Chinese, happiness

Birds: How many lives do parrots have?

It all seemed pretty straightforward. We’d brought Tinkerbell out to the Lantan (蘭潭) reservoir, as we used to on weekends when we lived in Chiayi (嘉義), on Christmas day. We’d even met two ladies who were fascinated by her because they’d had a much-loved parrot who’d ended up on someone’s shoulder and flown off when he forgot and walked out of the house.


Then we went to the pavilion at Bantianyan (半天岩), on Boxing Day. Just as we were about to leave a sudden crash from a passing truck spooked Tinkerbell – and neither of us noticed at the crucial moment because our heads were turned towards the sound.

She flew to a stand of trees beyond the pavilion, about a km below by road and a steep climb up a slope heavy with undergrowth. SO found a way up and managed to locate the tree she was in, but she refused to fly down to him despite continuous pleading. Meanwhile, I was stuck in the pavilion holding on to the reel, our only connection to her.

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Finally, we pulled on the line and managed to get her out of her original tree, whereupon she promptly flew to another and ignored us. SO wanted to spend the night with her but Mr Yu (游) suggested we go back instead. We could return the next day when she was hungry.

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We woke at 4am the next day so that we could get to Tinkerbell before daybreak. After more hours of pleading we tried the line again, and discovered it was stuck. She couldn’t have flown to us even if she wanted to – the trees are at least three storeys high.

SO rushed back to town to pick up lead weights, used for fishing, a catapult, and fishing line from Zhonlian, our regular fishing supplies shop (used for assembling Tinkerbell’s harness and accessories). He planned on using the catapult to get a weighted line over Tinkerbell’s line to drag the stuck part down and then free her. It took a while to get the weighted line over Tinkerbell’s line while avoiding her – but the lead weight was too light and it failed to drag her line down as hoped.

Meanwhile, Mr Yu called Mr Hsu who called Mr Liao, whose farm we had visited on the Sunday. Mr Liao drove all the way to the pavilion with an extra-long pole, used for harvesting fruit from tall trees, and managed to get Tinkerbell’s line cut at about 2.30pm. This freed her to fly to SO, only she flew to another tree instead.

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After more hours of pleading SO checked through binoculars and thought that Tinkerbell might have trapped herself again via her harness. We couldn’t tell for sure because visibility was so poor with the trees so high. This time, the catapult method worked but she flew to another branch and ignored him, and then flew to another tree at the edge of the forest. It was getting dark and SO said that if she wouldn’t fly down he’d take note of her position and try again the next day – she would surely be hungry enough by then.


I’d walked down from the pavilion and was waiting by the road when I saw branches of a tree across the road spring back and a little black shape rush up one of the trees near where Tinkerbell is.

“There are squirrels,” I say.

Shortly after, Tinkerbell suddenly takes off, probably spooked by squirrels. It’s almost dark, and you can only see her silhouette against the sky, wings spread out as she heads out over the road and away from us.

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Just as before, we prepare “lost” posters and little cards with pictures of Tinkerbell to hand out to people who live in the area. We spend Thursday, as well as Friday and Saturday, around Bantianyan, Fanlu (番路) on the way to Bantianyan and Zhuqi (竹崎) next to Bantianyan calling for Tinkerbell and hoping to hear her squeaks and ooks so we can locate her, but have no luck. Every so often, we put up a poster at a major intersection where we hope people will stop to read it. We let the schools, the police station, as many people know as possible. SO stresses to them how special Tinkerbell is to him, and he has the photos to prove it.

When we get back, the Yus have contacted Mr Wu Shuaige whose sister knows a lot of reporters, and she has agreed to put news of Tinkerbell onto her own website. We prepare a short statement about Tinkerbell that Mr Wu can send out as a press release.

“I have never asked anyone for anything,” Mr Wu tells us later. “But I called everyone I knew and asked them to put this news about Tinkerbell onto their websites, and a lot of them agreed.”

