Photo of USTDC courtesy of Les Duffin

Monday, September 10, 2007

Taipei Water

I think it was Dean Martin who said that the only water he consumed was frozen and surrounded by scotch.

That wasn't necessarily the case for American GIs in Taipei, but most of us were pretty careful when it came to drinking water. We were told that the Taipei water supply was unsafe to drink or use for cooking. Ice cubes, with or without scotch, were similarly to be avoided. If we went to a local bar or restaurant, we were told, we should order only beer.

Now if you're an American under the age of 30, you might assume that we just went to the store and brought home a case of 1/2 liter plastic bottles of drinking water. Believe it or not, the whole idea of paying actual money to buy everyday drinking water most anywhere in the United States was practically unheard of in the 1970s. Some of us still laugh at the concept, though I'll admit those little bottles, though more expensive than gasoline, are handy for hikes and such.

As part of his services, my houseboy at the hostel lugged in a huge glass bottle of drinking water -- I'd guess somewhere between five and ten gallons -- about once every month or so. I think there was a small charge every time he replaced it, but that was the only cost that I can recall.

Obviously those bottles were very heavy and weren't something you could easily pick up to fill a glass or coffee pot, so they sat in a metal rack that was hinged so you could tilt the bottle. The rack was provided with the first jug of water.

This wine bottle dispenser uses the same principle, but the water bottle racks were of course much larger, usually sat on the floor, and were nowhere near this fancy. It took a little practice to fill up a container without slopping water everywhere, but I eventually developed the right touch.

I never knowingly drank tap water while I was there, but did use it for tooth brushing after a few weeks. I had several friends who didn't bother with bottled water at all, but I was never quite that brave . . . or stupid.

I sometimes wonder if Taipei's water treatment facilities have improved much since the 1970s. I assume so.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

During my tour at Taipei Air Station, most of us who lived off base had at least 2 or 3 large plastic containers which we filled with Potable Water from the faucets which were located in the rear of Club 13, on the road leaving the air station. I remember when taking a shower in my apartment close to the HSA compound, the water would be dirty, it actually looked muddy. We used the potable water to wash dishes, to shave and bush our teeth as well as drinking water. I used to get water once a week probably, because we had 3 containers which lasted all week. During my recent trip to Taipei in 2006, the water at my girl friends apartment has a filter under the kitchen sink, which cleaned the water and it was OK to drink, but I usually drank hot tea or bottled water.

Potable water. I really never paid much attention to the spelling of that word, potable. When I assigned to the 2d Logistical Command in Okinawa in the early 1970's my duty was to publish the "Daily Bulletin." I understand this "command organ" has been abandoned. During the early 70's Okinawa was experiencing a critical drought, and water levels were extremely low. Everyone on the island was saving water. The military off loaded steel drums at every military house and placed them under the window air conditioners. The water that fell from the refrigeration coils would quickly fill the barrels. The folks living in the homes were expected to use the water from the drums to flush the toilets. As the water situation became critical, water was turned off in the military housing area completely. The AFRTS Okinawa radio and television stations would announce each day, which housings areas would have their water turned on for 1 or 2 hours, usually only every third day. So when your water came on, everyone living in that area would rush home to shower and fill up their bath tubs and pails. There were "water wagons" located every block or so for drinking purposes. To get back to the "Daily Bulletin", we had a Major who worked in the headquarters building who would draw cartoons depicting the water situation. These clever drawings would be attached to the daily bulletin. One day, someone sent in an entry for inclusion in the bulletin. When typing the entry, I observed that the person had misspelled the words "potable water." I being a smart clerical NCO just corrected the spelling to Portable Water. When the Commanding General read the daily bulletin, he personally placed a call to the Personnel Director, a bird colonel asking who in the hell had proof read today’s daily bulletin... Needless to say, I was called into the colonel's office for an explanation. I told him I thought the water wagons were portable, something that could move about.. I had never heard of Potable Water. So much for a smart admin NCO….