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Treatment

It’s just another ordinary morning. Harsh noises fill the air for these Taiwanese  leprosy patients in 2017. Inside a ruined hospital, several medical documents, broken  implements, and an ancient stone stele written in Japanese characters saying ”Losheng  sanatorium built-in 1930,” lay covered with heavy dust, scattered on the ground. A group of patients lead people in. In the darkness, they begin to tell their story: once, thousands of patients sustained unique but quiet lives on the fringes of Taipei. After years of construction since urban revitalization started in 2005, they were awake–aware–and fighting against the authorities. They passionately recall that at the peak of their anti-eviction protests they won a trial against the Japanese government. Because of this, the Taiwanese government acknowledges Losheng’s value and decides to build a museum at this very place to memorialize these patients’ sacrifices for public health. It was the final success of their fight; a lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into this, the greatest grassroots democratic victory in the history of Taiwan. However, this victory is now destroying the land, rendering it an isolated island with the suddenness of a bolt of lightning. 

In the center of the sanatorium grounds, the most handicapped patient, Uncle Wen, sings in his flower garden. With his singing voice, he is taken to the past: cicadas sing in his old flower garden, patients gathered together with laughter. He was energetic and living freely even after losing a limb. He was busy fighting and protesting. The bang came suddenly, echoing across the buildings and shattering the quiet. He is awakened by his friends. They are all aged and frail, but still come to chat, joke about their misfortunes, and show their care for each other. Rain or shine, Wen always sits there waiting as the days pass. 

High up on the sanatorium grounds, Ms. Lan waits for her partner to come for lunch. She falls asleep. In her dream, she is facing the most traumatic day of her life- she was evacuated, hundreds of police occupied the entire sanatorium. Young supporters were screaming and being taken away by the authorities. Lan was the last patient left. She decided to end her life by surrendering to the backhoe collapsing her home. However, she survived and became more determined to preserve what remains of the land. She became an icon for the movement and led the patients afterwards. With her partner, they keep hope alive for this long protest. 

Low on the sanatorium grounds, chanting fills the air as a ceremony is held in the Buddhist hall. The rain gets heavier and Aunt Ying’s eyes redden. She bows again and again to the old patient's coffin. She recalls those old times when they were so close, like father-and-daughter. Every day, she visited him, fed him, and cleaned his house. After his death, she is all alone but for her cats and dogs. She comes and goes like the wind. She becomes an outsider and has no intention to get involved in other’s lives.

These years, living with endless construction overwhelms the patients who remain. Together, the patients make landscape models with their twisted hands hoping the museum will truly pass their stories on to later generations. Wen shares the memory of his arrival at the sanatorium: once he entered the gate he knew he was no longer himself but, instead, a filthy leper. Although the gate brings back painful memories to him, it is now the entrance to his home. However, the authorities insist on constructing a bridge that leads nowhere at the entrance of the museum, replacing the old gate. It’s  like a knife both cutting through the island and tearing apart patients’ memories. Now, the patients are–ironically–cut off from the museum meant to memorialize them. 

The bridge keeps being built nonstop regardless. Wen looks  lost–part of him is lost when the gate is removed. He is struggling with his infected left hand. He clings to his old life with his hand. However, the hope doesn’t last long–the hand is soon amputated. After that, he is defeated. Ms. Lan also struggles with the illness of her partner. While he is in a coma, she promises one day she will lead him back from the old gate and bring him back home. Undertaking their unfinished business, Lan leads the protest back to the streets. Though everything is so familiar, the overpowering authorities still interfere with the protests before the patients’ requests can be heard. Time is cruel to patients but not to those in power. 

As construction reaches their living areas and plans are enacted to replace every remaining house, a wave of evictions ensues. Ying becomes a target due to her isolated condition. Under this extreme stress, she realizes that she needs to stand up for her cats and dogs and to be on-guard for herself. To alienate her, the powers-that-be begin to force her to sign away her rights and then cut off her water and electricity. With great determination, she stays in darkness until her windows are taken away and  her roof is torn off. On the day of her evacuation, she is evicted under the watch of the police, though she fights for a new place with her cats and dogs on the land and believes she will return.  

In a hospital, Wen wakes up in a cold and colorless ward. He looks far into the  distance to see that his home is surrounded by a long construction ditch. Even so, he still  wants to go home- he travels alongside intimidating trucks and excavators, through detour after detour. Due to the growing impact of dementia, more and more, he lives as if he were back in the past. Until one day, coming home is impossible: his door is locked, his chair is empty.

Finally, the museum that has replaced their homes occupies the entire sanatorium. The noise of construction continues on, over the chirping of birds and the rustling of trees. In the church, Lan picks up her partner's last pictures and mourns at  his funeral. As the ceremony begins, supporters from the past trickle in. Everyone has aged and weary, but still sincerely show their care for Lan. Soon, the church is filled with people. Even Wen shows up; he cries under his mask Wen also shows up; he cries under his mask as if he remembers their past protests singing together“ After fulfilling my aspiration, one day I must come home”  Their voice seems clear, vivid with memories.

 

After Chen’s cremation, his ashes are placed at the leper columbaria. As usual, Ying says farewell along with her animals to all of her beloved friends who rest here. As the rest of the world keeps changing, the land remains–long after they have lived and died, the land will tell their stories with the winds. 

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