Sun, Jul 18, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Blink by blink, Chen Hung finishes book

LOVE FOR LIFE Four years ago, the former journalist was diagnosed with a nerve disease that left him paralyzed. But his indomitable spirit would not be quelled

By Wang Hsaio-wen  /  STAFF WRITER

Taipei City Mayor Ma Ying-jeou, left, gives an award to Chen Hung, center, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, at the launch of Chen's new book, Love For Life Between Blinks, yesterday.

PHOTO: SEAN CHAO, TAIPEI TIMES

Usually, Chen Hung (陳宏) opens his eyes at 7am every morning and starts writing. For four years Chen has maintained this habit. But yesterday was different. His new book, Love for Life between Blinks (生命之愛,在眨眼之間), was released, and Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) awarded him a decoration for his profuse creativity and unwavering love of life.

Unlike other writers, however, Chen does not have the luxury of a pen to jot down fleeing thoughts, a comfortable chair to sit in, or a whiff of coffee to inspire him as he walks past a cafe. When it comes to writing, Chen uses the only tool available to him -- his eyes. Using a system of blinking, he has crafted essays, phoneme by phoneme, on a "bo-po-mo-fo" board.

Fours years ago, Chen was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a devastating neurodegenerative disease that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, leaving the sufferer paralyzed. Unable to move or talk, Chen found himself "locked in."

"I feel regretful and sorry; I see a great grey mist looming before me," Chen wrote in an essay when he heard the diagnosis in April 2000.

But his lapse into depression was only temporary. Once the editorial writer for the China Evening News (大華晚報) and chief photography editor for the China Post, Chen has an eye for detail and indomitable spirit to stand tall in the face of misfortune.

"His passion for life drives him to write again," his doctor, Chen Wen-kui (陳文魁), said.

Chen's condition turned writing, usually a solitary activity, into a process of communication with his wife.

Since he was hospitalized, his wife, Liu Hsueh-hui (劉學慧), resigned from her job at a high school and became his interpreter.

The process of writing has bound the couple closer than ever. Before the onset of the disease, Chen dedicated most of his time to reporting and photography, while his wife concentrated on teaching.

"We only had time for a walk in the Chienkuo Flower Market (建國花市) once a week. Or, after we finished work at night, we would boil a pot of tea and have a chat," Liu said.

Now she is aware of Chen's every thought as she translates his unspoken words into readable text. Every morning and afternoon, Chen dictates by blinking to select each phoneme on the "bo-po-mo-fo" board as Liu recites the sounds to him slowly, over and over again. When Chen finishes a sentence, Liu will read aloud to him and confirm the sentence.

"At first, I was helpless and desperate. But as time goes by I can take it as it is. Now, I am happy that I can be with him, with no disturbance," Liu said, her words punctuated with occasional smiles.

It usually takes the couple five days of scrupulous work to finish an essay of about 1000 words. Gradually, their steady output yielded fruit. In 2002, Chen's first book after he fell ill was published. The book, In a Blink, was neither a triumphant account of recovery, nor a journey into the abyss of self-pity. The essayist simply told the story of his interaction with visitors and nurses in a grateful tone. Many readers have said the book influenced their way of thinking.

In the Taoyuan Women's Prison, where reading session are held regularly, over 500 inmates have read Chen's book.

"Some were moved to tears as we read through the story," said the prison's social worker, Wang Li-ling (王麗玲).

After another year and a half, Chen published his second book, Love For Life Between Blinks. Like the last book, Liu unlocked Chen's mind and deciphered his thoughts into heart-stirring stories. The new book sets aside the themes of family love and friendship of his first book, shedding light on a Buddhist reflection on the ephemeral nature of life and the certainty of death.

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