On Saturday morning, SO tells me he dreamed about Tinkerbell twice. “She came back and flew down from a betel nut (檳榔) tree,” he said. “In my second dream she wasn’t wearing her red harness. Her head was still the same colour, but her body was bright blue.”

That was when I cried.

The Yus go looking for Tinkerbell on Friday and Saturday, and then visit the Zhiyunsi (紫云寺), or the Temple of the Purple Clouds, on Saturday to ask the goddess of mercy Kuan Yin (觀音) about the outcome for the search. A temple elder looks at the prediction, and tells them: “Tell your friend to stop looking. His fate with her stops here (緣份只到這裡).”

They tell us, but even with SO's dream, I don't like to accept that she's dead. The fortune is ambiguous.


Mr Yu says it’s quite a coincidence that Tinkerbell has flown off so near Zhiyunsi, as Kuan Yin always has a bird with her. “Maybe Kuan Yin has called Tinkerbell to her,” he says.


On Saturday evening we all go to the other Mr Wu’s place – we gave him Halftail - where Mr Hsu, Mr Wu Shuaige and his wife, the Yus and Mrs Yu’s brother and sister-in-law sing the night away with his killer karaoke system – more than 12,000 songs in several languages, and then some.

Everyone is sympathetic and tells SO not to worry too much. Most of the songs are about love and loss and it seems like they are all about Tinkerbell. There is a sense of finality and acceptance after the fortune about it all, but it’s still hard to accept, even with SO’s dream.

On Sunday evening Mr Yu consults with his sister, who channels the Kuan Yin spirit. She goes into trance and answers questions on health and career, then addresses our main concern.

“I have a friend from Singapore who has a bird called Tinkerbell. She flew away recently and he wants to know what he should do,” Mr Yu says.

“You’re devoted to Tinkerbell but don’t worry about her any more. 沒有緣 (it’s not fated),” she replies.

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Even with the dream and all the predictions, it’s hard to give up on the search. SO calls at every bend of the Bantianyan road, at the edge of mountainsides, and anywhere there looks like a stretch of flat land where a bird can see him easily and land. Then, we get a hurried call from Mr Yu on Monday the 31st, New Year’s Eve.

“Stop looking, someone’s seen Tinkerbell!”

We’re full of hope and even bring the cage with us as we wait for Yu to pick us up. It’s a teenager, who says he saw her on top of an electrical cable along the Bantianyan road in the morning, and again in the afternoon. He’s positive it’s a bird with a red tail, but when we get there and call nearby, there is no sight or sound of Tinkerbell. We’re not even sure about the sighting in the end. The boy keeps identifying all kinds of birds on cables as Tinkerbell, and the Yus think he might have been attracted by the reward. But SO offers him a few of the souvenir keychains we have with us, and he’s quick to refuse, even without seeing what SO is holding.

Tinkerbell’s a bird. By the time someone spots her, what are the odds that they have the contact number to call? And by the time they call, would she still be where she was? And by the time we get there – Mr Yu’s factory is 45 minutes away from Bantianyan – would she still be there? We can only hope that Tink will approach someone and let herself be caught.

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The next day is New Year’s Day, and MJ is coming up from Kaohsiung with her husband to meet me. SO originally thought of going, but with the sighting he says he’ll continue the search without me. Just after I meet MJ, at lunchtime, I get a call from the boy: his friend has seen Tinkerbell in the morning around the Kuan Yin statue that’s behind Zhiyunsi. I keep trying to call SO, but his phone has switched itself off and he doesn’t get the message until very late in the afternoon. The sighting is again unreliable but it’s a possibility that Tink is still alive and living it up among the persimmon trees in the area. SO resolves to saturate Bantianyan and its surroundings with posters and information about Tinkerbell.

