TAI Herbarium was established in 1929, and it is one of the oldest buildings in National Taiwan University. Every day retired volunteers come and go here. From time to time, really old used-to-be professors come for a chat. I glimpse the room before getting down to work. Even decorative flowers in the vase are dried. The main color tones here are withered-leaf yellow, ochre and brown.
The yet-to-be-made herbarium specimens are wrapped in old newspapers from different countries. First, I take a quick look at the year when the plant sample was collected, where it came from and the headlines in the papers. Next it takes time to figure out the layout, i.e., how the specimen can be best seen by researchers. This reminds me that if human bodies could be dealt with in a similar way, I'd hope to be beautifully displayed. My experienced colleagues teach me the importance of visual balance when I fix the specimen onto the paper with tape and threads. Also, the tape should be applied parallel to the veins. It turns out that life and death share much in common.
When I told Meichien I was learning to make herbarium specimens, she mistook me for a green thumb. I admitted in shame that I had killed all the bonsais on my office desk. Still, she gave me a small bonsai as a gift. I decided it would be a brand-new beginning for me, so I make efforts to take care of it on a daily basis.
Coming home from the herbarium, I am still obsessed with the thought about death. However, the visible growth of my plants pulls me back to the reality, and I feel the joy of life rising in me.
Why do I have a thing for plants? Because life and death are played out in seeming subtlety while they can be so overwhelming deep down.