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Calvin Liu

The Scientist

I see my father about once a year, usually when he returns to the states to celebrate Chinese New Year with his two sons. He spends most of the year in Taiwan, where heís a professor and noted researcher in the fields of nutrition and medical technology. My fatherís almost 65 now, but I donít think heíll ever retire. He loves science. He loves it so much so that heíll take just one short vacation a year to see his boys. He loves it so much so that during our one meal a year, he canít help but talk on and on about whatís new in medical research. Iíve learned to embrace it.

At dinner this year, after my brother commented that almost every dish seemed to include spinach, my father made the revelation that spinach, traditionally known for being high in iron (think Popeye), in fact contains only a negligible amount.

"When the initial research was done, someone misplaced the decimal point," he said. "The researcher probably took his studentís findings and published them as his own without even looking at it."

"Thatís like something you would do," I said.

"Of course."

My father has a wonderfully emphatic and tonal Taiwanese accent. I love the way he says "of course." Itís sing-songy, with enormous, arching vowels.

My brother, who had only acquired a taste for spinach through a gradual, force-fed process from birth through puberty (my mother stayed in the states to raise us), was absolutely outraged.

"No iron in spinach?! How come this hasnít been reported in the news?!"

"The mistake was discovered by Taiwanese," my father said.

"Still! The people need to know!"

It was clear my brother didnít quite get what my father had meant. Taiwan's just a small island off the southern coast of China. The uninformed believe it to be a part of China. Itís not. Itís a common misconception about Taiwan. Another misconception is that itís a backward, barely industrial island country, like say Fiji or Madagascar, and thus insignificant in terms of technological or medical innovation. My father resents this misconception.

A couple years ago, I accompanied my father to Seattle for the annual Society for Free Radical Research conference. Free radicals are molecules with an unpaired or "free" election, making it highly reactive with other molecules. Theyíre harmful to the body and thought to be carcinogenic. An example of a free radical is free hydroxy.

"If you donít know free hydroxy, then forget about it," my father would say.

This supposedly prestigious conference, I found, was no more than a huge party. Most researchers came wearing cocktail dresses or custom-tailored suits. My father, a "pure scientist" of the classic Taiwanese intellectual mold (the í80s look has been "in" continuously in Taiwan since the 1960s), showed up in what looked like a funeral suit, with his trousers tucked well above the waistline. He stood quietly by his exhibitódescribing his new research on antioxidantsówaiting for the passers-by to stop. He had few takers, as most people seemed to flock around the exhibits manned by the younger, more attractive research assistants. Well before Day Two of the conference was over, I helped my father dismantle his exhibit, and we went to the Pike Place Fish Market for clam chowder and shrimp cocktails.

My doctor recently told me I shouldnít eat clams or shrimp any more because of my elevated cholesterol. My father, who rarely sees me and had yet to be told of my cholesterol problem, regrettably knows only a few things about me, one being that I love shellfish. So when we ordered the requisite Chinese New Year noodles (a symbol of long life), my father made a point to tell the waiter we wanted seafood noodles.

Seafood noodles traditionally come with clams and shrimp. They do not come with spinach.

"Do you know shellfish is a good source of iron?" my father said.

"Oh?"

"Shrimp is relatively highóabout two milligrams of iron per serving," he continued. "But clams are off the chart. About thirty-two milligrams per serving!"

"Is that a lot?" my brother asked.

"Of course," my father said. "Of course."


Calvin Liu is editor of Bullfight Review and The Glut: Journal of Prose and Praise of Gluttony. He lives in Northern California.

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