Old Yeh: The Figure
Author: Guo Hanchen, writer
Old Yeh (Note 1) was not my biological father, but he was as kind to me as any father could be and inspired me in my quest for literary creation.
The first time I picked up Old Yeh from his old residence in Zuoying, Kaohsiung,I had to drive him to Pingdong Art Museum for a speech he was giving.
Old Yeh emerged from a rusty old iron door. His hair was scarce, but he still wore his whites proudly. He wore his trusty old suit, a suit which had seen him through life’s challenges and hardships; his black-rimmed glasses were so thick that they appeared to be indestructible. These images of Old Yeh quietly took up residence in a corner of my heart and since then have never left me.
Later on, as his pupil, I was given more opportunities to enter his old house, which was almost hidden from sunlight. He would often rest on his bamboo chair, which to him was the most comfortable spot to ease off fatigue.
But Old Yeh was not good at inactivity. He was like a planet with its own source of light, radiating stories of great moments in Taiwanese literature. Old Yeh wished that the younger generation would have the strength to take over his responsibility. When discussing literature, he would loosen up and ask me whether I know how many cups of tea the teashop across the street sells each day. He would laugh and declare that, according to his calculations, their booming business sells hundreds of cups of tea a day.
Old Yeh’s figure and many other fragments of memory of him continue to appear in my mind unedited at any time, including his favorite hat, which he would wear each time he went out. He had several hats of the same style laid out on his table for him to choose from. Wearing a hat had become Old Yeh's trademark.
Old Yeh was reluctant to quit smoking, even though the cigarettes had blackened his fingers. The small smoke rings of his cigarettes seem to form before my eyes even till these days. Until he was hospitalized for cancer, he was still smoking several times a day. He would say to his concerned friends and followers with a smile, “This cigarette contains no nicotine. It is fine! No need to worry!” No one had the heart to deny him his cigarettes. After all, in his sixty years of life, they were his only addiction apart from literature.
The car was another place where we would talk. For a period of time, I drove Old Yeh from his home to Cheng Kung University, where he lectured. When Old Yeh spoke, his voice and laughter boomed, as though we were conversing in a valley. His voice and his laughter echoed in my tiny car. He mostly talked about his determination to continue writing in the most difficult times as to encourage and motivate me.
Old Yeh sighed as he recalled how he gave up his job as an elementary school teacher in order to write, and how that decision had caused endless financial difficulties. Fluent in Japanese, he had translated over a thousand Japanese books on different subjects, from Japanese literature to books on Yoga and cookbooks. Old Yeh often said to me that one would starve if one lived only on writing literature in Taiwan. But that was how he had strived to live for sixty years.
Old Yeh feared for those who chose the path of literature unprepared. The road ahead is difficult, he would say, and young writers should think carefully before diving into a literary career. Literary creation promised very little money and influence, only endless and boundless solitude, which is beyond what most people can endure. Once, while I was driving, Old Yeh suddenly blurted out, “Hanchen, you are heading the wrong way.” I looked around and was certain that we were on the right track; the car was still heading straight forward.
Moments later, I realized what he meant. He was advising me that, if a better choice was available, I did not have to choose literature as a path because the road ahead was full of hardships, and regrets might lie in store for me
Upon hearing Old Yeh’s advice, words formed in my mind but became stuck at my throat. You, Old Yeh, a living monument to literature, chose to do one thing right in a most hostile world, and that one thing was to write and create till the end of your days with no regrets.
When he found out that I was quitting my job to write full-time, Old Yeh was worried that how I, in my middle-age, would be able to make a living. He had encouraged me earlier to teach in schools, because that was the only way to support oneself while writing full-time. He recommended me to the Master’s program even though only those with a doctorate degree could teach in the university. 
In the car that day, he said, out of the blue, that if he were still around after I received my Master's degree, he would “carry” me into the PhD program (“carry” in the Taiwanese dialect means to give somebody a hand), which would enable me to start teaching to support myself while I wrote. But then he sighed and said that he might not live to see that day. At that moment the car entered the expressway, and I did not know whether it was due to the ascension of the car that my tears almost gave way to the temptation of gravity.
Two years ago in December, Old Yeh was hospitalized for intestinal surgery for intestinal cancer. I rushed to see him before the operation. It was the first time I saw his laughter put on hold. He sat facing his wife in the single room, both overwhelmed with sadness. Old Yeh spoke of his diarreah problems for the past six months and for the first time, I saw fatigue on his weathered face. It pained me.
But I did not know of any way to comfort the old man; I knew he had survived many kinds of suffering inconceivable to regular people and his amazing strength had always prevailed and carried him through life's ups and downs. I wished with all my heart for him to overcome this monstrous disease.
Old Yeh did not recover well from his surgery, and during the following year he was moved between the intensive care unit and the regular ward. I visited him at the hospital many times. One time, when he was transferred to the ICU, I got lost in the hospital looking for him. Sometimes he would be awake but unable to speak because of the respirator; sometimes, he would be fast asleep. Once I found Old Yeh in the dialysis chamber and saw the black-rimmed glasses that had never left his side were laid forgotten. I knew then that he was using every ounce of his strength to fight his cancer.
In December 2008, news of Old Yeh's death reached me. I looked at his photos in The Collected Works of Yeh Shihtao. His eyes stared straight at me, as though telling me that because I had chosen to pursue literature, I had to walk my path and must not stray from it, for he would be watching me. Silently I told him I shall continue forward on the lengthy road of literature, regardless of the difficulties.
Eight months ago, at his funeral, the familiar figure was no longer there. People bowed before Old Yeh's photo and presented white chrysanthemums.
I was the only one who knew where his figure was safely hidden.
After the funeral, I got in my car and smiled at Old Yeh in the back seat.
We drove toward the target on the distant horizon, moving forward fast and fervently.
Written on December 11, 2009, the first anniversary of Old Yeh's death.
Note 1: Old Yeh refers to the national treasure master of literature Yeh Shihtao, known in literary circles as Old Yeh. He died on December 11, 2008.
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