Photo of USTDC courtesy of Les Duffin

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Lots More Memories

I just heard from Jim Sartor, who was in J-22 (Op Center) at USTDC from 1968 to 1972. He wrote about some of his experiences during that time and I’m pleased to pass them along here:

My wife and I landed in Taipei after a long flight from Travis AFB and as soon as the doors on our plane opened we were hit with the "Taipei smell." I found out later that it was mainly the open benjos and humidity. Even after 4 years on Taiwan, we were reminded of the smell on returning to the US when our household goods crates were opened and EVERYTHING smelled like Taipei.

Spent our first nights in a guest house near the Linkou Club and we were awakened the first night by the sound of rats running through the AC ducts. Our first welcome to the idea that "If it creeps, crawls, or slithers, Taiwan has it in spades.”

Bought a '62 Impala on our third day in Taipei and, after having driven in MANY countries in the world, I was truly scared to death the first time I hit the streets. Traffic rules in Taipei were "different.” The first person to blow their horn had the right of way. If a driver didn’t look at you, well then you just didn't exist and he could, and did, do anything including running you off the road. Traffic rules were only "suggestions" and didn't apply to taxis.

Rented our first house in Tien Mu and since it had just been completed we (wrongly, as it happened) assumed everything was going to be great. Wrong!!! The nice new aluminum framed windows looked great until it rained! That was when we found out that the Taiwanese didn't bother with rubber seals around the glass and the rain water just poured in around the edge of the glass. All of our towels were used to soak up the water as it poured into the house. The steps to the second floor were not of equal height and we constantly banged our shins going up stairs.

By the way, how many of you remember having "grass mats" made up to cover the floors? Also, do you remember having to hire a "guard" for your house? Either you hired one or you would mysteriously have your home broken into by one of, as the guard called them, sneaky boys. One night, we heard our German shepherd growling and woke up to find Bonzai, our dog, sitting under a window with a piece of someone’s pants in his mouth and a screwdriver and pair of pliers on the window ledge. We never had anyone try to break in after that.

We moved to our next house in the BOT housing at the top of Road One in Tien Mu. These were built by the Japanese during WWII and even had a bomb shelter in the yard. Ours was sort of "U" shaped and, after getting several of the Navy CB neighbors drunk, they came over one weekend and built us a family room in the open part of the "U". Made a very great house and only cost the materials and the beer. Also, we could restock our bar at the Double Ten Store for about 20 dollars. This was great when my wife would invite the entire bowling league to our house after bowling at the lanes in Tien Mu.

We had all of the furniture in our house made by a Taiwanese in Tien Mu by the name of Singer Le. We still have most of it even after all this time. For example, we had a curved bar built, including brass foot rail and four swivel stools, for about $200.00. Helluva deal!!!

You could go to the book/record store near HSA and buy bootleg copies of LPs and books for 20 NT.

I remember hiring an amah for $40.00 a month and she cleaned, cooked and baby sat for 6 days a week for that. Yard boys were about $30.00 a month.

The Club 63 is good for several stories if anyone would believe them. So was the Linkou Club. The "Stag bar" at the 63 was great when the new copies of Laugh-in came in. Whenever they got a new stock, we would go for "lunch" and stay the rest of the day watching Laugh-in. One day, just before Christmas, one of the regulars came out of the Mens Room, turned left and walked right into the Christmas tree. Since he has been telling war stories just before going to the mens room, I guess he was still thinking about Nam when he hit the Christmas tree and he immediately proceeded to attack it and ripped it to shreds before we could stop him. You could also get your car washed at the club for 20 NT while you were in the club and you also could fill your household water jugs at the outside tap at the Stag Bar.

"Chops" were another interesting idea they had. We had chops on everything! A friend of mine, however, did pull a "swifty" on the buy-sell men on his car. The night before he was due to turn his Ford over, he had one two many adult beverages and wiped out the right side of his car. Being a clever sort of chap, he parked the car, right side against his house and played dumb. A couple hours after the buy-sell man picked up the car he returned screaming about the damage. My friend simply said, gee it looks like someone hit YOUR car and went back into his house, leaving the buy-sell man screaming in the street.

