Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Taipei, Taiwan, was immediately red to me. That was the sense I had of it. Red, red, red, with smatterings of yellow, and only wisps of blue and green, except for the trees.

I loved Taipei from the first. The pier we docked at was a working pier next to warehouses full of cargo waiting to ship out or be trucked off. It was crowded with workers. There was no effort to put on a pretty face for new arrivals.

My Father met us at the gangplank. We had to wait for Koko and his crate to be lowered to the dock. There was some passport checking at a booth out in front of the warehouse. Then we were chauffeured off by Army staff car to our new home.

We passed through downtown Taipei along the way, and, as I said, that was red. Almost every store was decked out in Chinese red, with red banners, and red or yellow awnings, covered with large chinese writing.

Remember, this was the Fifties. Back in the US, beige was the king of colors. Mute was master. People who wore bright colors were shunned and ostracized, if not committed. People who painted their houses in bright colors were sued or evicted by their neighborhood associations. So the contrast to home was enormous. But there was also the fact that red was especially meaningful to me. It was the color of the i'iwi and the sacred color that gave rise to all colors. I felt like I was at the beginning of the rainbow.

The house we arrived at was in a middle class neighborhood at the outskirts of the city. One of the main highways out of the city passed a block away, leading to a hillside cemetery a mile or two beyond. You left the highway onto a side road that was paved for only fifty yards and then swung left parallel to the highway as a dirt road with walled middle-class chinese-style houses on either side for several blocks. After the road turned, our house was the first you encountered on the right side. The house directly across the street from us was, it turned out, the home of a Republic of China (ROC) general.

[Above: I've repeatedly tried and failed to find our house on satellite images. So here it is from memory. The houses were more rectangular than depicted. The stream was probably wider. The railroad is totally out of scale. Our house, in reality, was maybe 25 feet in front by 35 or 40 feet. The dirt road was narrower than shown. I was just trying to show where left and right was.]

If you went the other direction, swerving right when the road swerved left, you had to get out and walk. Rather than roads there were walkways through a warren of shops and shanties. We lived across the street from a poor people's bamboo village.

If you didn't swerve right or left but continued straight past the side of our house you crossed a stream, about 8 yards wide, which fed the main river that emptied into the sea and was also our sewer, and the place that our poorer neighbor-women did their laundry. There was then a little bridge you could drive over the stream. A few yards further and you were crossing a railroad track.

So much in one place! Life, death, commerce and cemeteries, poverty and wealth, dirt roads, steam engines, concrete walled homes alongside bamboo shacks. How can you not love a place that has all that?

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