Throughout the search, both in 2007 and 2008, we experience the amazing warmth of the people around Bantianyan, and in Chiayi city itself. We tell our optician, and since he just happens to live in Zhuqi he promises to let his friends know. We tell the lady who sells that wonderful starfruit drink (南門楊桃冰), and since her family is from Fanlu she says she’ll call home and let her relatives know. We speak to a shama owner in town, and he says he’ll inform all the bird shops in Chiayi to keep a lookout for a grey put up for sale (he later goes to talk to shops as far as Douliu [斗六] and Tainan[台南]).

A fruit seller by the side of the Bantianyan road tells us over freshly brewed Chinese tea how she lost her dog and how difficult it has been to cope, and invites us to stop for more tea every time we pass by. We spot a provision shop owner in Kezhuang with a grey girl (bigger than Tinkerbell) who puts us in touch with a medicine shop owner with a pair of greys, and that family – total strangers before we met – cooks us lunch and offers us a new strain of pomelo to try. We stop at a tiny village school in Taoyuan at lunchtime, and the teacher asks if we’ll eat with them. Another bird owner, who has Formosan blue magpies, offers us fresh persimmons.

Everyone has their theories about what can happen to a lost bird, but even those who tell us “不好找” (it would be almost impossible to find Tinkerbell) nevertheless say they’ll keep a lookout for her and tell their friends. They even stop us on later days to check if she’s been found.

There is very little hope towards the weekend of January 5th, when we have to stop the search to attend Mr Hsu’s oldest son’s engagement celebrations in Taichung. Then we pass the magpie owner, and he stops us: “You must go down to Bantianyan now, someone may have seen your bird, but I'm not sure. I can come with you.”

It’s just as tenuous as the other sightings – a Mr Jiang at the no. 2 carpark at Zhiyunsi saw a “little hawk” fly off after scaring his chickens a few days ago, and that hawk didn’t look like any of the local birds. The location sounds about right, too. The only problem is that it's getting dark, and probably not a good time to look for Tinkerbell

The next morning we get up before dawn to track Mr Jiang down. He can’t say for sure if the bird he saw looks anything like the photos of Tinkerbell, as he only saw it flying away. But he’s very, very definite on one thing: it had a red tail. Local birds don’t have red tails.

It’s the first reliable confirmed sighting of Tinkerbell, and proves that she was alive early in the week, days after she flew off. The news is reinforced by the provision shop owner, whose husband thought he heard a parrot in the forest near Zhiyunsi a few days ago. He should know; his grey ooks like Tinkerbell. She would be out of reach of the raptors, and there’s fruit all round to eat. She could well be still alive!

There is no further news, but a touch more hope as we prepare to leave for Taipei on the 6th. After all, there may no longer be any connection between SO and Tinkerbell, but there could be between her and the Yus. Mrs Yu tells us her son SS dreamed twice that Tink was lost but returned. And possibly that dream of SO’s merely meant that Tink was around Zhiyunsi, the Temple of the Purple Clouds.

As we tell everyone we meet, it’s OK if Tinkerbell is alive and loved by someone, even if it isn’t Mr Yu or ourselves. But a bird can fly in any direction, including up. There are huge swathes of forest and mountain. There are raptors, dogs, cats, and people who don’t understand parrots. Anything can happen to a domesticated parrot lost in the big bad world.

So we were totally floored when we got the email from YN, the Yus’ daughter. Just three days after we return to Brisbane, Tinkerbell is back! The facts of the matter are unclear, but it seems she was captured trying to steal chicken feed near Bantianyan, though the lady who called was from Taoyuan in Zhuqi.

It seems the thread of fate gets more complex. We got to know the Yus, Hsus, and both Wus through losing Tinkerbell the first time. Losing her the second time has brought even more people together. When we visit Taiwan again we will definitely want to meet up with all the new friends we have made, as well as the people who were most intimately involved in recovering Tink. But one thing is for sure. We don’t want to lose her again.

The search chronicles are mostly in the Bantianyan search set:
Re: Thanks for sharing the story about getting Tink back
Thank you for sharing, Ditte! It did seem very ironic when Tink flew off - again, and I was not very optimistic of the outcome. We have both been so pleased that she's back.