My jaw dropped. My pen paused. For three seconds all I could do was stare.
There was only one word on my mind: "Why?"
The man sitting opposite me, head shaved and bespectacled, looked nonplussed.
Yet he was the reason for my surprise. "No one has come," he had told me moments earlier, replying to my passing question about how often his family in Singapore visits him during his 13 years behind bars in Taiwan.
Nobody has come since January 2000, he said, when he was arrested for bringing in heroin, a crime which carries the life sentence in Taiwan and which is what he got.
I collected myself and carried on, hoping not to show how sorry I was, while he continued to tell me about his new life in prison as a tailor without much emotion.
Up until then, the trip to Taipei Prison - my first ever to a jail - had gone almost too well. Officials at the 4,002-men facility, from Warden Fang Tzu-chieh to the guards, were as friendly as any I've met in Taiwan.
The compound, where former President Chen Shui-bian is serving a 18-year sentence for graft, was bright and airy, with paintings and Christmas decorations lining the walls and walkways. If one looked past the barbed wires and heavy security, it could pass off as a school campus.
And indeed convicts in Taiwan are euphemistically called tong xue, or students. There were dozens of tong xue at the workshops - cooking, baking, art and crafts, sewing - we toured.
They understandably stared, but kept to their tasks. A few were tending to big steaming woks of spicy beancurds. One brought us freshly-baked cookies. A man in his 20s, who was painstakingly sticking bits of egg shells onto what looked like a huge vase, explained his craft to us patiently.
Afterwards came the one-to-one interviews, chaperoned by prisons operations chief Chan Kuo-yu and secretariat officer Hu Hsiu-wei.
The first two tong xue, both Taiwanese, were serving between two and three years for firearm possession and a sexual offence respectively. Both now bake cookies and cakes in jail. Both said they hope to venture into cafe or bakery businesses after they get out.
Then it was the Singaporean's turn. Asked about his plan when he returns home - he would be eligible for parole in two years at the earliest - he said the idea was to work as a freelance tailor.
Then he frowned, adding: "I suppose few people tailor-made their clothes these days right? Perhaps I should see if I could drive a taxi then."
Asked why his family never visited him, he said his wife had divorced him after he was jailed. She also obtained custody of their two children. And that was that.
I couldn't bring myself to probe further. Later, our work for the day done, there was just one more thing my colleague Brenda and I had to do.
As Brenda went to a coffee shop opposite the jail to buy drumsticks, I went to the prison supplies store and scooped up bottles of coca-cola, three-in-one coffee, tea bags, cookies, shampoo, shower gel, canned food, and tidbits.
Just a little present for the compatriot behind the high walls.