I was helping at the garment factory. All of a sudden, the steel rods I was carrying were sucked up by high-voltage wires," he said, somehow smiling. "Making things worse, for some reason I had taken my shoes off that day, which made my whole body an electric conductor."
Hsieh was knocked unconscious immediately. He woke up two days later feeling unbearable pain from his badly burnt legs and arms. Doctors had no choice but to amputate some of his limbs to save his life.