Grateful for the assistance of Fongshan Village (豐山) residents in Chiayi County’s Alishan Township (阿里山), New Zealand sculptor Phil Tchernegovski, who came to Taiwan six times to look for his son who went missing in 1998, has written a book about his ordeal, as a tribute to what he said are his “Taiwanese heroes.”
Thirteen years ago, Tchernegovski’s son Reuben went on a backpacking trip to Taiwan and disappeared while traveling from the Alishan National Forest Recreation Area in Chiayi County to Alishan Forest Railway’s Mianyue Line.
Tchernegovski immediately left New Zealand for Taiwan to search for his missing son in a country he had never been to before. The grieving father traveled to the country six times between 1998 and 2002.
However, Tchernegovski was not alone in his search, as several Tsou Aborigines from the township’s Fongshan and Laiji Villages (來吉) helped him search the entire mountain area.
The searches uncovered a skeleton which was suspected to be Reuben’s, but the results of a DNA analysis proved otherwise.
While Tchernegovski was mourning the loss of his son, a taxi driver sent him a CD by Taiwanese singer Jody Chiang (江蕙), featuring the song Half Awake, Half Drunk (半醉半清醒), which he said helped soothe the pain of losing his son.
In a strange twist, Tchernegovski’s plight caught the attention of Chiang after nature writer Liu Ka-shiang (劉克襄) recounted the story in an article.
Chiang was so touched by Tchernegovski’s affection for his son that she tracked him down through the Internet and invited him to a concert in Taiwan two years ago. During the show, she dedicated the song to the father, who said that it had helped him deal with his sorrow.
“It has been an unexpected journey,” Tchernegovski said during a telephone interview with the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister paper).
“Through this journey, I have met some true Taiwanese friends, including my Aboriginal friends from Fongshan and Laiji Villages, local foreign affairs officers who accompanied me, Jody Chiang as well as so many others who have lent me a helping hand. They are heroes,” Tchernegovski said, adding that they were why he decided to publish his story.
For the final chapter of his proposed publication, Tchernegovski is scheduled to visit Taiwan on Tuesday. He is due to meet with Chiang and spend a week on Alishan for a reunion with his Aboriginal friends.
“A Chinese-language version of my book will also be available soon, because it is a story of people in Taiwan,” Tchernegovski said.