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Octogenarian donates treasured mosquitoes to high school

2012/06/03 18:13:58

Taipei, June 3 (CNA) The best way to give back to society is to share your lifelong passion with young people, said an 85-year-old who recently made an unusual donation to his alma mater -- a collection of mosquito specimen.

Lien Jih-ching, a specialist known for his dedication to the study of mosquitoes and malaria around the world, donated about 2,000 mosquitoes to his high school to help students learn about the insect and to feel assured his treasured collection will be well looked after.

"When I leave this world, I want to know that these mosquitoes are in good hands," said Lien.

Dubbed by locals as "Mosquito Man" and "Mosquito Doctor," Lien started his obsession with mosquitoes working as a typing assistant to a Japanese professor in tropical medicine at Taipei Imperial University (now National Taiwan University) during the Japanese colonial period.

Although he was only 16 and had dropped out of school to earn a meager salary to support his family, Lien was unexpectedly drawn to the scholarly conversations between the professor and visitors and would eavesdrop whenever possible.

"It was like learning without textbooks," he told CNA.

In the 1940s, malaria was a great concern for Japan because of its plans to invade other Southeast Asian countries in the tropical area. Health officials then were desperate to learn about ways to block its transmission through mosquitoes, Lien said.

"There were more soldiers who died from malaria than war wounds," he said, recalling how disease became Japan's worst nightmare at war.

Lien's strong interest and photographic memory soon caught the attention of his boss, who later promoted him to catching mosquitoes for laboratory studies.

"This is where my lifelong fascination with mosquitoes began," said Lien, who, despite old age, still categorizes mosquito specimen in a make-shift laboratory at his home in Taipei City every day.

In his nearly 70 years of mosquito research, Lien worked for several health institutes and his achievements were recognized by Taiwan's late President Chiang Kai-shek, as well as the international community, which has named 20 some mosquitoes after him.

"Like human beings, mosquitoes come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and are interesting to observe," he said.

During a recent visit by a CNA reporter to his laboratory, Lien wore magnifying glasses and worked under dim light as he carefully pulled out 15 boxes of treasured mosquitoes, dragonflies and beetles specimens that would be sent to Cheng Yuan High School in Taipei for display this month.

"My sincere wish is that there would be someone to take after me," he said.

But he said with a sad smile that people are less interested in mosquito studies nowadays because "it takes great effort and the work does not generate much profit."

With the specimen donation on the way, Lien said hopefully the younger generation can learn to appreciate the beauty of mosquitoes and, like him, develop a lifelong passion for mosquitoes when they grow up.

(By Nancy Liu)