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
"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,"
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
"No iron in spinach?! How come this hasnít
been reported in the news?!"
"The mistake was discovered by Taiwanese," my
"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
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
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.
"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.