Saturday, June 14, 2008

In Memoriam - "Bush Baby" Duncan Robinson

The following announcement appears on the Taipei Hash House Harriers Website today: "On Saturday, June 14th, 2008, the Taipei Hash will host a special run to remember, and celebrate, the life of Bush Baby (Duncan). Duncan was a long time hasher and former Grand Master of the Taipei Hash who passed away recently. The Bush Baby Memorial Run is open to all who wish to attend. It will take place in Yangmingshan, from the temple in Yung Gong Road, where Bush Baby’s ashes are interred."

While attending the ECCT dinner in Taipei on Thursday, I was informed by an old English friend Mike I met there that a mutual friend had passed away a few weeks ago, and that a run would be held to celebrate his life on Yangmingshan in Taipei today. While to make a trip to Taipei for this would have been quite difficult for me, I dedicated this morning's swim training to him, all 6,400 meters of it, and, based on the various bits of information I have managed to gather on him so far, I have decided to collect my thoughts together and devote today's posting to him.

I had known Duncan, who was affectionately nicknamed "Bush Baby", possibly because of his bushy eyebrows (?), on and off over the last 15 years or more. During the few years while I was at ECCT, I attended over 50 but less than 100 hash runs, which usually lasted about 2 hours each, sometimes more, and covered all kinds of terrain, from thick jungle, to crawling on hands and knees through mud and wading knee-deep across flowing streams. There were really long staircases that we used to climb, often leading up to temples, and a typical run would include several steep ascents and descents. Duncan, as far as I know, regularly attended the Hash these last 15 years, and was very much liked, by both the expatriate community and the Chinese.

I saw him for the last time last summer. I was participating in my first and only Taipei Hash run in the last five years. Arriving late at the venue some 15 minutes after the start, I decided to run hard, thinking that I could catch up some of the slower people. That I did pretty quickly, and with the benefit of several years of triathlon in Hawai'i, I gradually passed more and more people. The course that day was quite tough, with a lot of steep climbs. Some two-thirds of the way into the run, I came across Duncan, completely unaware that a few years previously he was given only months to live and had undergone some horrifying surgery. Later I saw him finish the run, and while he may have opted for the shorter course, he probably covered about three-fourths of the distance that I did, probably taking over two and a half hours in the process. Apart from noticing that he looked thinner than before and greyer (not that I hadn't aged, either), I just wasn't aware of anything, until I met Mike the other evening. There were a lot of people at that run that day, and I did not get to talk to him, something I will always regret. I still remember some of the things he said and his humor in the past.

After looking at the Hash website, I found that the following entry had appeared in January 2005: "今天的兔子Bush Baby(本名Duncan Robinson),英國人,年齡不詳,是今年度的副會長,來台多年,已然成為一個 “台灣通”,普通話也能說上幾句,參加台北捷兔大約10年有餘,是個開朗、親切的老兔友,在筆者的印象中,他亦屬於勇腳的兔友,... " This was part of a report on a Hash run at which Duncan had been the hare (the one who plans the course and sets the trail and who normally has to run pretty fast not to get caught). He was described as an Englishman (which of course we all knew), who was very familiar with Taiwan and the way of life here, who spoke a smattering of Chinese, and had been a hasher for at least ten years. He was described as being an optimistic and cheerful and friendly person (with all of which I fully agree), and also a very brave person. The writer then went on to say how in early 2004 he started to feel discomfort, which led to hospitalization and surgery. Many of his fellow hashers rallied round him at this difficult time, and despite the seriousness of his illness, he became well enough to leave the hospital and join his friends at their running events at least for a few more years.

A fellow Chinese hasher, whom we all know as Bamboo (魏志華), and who once rescued me on a hash run in 1993 after I got stuck in the woods for several hours after dark with a badly-hurt knee, posted a eulogy on the Taipei Hash House Harriers Website, that he entitled: "永遠的兔崽子--悼好友Bush Baby (Duncan Robinson 羅秉信)". While the full (Chinese) version plus several photos of Duncan in these last few years can be found on the website (by clicking here and scrolling down a little), I would like to attach two or more of Bamboo's paragraphs here as follows:

我們的好友,勇敢的Bush Baby,你終究還是不敵病魔的摧殘,於 2008年5月12日上午離開了我們,距你生日--1940年5月13日,享年67年又365天,沒錯!是365天,距你第一次開刀住院—2004年5月14日,差兩天四年;你,Bush Baby,天性樂觀開朗,幽默風趣,從來就沒有與病魔妥協過,甚至多次拒絕死神的召喚,與它們奮戰到最後一刻,大大的震撼了榮總的醫療團隊,你,雖敗猶榮。


你雖然離開了,但你的精神將與我們同在,捷兔將以你為榮,Bush Baby,你是永遠的兔崽子。
你的好友 BAMBOO 悼記

A cherry orchard along the same road on Yangmingshan where Duncan's ashes are now interred (courtesy of whoever took the picture)

One thing I admire about the Chinese is that they are very good at expressing their feelings in regard to a lost friend in writing. In a sense, while I share similar emotions, I somehow cannot express them in words. Bamboo said that Duncan Robinson died the day prior to his 68th birthday (I never realized he was that old, and he certainly did not look it). Bamboo described him as a born optimist, a humorous person, someone who had lived in Taiwan for thirty or more years. At first when Bamboo received a call from Duncan in early 2004 from the hospital, he did not understand the seriousness of the illness. Then he found out that Duncan had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and that the cancer had spread to surrounding organs. The prognosis was not good, probably six months to at most ten months of life. A highly-skilled team of doctors removed his pancreas, spleen, gall bladder and part of his stomach. From then on, Duncan required constant treatment and medication, but in spite of it all, he continued to smile and be courageous and was able to get back into running. While the inevitable day still came, it came almost four years later than the doctors predicted.

I was only active in the Hash for three possibly four years and I had my moment, too, after I was diagnosed with an illness in the mid-1990s. I remember trying to explain to a few of my friends (also Duncan's friends) my predicament one day when I showed up for the Hash in a somewhat weakened state. Still, no one really knows the future, and things did not turn out for me quite the way I expected. However, as I grow older, I know that when something affects someone I have known, even though I may not have been very close to him or her, it also has a tendency to affect me. To quote the famous words of John Donne (1572-1631): "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee."

Today it has been raining really hard in Kaohsiung. I guess in Taipei the weather is unlikely to be better. Through it all, it is as if I can hear the tolling sound of the bell. Today is a really sad day for the hashing community and the countless people who knew Duncan. There will, however, be sunshine again, and we will be reminded of Duncan's smile, his optimism, and his bravery in adversity. In the meantime, I join my former fellow hashers in remembering Duncan, and may his wife, his daughters and other close family be especially comforted at this time.

This is a long post, and may not be for you, but I trust some who knew Duncan will read it. Comments are welcome, in English and in Chinese.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Bruce, you have written a very moving tribute to our friend, Duncan. Thank you for that.
I was quite close to Duncan, in fact I persuaded him to attend and took him on his very first Hash run, back in 1980, I think. We had already been friends for some time, and played football (soccer) in the same team, the Ploughman Pub team, later the Red Lions, and finally the Animals. I ran with the Hash today, for the first time in many years, and of course it was quite emotional. It felt as though Duncan was still there with us. It was a very fine Memorial Run, attended by many of his friends, old and not so old, some of whom had flown into Taiwan especially for the occasion.
Duncan was many things to many people. To me he was one of the world's worst footballers, one of the world's keenest Hashers, but most of all one of my best friends.

Rest In Peace, Duncan.

On On,

Mike Cottingham.