Cars were a great source of entertainment in Taipei. I had a 65 Mustang coupe that was bronze in color and I had baby moon hubcaps and cream painted "mustang coves" on it. Last car was a 72 240Z that had everything!! It was red and had spoilers, mags, custom exhaust built by a guy near the Navy Hospital and EVERYONE on the island knew the car. My wife, daughter and I went to Camp McCauley one weekend and, after returning on Monday, got a call from the PMO who was complaining that I had "escaped" from pursuing Military Police on the way to McCauley. I told him, truthfully, that I had never seen them and I probably didn't since they were in an old, worn out, Dodge panel truck.

How many people remember the little tailor shop just outside the back gate of TDC? We used to go in there and get shirts custom made for $2.00 for short sleeve and $2.50 for long sleeve. Don't remember the cost of suits, etc., but they were dirt cheap. The only thing you had to remember was to provide your own thread from the States. The thread they used wasn't really good and I even had the seat of my suit pants pull open once as I got out of a car to go to a party at the Club 63 one night. Not a good thing.

Do you remember the "typhoon parties"? When there was a severe typhoon scheduled to hit Taipai, we knew from past experiences that the power would go out and be out for several days. We would pick one couples house and everyone would get together there and cook all of their perishable meats so they wouldn't go bad when the typhoon hit and the power went out. We would then party thru the typhoon since there wasn't anything any of us could do about the storm so we might as well party.

Remember the outside hot water heaters that the amah had to build a fire in so you could have hot water?

I still remember the child mechanics. When you took your to a local garage to have some work done, it was usually done by a gaggle of kids that looked to be about 12 years old. They did absolutely great work though.

Thanks for the chance go remember so much about a wonderful time that we had in Taipei and thanks for the blog that lets many of us tell others about our times there.

Jim Sartor
San Marcos, Ca.

I don't like to publish private email addresses on this blog because they tend to become a magnet for spam. But if you'd like to contact Jim, just drop me a note and I'll pass it along to him.


John Hurst said...

The writer certainly jogged my memory on the ‘typhoon parties’. I remember a typhoon hit in the fall of 1972 – possibly early December. Anyway, this was my first ‘typhoon’ season in Taiwan, although I grew up in New Orleans, and was very familiar with hurricanes (Betsy – 1965; Camille – 1969).

We lived in the Gentown (sp?) area – nothing but 4 & 5 story apartment buildings – just off the main road leading to Tienmou. A good friend suggested we gather at his apartment on the 3rd floor – to ride out the storm. I think we had 10 – 12 people total. Just as Jim mentioned, we brought 2 days of clothing and all perishable items to cook. The ladies figured out what to cook and when, while us guys settled into a 2 day poker game! Our host, who had plenty of experience with storms, knew to stock up on white gas for the Coleman lanterns, extra water in the bathroom to ‘flush’, extra ice to keep the refrigerator (and beer) cold, and a car battery to run his reel to reel tape deck the entire 2 days the power was out!

The streets flooded with about 2 feet of water, mostly rain that couldn’t drain quickly enough. We sat out on the balcony and watch a local national kill several large rats that were swimming in the street. Most everyone parked their cars on the high ground of empty lots, but we did see a few motorcycles and may bikes in the water, not to mention all kinds of floating garbage!

On the 3rd day after the storm, the electricity came back on, and all was pretty much back to normal within a week.

Bill said...

Good Stories! Although I was in Taiwan 73-77 I have many of the same stories. I moved into the OLD BOT housing such as you did, and remember the large glass windows that ran the length of the front of the house. When storms came they rattled and shook, but never broke.
I then moved to the NEW BOT housing down by the pool, threate and bowling alley in Tien Mou, They were so much better.
We also had the "guard" and never lost anything. I often wondered would I be so lucky without my 75 year old guard. Our Amah was a long thing and she was great for my wife, giving her freedom to come and go as she wanted.
As for Typhoons, I was on the USACC Taiwan Typhoon team and whenever we got the alert I had to go to Grass Mountain to work on Communications until the storm passed. Our group had our party about a day after the storm passed. We also bought our beverages at the "Double Ten" store on the compound. I remember working with several friends from TDC, bill White, Bob Fleming, Jerry Baker among a few.
BIll Kling