Photo of USTDC courtesy of Les Duffin

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Pete and the Taipei Journey

One of the characters that I wrote about earlier was Pete, an Army Sergeant (Sergeant First Class, I think) who worked in USTDC's J-2 (Intel) branch with Larry, an Air Force Master Sergeant. Pete and his family had been in Taipei for quite a long time and lived in a predominately Chinese neighborhood. I believe that his kids attended the local schools, rather than Taipei American School, where most American kids studied. I remember that his youngest daughter spoke mostly Chinese, much to her mom's dismay sometimes.

I mentioned in the earlier post that Pete had a rather interesting part-time job. He was a buyer for the PACEX catalog, which was the mail order catalog of the military exchange system for the Pacific region -- a sort of Sears catalog for military people. It contained a lot of items that were unique to the Far East and Pete knew a lot of manufacturers and wholesalers in Taiwan.

One Saturday morning he invited me to ride with him as he made some stops around the city. I think that was my first experience as a passenger in anything but a Taxi in Taipei and I remember that Pete drove like a local -- like a pretty aggressive local actually. But I'm sure that he scared me a whole lot more than any of the other drivers, who apparently attended the same driving school that Pete did. Somewhere in Taiwan today there may be an old rusted shell of a Volkswagen bus that still has my fingerprints pressed into the dash.

As we went from place to place, I had the opportunity to see some of the behind the scenes stuff in the city. For example, we visited a facility that produced oil paintings on canvas. None of the artists were working that Saturday, but there were stacks of completed canvases. As I looked through some of them, I saw that the images in each stack were all basically the same. Each artist apparently worked on just one image, over and over again. To this day, every time I see an ad for a "starving artists" sale somewhere, I remember that day in Taipei.

Another stop was at the Adidas shoe company. We were ushered into a large office with deep carpets and paneled walls, where we were warmly greeted by an executive type who obviously knew Pete very well. They conducted a little business and as we were getting ready to leave, the exec turned to me and asked if I'd like to have a pair of their shoes as a souvenir of my visit. Of course I said yes and he walked over to one wall and pressed on the paneling, which rotated to reveal racks of all the models of shoes that they manufactured there. He worked his way around the room, opening each section, and then told me to pick out something I liked. I picked out a pair of running shoes, told him my size, and he dispatched his assistant to retrieve a pair. They probably weren't much by today's standards, but they were my very first pair of Adidas and I wore them until they were threadbare.

Pete was eventually reassigned to a remote location in Korea sometime in 1974 and his family stayed in Taipei while he was gone. I don't know if he was able to get assigned back to Taiwan after his Korean tour, but I'm sure that he probably tried.

I held a number of part-time jobs during my military career, but never one as interesting as Pete's. Like many of the people I knew in Taipei, I've often wondered whatever happened to him.

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