An employee at the Yehliu Geopark in New Taipei City (新北市) who is responsible for tourist safety, as well as safeguarding the park’s famous “Queen’s Head (女王頭)” rock formation, has also saved more than 100 people who tried to commit suicide there.
Hsiao Shih-chi (蕭式棋), a proficient swimmer who serves as manager of the park, has devoted his life to the park, which is famous for its surreal sea and wind-eroded landscape.
Hsiao’s main responsibility is helping to save tourists who accidentally fall into the sea because of the strong winds, as well as those who attempt suicide by casting themselves into the waves.
“There was a high number of suicides at the park when I joined the rescue team in 1978. At one point I even saved four or five people in a single day,” Hsiao said.
He added that the submerged rocks and its unique geographic features make it a dangerous place for drowning victims and rescuers alike.
To deter would-be suicides, Hsiao and other park officials developed the practice of approaching unaccompanied female tourists who appeared preoccupied and in low spirits, because women account for most of the suicide attempts at the park, he said.
Hsiao reflected in particular on two of the women he has saved through the years.
He recalled that one of them was pregnant and that her husband later gave him rice noodles and pork knuckles, a traditional gift of thanks for keeping the family complete.
Another woman, who he met while he was off-duty, was also preparing to jump into the sea to kill herself.
Hsiao said he was unable to comfort her, as the woman only cried and would not speak.
“The only thing I could do was hold her in my arms,” Hsiao said, adding that he held the woman for almost two hours until police officers arrived.
Hsiao is not only a savior of stricken tourists, he also cares for the “Queen’s Head,” the most popular of the park’s rock formations, named because it is said to resemble a bust of “Queen Nefertiti” of ancient Egypt.
One morning in 1983, Hsiao found that the “queen” had been damaged by a vandal, leaving a 20cm cut on the formation’s “neck.”
Since then, Hsiao has become a devoted keeper of the landmark and he keeps an eye on it through a telescope from his home, especially during typhoons.
“The [vandalizing] incident made me realize that the ‘Queen’s Head’ is a national asset,” Hsiao said.
“I don’t want the park to be thought of as an attraction for suicides, so I save people to protect its reputation,” he said.