Pic shows: Chen with his notebook.
The story of a Taiwanese man who everyday forgets what has happened to him has gone viral after his story was compared to that of the fictional character played by Nicole Kidman in the film Before I Go to Sleep.
Chen Hung-Chih, 25, lived a normal life until he had a car accident when he was 17 that left him in intensive care with severe head injuries. He was in hospital for three months and although his body eventually made a complete recovery, and he can also think and talk as normal, everyday he forgets what is happening to him and has to start again from scratch the next.
His first job when he wakes up is to be reminded by his mother that he is no longer 17, and she hands him a notebook in which he tells himself what has gone on in his life since the accident. The notes written in Chinese detail who his friends are, what has happened to him each day and offers advice on what needs to be done that day.
Unable to hold down a job, he raises a small amount of money by collecting plastic bottles walking several kilometres each day to collect them and at the same time picking up wood that he and his mother use to make a fire to cook their food.
They also get by on donations from neighbours and friends in Beipu, a tiny village in northern Taiwan’s Hsinchu County, who have given Chen the nickname “short memory man” because he always forgets having met them within 24 hours.
His mother, Wang Miao-chiong, who is now aged 60 said that her sons condition was difficult after the crash when he was also physically very limited, but she said that at least now physically was very strong even if his memory had never recovered.
She said: “It had been planned that would go back to school but there was no point as he could never remember the lessons, and has been living at home with me ever since.”
The situation for the mother and son were sent this year with the death of his father, and the pair are totally dependent on each other, with Chen having his mother there to reassure him about who he is on point in the direction of his notebooks each day, and providing the physical strength to earn the money and carry out the household chores that sees them fed and keeps a roof over their head.
After the death of his father, he was forced to step up his bottle collecting activities, where he was spotted by a traveller who was fascinated by his story, and posted on social media where it quickly spread attracting journalists and going viral in the process.
Experts who have looked at his book have noted that although he writes in Chinese it his own version of Chinese that has started to change very slowly over the years, and some of the words seem to be written in characters that only he can understand, even if you can’t understand why.
He said: “Whenever I get home from any time away from home I quickly grab my notebook and write down important things from the day: who I’ve met, what I’ve done, how much money I got from recycling bottles, all that sort of stuff.”
His mother said it is a practical system that has kept Chen going for years, but she worries about what will happen to him after she’s gone.
Beipu village chief Liu Chin-ting said the family receives monthly support from Hsinchu County’s social welfare department, which at least for the moment allows the family to get by. Welfare workers also make it a point to visit Chen and his mother during festive holidays, he said.
But Liu said he believes the boy could still have a future if there was a medical facility that was prepared to take in and give him proper physiotherapy and training.
He said: “He needs to get some preparation because his mother won’t be there forever, and maybe they can get to the point where he can even hold down a regular job?”
The likelihood of that happening has now gone one stage further after his story went viral, and was flooded with an offer of people who wanted to send money.
But Chief Liu who is helping to negotiate with those that want to help and the family who don’t even have a telephone said what they really need now is donations of the tangible and practical kind, namely daily commodities such as tissue paper, rice, salt, soy sauce, and the like.
He said: “Once the basics are sorted out, perhaps it might be possible to look at taking the time to find something more for the mid-term and long-term, but at the moment they just need to survive.”
Chen meanwhile is clearly happy, as his diary notes that kind donations of money have been flooding in and he’s very happy that people want to help.
He knows he is destined to forget everything, but also knows that nothing he can do about that except keep his sense of humour.
Asked about the enormous interest in his story he said: “I am reading here about all the people that want to give me money, but I would say don’t give me too much, because it looks as if I’ll probably forget where I put it all.”
In the film Before I Go to Sleep 40-year-old Christine Lucas played by Nicole Kidman lives a life where she wakes up every day forgetting what has gone on the day before. She has to remind herself by writing notes each day about what has happened to her since the car accident.