Writers from China's diaspora Her e-mail address contains the word 'mysterious'. She declines to supply either her age or a photograph because, she says, 'in my hermit tradition, we do not make our pictures public'. Not even her publisher, the Boston-based East-meets-West enterprise Shambhala, offers a picture of the Taoist sage in its catalogues. But Eva Wong was born in Hong Kong and raised as a reader of this newspaper, which has a special place in her heart. Thus, although she rarely meets the public, she agrees to give an interview over the phone from her Colorado home. And then everything goes pear-shaped. The text extract sample she sends me via what she calls 'fancy services' is returned to her twice. She mistypes her phone number, putting me in touch with a bewildered stranger called Mr Frost. We reschedule. However, in an e-mail that mentions that the previous one she tried to send bounced back, she says: 'Something/someone is trying to prevent us from communicating. Don't you think this is strange?' I do, but finally manage to tee up an interview with this Sphinx-like figure who has 13 eastern philosophy books to her name. Speaking in a low, slow, stately voice, she recounts her 1960s childhood spent in Kowloon and on Hong Kong Island. Her favourite area was the New Territories, which back then was unspoiled. 'I would hike in those mountains and then come down and be in a village and there would be absolutely no cars, not any kind of modernity and I would be able to sit down and have tea and actually still hear rushing water which was still relatively clear,' she says with a mournful laugh. One of her favourite haunts was Banyan Tree Park. Every time she visited, she would spread a newspaper on the ground and sit and listen to tales of Chinese heroes and Taoist immortals. But in the twilight of the 1970s, to attain a scientific education, she left Hong Kong. 'Probably in the 80s some time', she won a PhD in neural networks from Brandeis University in Massachusetts and then became an 'independent scholar' of Taoism. Wong says this was a natural step because in Taoism everything, including religion and science, connects. Her stories are terse but telling, thanks to her judicious inclusion of atmospheric details which evoke the spirit of the Banyan Park raconteurs. Consider The Minister and the Courtesan, from her 2001 collection titled Tales of the Taoist Immortals. Wong relates how, during the Chou dynasty, Yu Chien, the lord of the kingdom of Yueh, challenged a warlord called Fu Ts'o in battle. Yu Chien lost and was captured but, because his master wanted him to co-operate, he received good treatment. 'During the day, he sang and cavorted with beautiful women,' Wong writes. 'At night, however, he ... sipped bitter liquid from a gourd to remind himself of the bitterness of captivity and the loss of his homeland.' The future looked dismal. But then his adviser, Fan Li, a beautiful and bright woman, infiltrated the court by applying to become a courtesan. Fu Ts'o was so taken by the woman he made her head courtesan. This honey-trap queen then set about undermining his regime. She also convinced him Yu Chien had become so feckless he was no longer a threat. So the king released the prisoner, who promptly gathered his forces, launched an attack and regained his domain. Shunning the glory because they knew fortune was fickle, the story's heroes hid their identities and became a quiet but prosperous couple. The story seems like a straightforward lesson in strategic thinking. But Taoism in general, which originates from the teaching of the pre-Christian seer Lao-tzu, defies easy interpretation and has been associated with sorcery. Nonetheless, Wong glosses it in a manner that mirrors the simplicity of The Minister and the Courtesan. She says the essence of Taoist practice is to cultivate physical health and mental clarity. She admits this is tough. 'Because of the way we are born and brought up, most people squander away the health of their body and a lot of people squander away the health of their mind,' Wong says. The secret is to avoid poverty and excessive wealth alike, and to be content with what you have. 'To know our limits is really the essence of Taoist advice - to know our limits and be content within them,' she says. Has it worked for her? Wong says it has made her a decent, healthy, lucid person. 'I believe I am less vulnerable to stress, to anxiety,' she says. Taoism has also imbued her, with the appreciation that we 'are one part of the great scheme of things, not necessarily the centre, and an understanding of the interdependency of all things', Wong says.