January 25, 2010

And They Say You Can Never Go Back, Part I

You're going to be forced to suffer through some odd things I've found from my past, some memories of my childhood. Actually, you're not forced, you can always go elsewhere.

But for those who choose to stay, I believe this will be a Two Parter.

For those who have been reading for any great length of time over the past 5 yeas, you know that I lived in Taiwan for ages 12 and 13. TGOO was stationed there working for what was called the United Stated Taiwan Defense Command. He did strategic war gaming for the Taiwanese military. My Mom ran the craft shop on the Compound, which was 1) not a small feat and 2) a very cool craft shop as they did ceramics, stone polishing, batik, and assorted very cool crafts.

I've had various posts regarding our time there from a post about my brother and I wondering about a cartoon we used to watch where a very large robot had 'boob-missiles', to my moving back stateside and one of my classmates asking if I was Chinese, and about our evacuation... a tough time for us.

The evacuation. We had 30 days. One minute we were there, the next my folks were getting rid of stuff, the next we were packed and in a hotel, and then... gone.

Being a child of the military, I often wonder what has happened to our 'homes' in the past. They say you can't go back, and you can't, but I still look back and wonder, as do my brother and sister, which brings me to my next two posts.

My brother found a blog on USTDC that was put together by a gentleman who was stationed there in the 70s. He posts pictures of what used to be there, talks about the Compound, and what it was like to be there during that time. In turn, people send him pictures and stories. Needless to say, it has brought back a flood of memories.

It started with THIS post that he wrote about a new hotel that had been built right across from the Compound, one that my brother readily idenitified as the hotel we spent our last 30 days. And from there the email started flowing, we found ourselves on Google Maps, and back we went... for free... no airfare involved.

And so what you'll have over the next couple posts is... my going back.

Starting with the first picture that started it all:

The Grandee Hotel.JPG
The Grandee Hotel, we lived here for 30 days. The elevator sucked, we got stuck in it as a family once, it jumped up and down rattling us around like popcorn and then stopped, only to have TGOO open the doors and finding us stuck between floors. I'll never forget looking at that wall...

All the military families were there. We were all told to leave and we were all living there awaiting orders, I believe all of us passing through Hawaii. We ended up living in Hawaii for about six months. Anyway, this was it. This was also the hotel we lived in when TGOO gave up smoking for us... Valentine's Day, 1979.

I call this next one: Grabbing the Ghost.
Grabbing the Ghost.JPG
This picture is for Mo. Remember this intersection, Mo? This was the intersection where Mo accidentally dropped this little paper ghost she'd made in school and it floated down the highway and she started to cry, and I felt bad, so I ran out in traffic and got it.

I remember that intersection clearly, except there was a median, which is now gone. And there were a lot of busses... and the cars are much newer now.

Anyway, during the emailing I said that the Guest House we lived in for the FIRST 30 days was also nearby, but not speaking or reading Chinese at the time, none of us remembered what street it was located on and we had to go by landmarks. We walked the street often as the Compound was at the end of it.

So as we walked the street, my brother, TGOO and I, on Google Maps, we found...

Buddhist Temple Not There.JPG
This Buddhist Temple that was most certainly NOT there. I don't remember what was there before the temple, but evidently it wasn't important, and I feel certain it was some type of building because Taipei is elbow to elbow buildings like any other city. So walk down the dirty nasty streets of beige buildings and BOOM! there's a Temple. (Regardless, I'd like a tour, please.)

Walking further down the street, I assured TN and TGOO that to find our Guest House, we had to pass The Imperial Hotel. I remembered it big as day, except I don't remember the cars able to drive under cover. I think TN remembers hostesses smiling at him. That didn't happen to me... then again I wasn't blonde haired and blue eyed. He always drew attention.

Imperial the same.JPG
The Imperial Hotel today.

TN and I both remembered a candy store on the corner of our alley. Remember, this was 30 years ago, so who even knew if the candy store still existed? Hell, there was a huge daggum Buddhist Temple now in the middle of a block, who knew what happened to the little store where we could buy American candy like Pop Rocks?

