Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Obligatory House Boy

[Reminder: Some of my posts, including this one, are memoirs of my abusive childhood. In this post I'm relating events that happened around March, 1958. The links to the right can be used to follow backward through the memoirs, or to restrict viewing to other kinds of posts.]

The second house in Taipei, the Japanese-style house, was one-story, set within a yard entirely enclosed by an eight foot wall. Unlike the Chinese-style house before it, this one had a back yard. More precisely, it had a back garden.

Being eight years old, I cared very little about the aesthetics of Japanese gardens. The plants got in the way. But there were a couple of other features of that back yard garden that really got my attention.

There was a whole 'nother house inside the garden. About the size of a garage built for a compact car, it was meant as a live-in dwelling for a servant.

Now, we had had maids before, but they only worked part-time, and they slept somewhere else at night. But here we were living in a house that was DESIGNED to accommodate a live-in servant.

So, what do you know? We had a house like that, so we got a live-in house-boy. As if the possibility created a necessity.

It turned out he was a vast improvement over the maids. He spoke English so well I was sure he was a Chinese spy (which was OK by me). He spent his evenings ironing and reading poetry. He helped us kids make big firecrackers out of little ones.

The other feature of the back yard was a little concrete structure up against the wall, just outside my room. It was a concrete box about four feet high and eight feet long with a small opening on one side. It was our bomb shelter.

The "bomb shelter" at the previous house was the basement. I was never allowed to go down into the basement, so it was purely theoretical. At this house, the bomb shelter was open and waiting. I got a flashlight and explored it. It was terribly disappointing. I always wanted a bomb shelter that would double as a club-house. This one was literally just a box. There wasn't even any light.

The neighbors had bomb shelters, too. We kids spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to outfit our bomb shelters to make fun club houses.

Then, air raid drills started, and everyone had to pile into the things.

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