For the past five years, balloon artist Lin Yi-yu (林益裕) has spent every Friday afternoon in the lobby of Greater Taichung’s Tzu Chi Hospital, where he sits quietly beside a piano making inflated sculptures for children.
Lin took up balloon-blowing to please his daughter, but, when he noticed how distraught children often go silent at the mere sight of a balloon, he started to take the past-time more seriously.
Lin said that at one point in his life he was so fascinated by balloon art that he made them everywhere and had, by his own calculations, spent tens of thousands of dollars on balloon books, materials and paraphernalia.
Lin said he had started to make his weekly feel-good balloon stop-over at the hospital following a visit to see a friend who had been hospitalized.
During the visit Lin noticed a boy who was steadfastly refusing to have an x-ray and was incredibly scared. Lin made the little boy a sword-shaped balloon on the spot.
Lin remembers telling the child: “Don’t cry, kid, here, have this balloon.” To Lin’s surprise, the boy stopped crying the moment he was handed the balloon and even volunteered to go and have the x-rays.
In a similar situation, Lin ran into a young girl who was also afraid of having an x-ray undertaken. The girl’s mother was struggling to persuade her to have the x-ray, Lin said.
“I went up to her and said with a smile: ‘If you go in and do your checkup, I’ll make you a SpongeBob balloon, okay?’” he said
The little girl was very shy and hid behind her mother, but two days later Lin received a call asking if he really had made a balloon in the shape of the popular cartoon character. The mother told Lin that her daughter had agreed to have the checkup because Lin had promised her the balloon.
He said that he then spent a whole night making a huge SpongeBob balloon which he personally delivered to the girl to encourage her to be brave.
Lin said that he has been completely sucked into the balloon-making world and even found a Japanese man who was able to teach him additional ballooning skills.
Lin said that of his five-strong family, only his daughter supported his hobby, but, despite their initial rejection the family warmed to Lin’s project when they could see how it helped him to make more friends and benefitted sick children.
One time, Lin remembers, a nurse from in Changhua County saw a series of balloons which had been left by Lin in the hospital and she called Lin to make a request.
A 10 year-old boy at the medical facility who had been afflicted with a rare disease since he was four had recently been told by the hospital that he only had seven days to live.
The child had always dreamed of going to a Disney World amusement park, but given his disease he was unable to travel and so his wish remained unfulfilled.
Hearing about the sick child’s plight, Lin spent the last week of the boy’s life filling his room with a collection of blow-up cartoon figures.
“The parents were tearful and didn’t know how to thank me while the boy didn’t say anything and just looked at me shyly, but I knew in his own way he was thanking me,” Lin said.