But... it was there, but bigger and better. Holy crap...

Candy Store.JPG
It most certainly did not have big orange signage 30 years ago. Evidently they've done... well.

And that takes us to our alley.

My Street for 30 days.JPG
This was my street for 30 days. There weren't so many cars, but it was still crazy. I wish there was a scratch and sniff feature so you could smell the scent of it all... or sound so you could hear the city noise that sounded like our city noise... but not.

And TGOO was the one who actually found our Guest House. There is a Blue Girl sign on it now.
The Guest House.JPG

Entrance to Guest House.JPG
This is where we lived and it's the same... but different. Peering through the door you can see steps and in the back, to the right was a guest room and to the left was a room, two rooms per floor. It looks so daggum nasty now, and trust me, it was not exactly the Ritz, but it wasn't like it is now.

Young men ran the Guest House and I remember when we first arrived, we turned on the bathtub and muddy brown filthy water poured out. TN jumped on one of the beds only to land, THUD. It was some thin mattress on top of plywood?

I remember the first day we were there, we heard the sound of the ice cream truck and we ran outside only to find... the garbage truck. The garbage truck, a great open topped truck with a man wearing a coolie hat inside stomping down garbage like Lucille Ball stomping grapes, would ride down the street playing ice cream truck music and Taiwanese people could come out and throw their garbage in the back of the truck while American children would run outside looking for treats that were most definitely... not there.

I immediately had to look up to the windows:
I'm still trying to make sense here. We used to peer out the windows and throw things off the top of the building. The windows weren't all grated and I think the windows on the far right were all in the hallway. I'm trying to space it in my head and it's not working.

Why am I spending so much time on the damn windows? Because it was from these windows that we kids would gather to peer out at the man across the street taking a shower.

No Naked Shower Guy.JPG
Notice there is no naked man. Every now and then, a white male would be on that 2nd story floor, right above the green sign, with what looks like white metal work on the window (not there then) and take a shower. There wasn't a green sign there then either, so it was a full view of the window.

Why his shower was up against the window was beyond me. It's not clear glass, it's foggy glass, so maybe he thought it was safe, nobody could see in, but see in we could, and someone would give a holler when he was showering, and all the kids in the Guest House would clamor to the 2nd floor window to watch.

There were A LOT of kids. A LOT.

We were all military families and I think there was not a family with less than three kids and there were two apartments per floor... so you do the math.

All watching this guy shower.

I've since wondered what the deal was. Did he live up on the 2nd floor? Why did we never see him go in or come out? Was he military renting an apartment? What was the deal?

And thankfully he always showered alone! We were mostly pretty naive back then still. We hadn't extrapolated to sex and people showering together. Good Grief.

Funnier still... we were all emailing back and forth and I brought out the fact that I found the window the guy showered in front of, and this was evidently news to my dear Mom, and the conversation between my Mom and I went something like this:

Mom: Wait. You were window peepers?

Me: You make it sound so ugly. I prefer the more classy French word: Voyeur.

Anyway, that's where I lived in Jan/Feb of 1979 and August of 1977. It looks like a hell hole, and it probably is now, but we have some really fond memories.

I just wish we had scratch and sniff...

Wednesday you get our old home, neighborhood and meat market.

And I got to go back... for free.

Posted by Boudicca at January 25, 2010 09:52 PM

Truly amazing! Don't you love technology!?

I tried going back to the old homestead with Google some years ago, but it had evidently been torn down. No great loss, I assure you. ;)

Posted by: Pam at January 26, 2010 07:39 AM

Fabulous post - you take us back into your childhood with your writing! Thanks for sharing your memories!

Posted by: Mary at January 27, 2010 12:23 AM

I agree, a most fabulous post. Thanks for finding all the pictures and sharing your memories of Taipei.

Posted by: Margaret at January 30, 2010 08:06 AM