Society is in turmoil, the economy is sluggish, people are apprehensive. On the small island of Penghu, however, we find an extraordinary woman. She didn't begin elementary school until she was 10 years old. At the age of 25, she made up her mind to become a painter. She headed off alone to Europe last year where she traveled for 98 days. She has overcome the physical limitations with which she was born to lead a leisurely life-she strolls, paints, enjoys ocean breezes, and daydreams. Her first book White Bird shows that life can be relaxed and carefree. Her book does a wonderful job of portraying her life and her illustrations add life to the text.
The reader can peruse White Bird from more than one perspective. If you have a passion for the road, I suggest that you read the first chapter A Journey into European Visual Arts. Learn how this woman from Huhsi Township, Penghu, on her first trip abroad armed with only basic English language skills and a French-Chinese dictionary, made a pilgrimage into the European treasure houses of art, including Paris, Venice, London, Marseilles, and Barcelona. Sprinkled throughout the chapter are examples of sketches made during her travels, including a delicately portrayed Port of Marseilles, sun-splashed and dotted with boats dancing on the waves.
If life is getting you down or if your career is scraping bottom, I suggest that you skip directly to chapter two My Childhood. As you read about Mei-chu White Bird's unusual childhood, you will sense the author's energetic, optimistic, never-give-up attitude toward life.
The author speaks frankly about her congenital condition saying that when she was born, friends and relatives reacted with comments like, "Heavens! How on earth could a strange child like this have been born," "Her head, nose, ears, eyes, and mouth are all-wrong," "She has an extra finger on her right hand," "I'm going to faint."
In medical terminology, her condition is known as congenital ichthyosis. Clinical symptoms include no eyelids, sparse hair, unclear speech, poor eyesight (vision in her left eye is weak), and poor hearing. These obstacles, however, did not prevent her from developing her painting and poetry skills.
The audiotape Listen to My Heart! contains discussions about painting held between the author and her friends over the Internet. The author feels that her works answer in full questions like "What is life?" White Bird's answer: We are forced to struggle tirelessly in an unfair environment.
The Chrysanthemum Island Collection of Poetry comes straight from the author's heart. In one poem, she depicts loneliness: "A person in the distance/ walking deep in thought/ listen/ someone sighing/ listen/ someone is bewildered/ who is keeping the green grass and golden sand from their sweet encounter/ giant conch, can you speak?/ Is life truly fair?/ is nature balanced/ the great sea has disappeared/ the ancient house has fallen into desolation."
Mei-chu White Bird is a devout Christian. Her real name-Cheng Mei-chu, sounds like "praise the Lord" in the Taiwanese dialect. Her zodiacal sign is Cancer and she has type-O blood. She describes herself saying, "I am optimistic and love myself. I am romantic and confident. I don't care about looks. I look for the good in everything."
She has dark skin, wears a wig, and sports a pair of plain glass spectacles to protect her eyes from airborne sand. Not having eyelids has made Penghu's scorching sun and bitter winter winds especially difficult for her to endure. When she finally entered the first grade at the age of ten, Mei-chu was held in awe by her classmates. A self-taught painter, she was already well-known locally for her talent. She was good in sports and had a bright personality. She was looked up to by her schoolmates as a big sister.
She read her first art book at age 25 and realized immediately that she wanted to devote herself to painting. Over the past ten years, she has taken part in innumerable exhibitions.
To her, time holds no constraints. Dearly loved by her family, Mei-chu neither needs nor wishes to concern herself with financial matters. She divulges, "I have too much time on my hands. My family has never given me any restrictions in this regard. I have complete say over what I do."
Over the years, Cheng Mei-chu has developed her own unique living style. She set up her own personal work studio in a traditional three-sided courtyard house. She has also constructed her own personal website using self-taught skills. After dark, she paints and creates; during the day, she takes walks, looks out over the ocean, and spends a great deal of time in contemplation.
Cheng Mei-chu is a bright pearl of God tucked away on the southern tip of Penghu Island.
New Book Release
Title: White Bird
Author and Illustrator: Mei-chu White Bird (Cheng Mei-chu)
Publisher: Rainy Book
Published April 2001
Cheng Mei-chu (a.k.a. White Bird) taught herself how to paint. Her works, reminiscent of the magical realism of Latin America, like her new book, are truly a pleasure. (photo by Pu Hua-chih)