Friday, October 19, 2018


In 1982 I was still a professor at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, yet on the night of August 20th, I sat on a jet bound for Taiwan, the Island Nation contested by China. Sitting along side of me was Dr. George Chang, my last post-doctoral fellow. After completing his 2 year fellowship with me, Dr. Chang was able to get the Government of Taiwan to invite me to give a series of lectures at National Taiwan University Hospital known as Taida. We landed in Taipei in the early morning hours, and after clearing customs, we were led to a waiting limo. We arrived at Taida, the largest hospital in Taipei with 2400 beds. The hospital director greeted us and showed us to our guest rooms in the VIP suite. We were left for the rest of the day to recover from jet lag. 

That evening George and I were guests at a welcome banquet. The dining room had two large round tables, each with six waiting diners and an empty chair. George was seated at one of the tables and I at the other. After a welcoming speech by the director, the meal began. I noticed a small glass at my place filled with Chinese brandy. One of my fellow diners addressed me. “Dr. Ellner, Ganbey! (Cheers!)” He drank his brandy in one gulp, laid the glass on its side on his outstretched palm to show me. I responded with “Ganbey”, drank the brandy, and laid the glass in my palm. Within the next hour, each of my fellow diners toasted me in the same manner, and I responded to each one. When the meal was half over, George and I were obliged to switch seats. The toasting routine started again and when the meal ended, I was not quite drunk, but so impaired that I had to be helped to my room. This made our host very happy. 

The following Monday I gave my first lecture to about one hundred doctors all of whom understood English. I tried, in vain, to convince them to be discriminating in their use of antibiotics. I explained that each antibiotic had unique properties and the patient’s “bug” had to be isolated and tested. I lectured to this group every day for the next two weeks, but I don’t believe I converted any of them. When their patients failed to recover, they just chose another doctor. 

George and I wanted to visit the ancient Chinese garden at the summit of Alishan, the Dragon Mountain, to experience the sight of the sun rising above the clouds. We found the railway and boarded a narrow –gauge rickety train that ran to the summit. The trip took five hours. 

As we climbed, we left the rice paddies and entered the terrace with thousands of tea plants. We entered a jungle landscape. As the train continued its steep climb the landscape changed to pine trees, entering the cloud layer, finally emerging into the sunshine at the summit where there was a Buddhist monastery and a small hotel. We dined on a simple meal of rice and vegetables and shared a tiny bedroom. 

We were awakened at 5 am, drank hot tea, and a guide led us along a path to a clearing, on one side of which was a steep precipice. We waited shivering as it gradually grew lighter, and we could see a solid deck of clouds far below us. Suddenly, the sun emerged and rose over the clouds, a truly spectacular sight. After the sunrise, we returned to the hotel for breakfast, and then we were free to explore the very unique landscape that is Alishan. We spent the day wondering through the mostly wooded garden. One of the trees we saw was said to be a thousand years old. This was a trip worth remembering. 

Back in Taipei, George and I had a few days to ourselves. I was invited to a hospital out in the country to give another lecture. Following my lecture, George and I were taken by the hospital’s doctors and nurses for a thank you banquet. We sat at the usual round table where I was seated next to the Chief Doctor. He confided me “Dr. Ellner, we have a big surprise for you.” During the meal, I became aware of a pretty young woman who stood behind my seat during the meal and helped me by cutting my food. When the meal was over, the Chief Doctor turned to me, smiled, and said “And now, Dr.Ellner, the surprise.”  He indicated the young woman. I soon realized that I was expected to go off with her and enjoy her favors while the rest of the group waited. I said to George, “You’ve got to help me.” George replied “No problem, Dr. Ellner, they pay.” I protested that I was too tired so the disappointed Chief Doctor told the young woman to sing for us. After she sang a few songs, the Chief Doctor then demanded that I sing. Stunned, the best I could do was “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”. 

The next day, George and I headed back to New York.