Shih Wen-yi (施文儀), former deputy director-general of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), has a new mission in life: to teach medical science in Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese).
A highly regarded health professional, Shih is also expert on Hoklo and has long been an advocate of promoting the language.
Not only does he speak it fluently, but Shih is fond of demonstrating the beauty of written Hoklo, by writing medical reports and diagnosis in elegant, refined Hoklo.
To most doctors, it is troublesome to discuss medical science and health concepts in Hoklo — but not for Shih. So when he retired recently, medical schools approached him right away.
Shih has agreed to set up medical course in Hoklo so that aspiring doctors will in the future be able to discuss diagnosis and medication to patients in their mother tongue. For now, the course has been put on hold until Shih recuperates from an eye infection.
Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁), a fellow at Academia Sinica and former head of the Department of Health, said many people can speak Hoklo, but most do so in a labored, inarticulate way.
“Very few can speak it in a sophisticated, cultured manner. Shih can, and fluently,” Chen said.
“In the public health field, Shih is renowned as a writer of Hoklo poetry. Many medical professionals have sought his advice on the teaching and writing of Hoklo,” Chen said.
Just prior to his retirement, Shih had finished an audiobook titled The Eradication of Dengue Fever (天狗熱退治). It was originally a stage play written in Japanese by Taiwanese writer Yang Kuei (楊逵) 70 years ago during the Japanese colonial era.
Shih translated the script into Hoklo and then recorded it for the audiobook.
The audiobook comes with the text in Hoklo.
“This way readers can better understand the spirit and effort that went into combating infectious disease during that era. With the recording and the text, readers can also learn to listen, speak read, and write Hoklo,” Shih said.
Most of Shih’s writings and publications can be read in Mandarin, but reading them in Hoklo should not be a problem.
In case readers find it hard to pronounce some of the words, Shih added phonetic notations to help them along.
Because of his language expertise, Shih has had a large Facebook following. He has just re-opened his Facebook page, as readers and fans are waiting to learn more useful and euphonious Hoklo expressions.
Many people have wondered how Shih learned to write in classic and elegant Hoklo. He credits his upbringing.
His father, Shih Ching (施清), was a medical practitioner who headed an effort to eradicate malaria in the nation. As a child, Shih Wen-yi accompanied his father on his medical rounds, traveling across the nation, visiting towns and villages, households to households, to treat people with malaria.
Through frequent contacts with local residents, he became familiar with local customs and culture. He also developed an interest in Hoklo and the different regional speech patterns and expressions.
“Taiwanese Hoklo has a pleasing, melodious quality, and is very versatile. Using just a few phrases or sentences, you can express the wisdom of our Taiwanese forefathers,” Shih said.
For those who want to learn more about the beauty and sophistication of the Hoklo language, Shih has some advice: “Go to the countryside and talk to the elders. From them, you can learn a purer form of Hoklo.”