TAIPEI, Taiwan - Taiwanese, who are always quick in copying Japanese fads, have found a new one - drinking urine.
An estimated 200,000 Taiwanese are drinking their own urine daily to cure disease, improve health or achieve longevity.
The urine-drinking movement was launched by Chen Ching-Chuan, a man who looks 46 although he's actually 66. Chen learned urine therapy from a Japanese pilot he met 14 years ago after a 20-year separation.
His Japanese friend "had gone to Borneo with the troops during the Second World War. When I saw him again after 20 years, I was shocked: He had not aged, except his hair was gray. He told me he had been drinking urine," said Chen, a waterworks manager.
His friend "said he began drinking urine when the troops were trapped in an underground shelter for two weeks. The army doctor taught them to drink urine to stay alive and to use it as medicine to cure disease and to heal wounds."
Chen was convinced; he tasted his own urine after his friend left Taiwan, and he's been a urine drinker ever since.
He had kept it a secret until he had to apply for a new identification card two years ago. Police thought he was a fraud because the fortyish-appearing man who stood before them definitely was not 64, as described by police records.
When his explanation failed, Chen summoned a friend to explain he looked young because he'd been drinking urine.
Chen became a hero after several publications printed his story and carried his photo to prove his youthfulness.Now an average of 100 people ring up Chen every day for advice on urine therapy.
Chen drinks three cups of urine every day. He encourages people to drink their morning urine, which he says is the best.
The movement has spread all over the island. In the southern port of Kaohsiung, Kuo Mei-Hsio, a schoolteacher, has launched a urine-therapy hotline to give free advice to callers from all over the island.
In Taipei in the north, the Nora Buddhist Temple prints urine-therapy pamphlets and distributes them through Buddhist bookstores and Buddhist-run vegetarian restaurants. The 20 monks in the temple and most of their 2,000 followers are urine drinkers.
Books on the subject recommend drinking a baby boy's urine, which is said to clear eyes, remove phlegm and purify internal organs. Except for urine-therapy followers, adult urine is the last thing Chinese would consider tasting.
"I would rather die a few years younger than live longer by drinking urine," said Tan Kuang-Hua, a Taipei investment analyst.
Kuo said that although urine from a person who is ill and has poor eating habits might taste bad, "urine from a healthy person tastes a little like beer, but is neither salty nor bitter."
The therapeutic quality of urine is still a controversy. Dr. Wen Jung-Kuang said that except for a tiny amount of hormone, urine is all waste from the human body. He said he suspected that those who drink urine are seeking psychological gratification.
But some urologists say urine contains about 200 elements and compounds - including ammonia, calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium - that are neither helpful nor harmful to the health.
Urine drinkers themselves say urine can cure any disease from the common cold to cancer.
A lay Buddhist with the Nona Buddhist monastery has just published a book called "The Magic Golden Water Cure," a collection of real-life cases in which seriously ill patients regain health through drinking urine.
The author, who identified himself as "a man who is in his old age," wrote that he got rid of his rheumatism, diabetes and high blood pressure by drinking urine.
"Urine, like blood, is full of nutrition. Therefore drink all of it and don't waste a drop," the book advises. "What happens then is beyond your imagination."