Photo of USTDC courtesy of Les Duffin

Friday, January 4, 2008

Christmas & New Years in Taiwan

A few days ago I mentioned that I spent the Christmas holidays back in the States with my family in 1973, but I wondered what it was like for the American military folks who spent the holidays in Taipei.

I just received another excellent piece from Bill Kling, who earlier wrote about military people selling merchandise in Taiwan back in the 1970s. Bill was in Taiwan during the 1973, 1974, 1977 and 1978 holiday seasons and here are his holiday memories of that period:

I can remember spending 1973, 1974, 1977, and 1978 holiday seasons on the island. Among the things I experienced was trying to get my one year old son the latest toys in 1973. A new Toyland had just opened on the HSA compound across from the USACC HQ’s and next to the FASD eating facility just down the street from the back of USTDC. It was always tough to get toys and when the Navy Exchange held a grand opening of the new Toyland I stood in line on a rainy Saturday morning hoping to get some of the toys that supposedly just arrived. Also important was to get my son a picture with Santa Claus. Well, as only the military can do, the rumor spread about this BIG shipment of toys and although I got to Toyland at 7AM for a scheduled 10AM opening there was already over fifty people in line to get in the door first. As it turned out the BIG shipment of toys did not arrive and the grand opening was a major letdown for everyone involved. We were told to check back often as the toys would be in soon. Between myself, my wife, and friends we checked daily until finally almost two weeks later on a weekday (don’t remember which day, mid December) we got the word that the toys had arrived. My wife frantically drove from our BOT house in Tien Mou and was successful in getting a few of those important toys.

I must say that the holidays in Taiwan brought out many emotions. I worked shift work on Grass Mountain in the Tech Control area and we always felt “Why do I have to work XMAS eve, or New Years Eve”, but such was our duty. The Tech Control handled communications off the island and I remember playing XMAS Carol’s over the circuits to Okinawa, Japan, Korea, and the rest of the world. We were able to call the “States” and speak to our families and also help friends do the same. It seemed like a big deal back then, as we didn’t all have cell phones, IM, or email. Many people were sad as they missed their homes and loved ones, but we also enjoyed many parties thrown by our buddies, the 63 Club, and the Linkou Club. I do not remember prices, but I do remember that normal prices were slashed and we all were able to share XMAS I still have the “fake” XMAS tree that I used in Taiwan in 1973. I haven’t taken in out of the box in several years so it may be in pieces but I do have it. The available XMAS ornaments and lights were not of a very high quality on the island but they were always better than nothing. I remember attending XMAS Mass at the St Christopher church down the street from the HSA compound. We had the holiday and almost everything we would have had in the States, except our families. It seemed there was always some military person either leaving during the season or a new person arriving and those people really had a challenge to learn a new job, get them and their family settled, as well as remembering the season.

On XMAS Eve 1974 the USACC personnel from USTDC Tech Control actually invited us “down” to the compound to share some cheer. As we were not allowed to have liquor in the building we actually met outside the back entrance to TDC (by the tennis courts) and had a drink and/or toast or two. Perhaps we had more than a few as the off duty Chinese guards joined in the fun as we sang Carols and laughed and joked. I remember that several of the USACC team visited an orphanage and someone played Santa and we had a good time helping those little Chinese kids. As the years went by and the US presence was reduced it seemed much easier to get toys, appliances, BOT housing, etc.

New Years Eve was a little different story. If you were married you either went to parties held by your friends in their homes or maybe you went to the 63 Club for a more fancy night. Single people seemed to gravitate towards either the Linkou Club or go down town to Sugar Daddy Alley. Either way we were able to share a night of cheer. That is unless you worked shift work, and many Army, Navy, and Air Force personnel had such jobs. In my section we tried to split the duty up so you either got XMAS Eve or New Years Eve off. Again, married people preferred XMAS off and the single people preferred New Years Eve.

New Years 1978 was interesting as my family and I were in the Guest House waiting to leave the island in early February. We had shipped all of our household goods by mid-December were just waiting for our flight assignments. During that time President Carter recognized the mainland and it was decided that all troops would leave the island by 4/30/1979. So while it was the holidays, some of the fun was taken out of it as the US forces were looking forward to their new assignments, but with a some concern about the Taiwanese reaction to the drastic reduction of the American military population between 1975 and 1978.

If any other former military people have any stories that they'd like to share about their Christmas holidays in Taiwan, please let me know.


John Hurst said...


Here’s a story about New Years Eve party at the ‘new’ TAS NCO Club, 1973. As the club was brand new, I think the club manager wanted to do something special – to attract more couples – rather than just all the dorm rats. All the clubs advertised New Years Eve dinner and party, followed by champagne and midnight breakfast. TAS Club indicated there would be ‘numerous’ door prizes and cash drawings. For $5 a person, you couldn’t beat it!

I had a new suit – a then popular ‘tan’ color, with wide lapels – definitely ugly by today’s standards. Anyway, my wife and I and three other couples decided to go to TAS party rather than the 63 Club. I went to the club mid-day on 12/31 to buy tickets, and noticed that one of the club employees was stuffing slips of paper into some of the balloons as another person was inflating and putting said balloons in a net – that would later be suspended over the dance floor. I spied one of the notes – it was a bottle of booze!

Later that night, I told everyone at our table about the ‘prizes’ in some of the balloons, and we all danced non stop – looking up to spot all the prize balloons. When the balloons dropped at midnight - the eight people at our table scored over 14 bottles of rum, vodka, gin ,whiskey, & champagne – about 1/3 of the total give away!!!! We opened a few and had generous cocktails – even though we were already wasted – we all had to take taxi’s home that morning!!!!

Don said...

John, when I read your comment, I immediately thought of leisure suits but I don't think they had wide collars, did they?

I think I had a pair of bell bottom, plaid double knits when I was in Taipei. I must have looked like a deranged circus clown.

Anyway, great story!

Don said...

Sorry, I should have said "wide lapels," not "wide collars."

This gettin' old stuff ain't for sissies.