Photo of USTDC courtesy of Les Duffin

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Larry Fields Memories

One of the purposes of this blog is to provide a platform for others to talk about their assignments in Taiwan.  I recently heard from Larry Fields, who was with US Army Stratcom Taiwan from 1977 to 1979.  Though he wasn't assigned to USTDC, many of his memories are familiar to those of us who were.
We arrived in Taiwan on 12/09/1977 and I was one of the last USAStratcom members to be assigned to the island (maybe even the last one).  We stayed in a guest house located outside the back gate of the West Compound.  It was a nice enough place but I was glad to get into a house.
We moved into our house on Super Bowl Sunday (Monday in Taiwan) when the Broncos played Dallas and lost 27-10.  I had a small radio that I unpacked first thing so I could listen to the game while we unpacked (I was a Denver fan, and I ended up living here in Denver for the last 28 years).
We lived in Tien Mou , originally in the old BOT housing that was off of the circle at the end of Chungshan Bei Lu.  I’ve seen some pictures of an older house called the “White House” in Tien Mou and that may be the house I lived in.  It was in that area across the street from an orphanage.  We lived there for about 6 months then moved to the newer BOT housing that was down by the movie theater and ball fields, where the new Taipei American School is now.
We went through one major typhoon while we were there.  I had to drive up to work, stayed for about 30 minutes, then they told us to go home.  I had to give another member a ride down to the compound, and on my way home a lot of the streets were flooded so it took me a while to wind my way around the streets.
We also had earthquakes, one that did a lot of damage.  If I remember right, it killed six or seven people.  A new building being constructed by my house caught fire and was burned pretty badly. I don’t remember if it collapsed or not. Earthquakes were a way of life there as we all know.
We had a couple of Amahs; I still have pictures of them, but over the years we lost contact with them.
Like a lot of others I stocked up on teakwood furniture (some that I still have), some
rattan furniture, lots of fishbone carvings (still have those too), some marble pieces, and some pottery from Kinmen (which I think you could only get at certain times from one place in Tien Mou).  The fishbone we got from a Chinese guy who was mute, but would deal with you by writing everything down on a tablet.  He rode around on his motorcycle and would stop by the house about once a month.
My favorite place to eat was the old Tien Mou BBQ.  We also used to eat at a BBQ place across from the China Seas club, but after one of the floods the food started tasting bad so we quit going there.
We did spend a lot of time at the China seas, where my wife dealt with a lot of the locals exchanging money and stuff for the slot room. Caught a couple of good shows there, but mostly hung out and played pool, watched TV or played the slots.
There wasn't much TV:  Donnie and Marie show, Starsky and Hutch and Baa Baa Black Sheep (played on Thursday nights and I never missed an episode).  There was a movie in English on Saturdays and I think two on Sundays, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. We also started watching a reality type show from New Zealand and a Chinese talent show (that we actually started understanding).
Chop men would stop by the house every Saturday. We had my oldest son trained to
Say “Nothing to chop.”  I sold a nice refrigerator, some stereo gear, and miscellaneous stuff to the chop men before we left.
I worked at US Army Stratcom.  I worked shifts for a while then got assigned to quality control team.  I flew to a missile site down-island where we climbed up on the MW tower and could see the mainland.   We got fogged in and had to drive back -- 45 minute flight up, 11 hour drive back. We did get to see a lot of the island.
I made a trip to CCK Air Base to do QC testing and got to spend three or four days there. Dave Wyandt and I went down.  We had a great time, since work only lasted three or four hours a day and the rest was play time.
I did a little work in downtown Taipei (where the main switch was) and at Seven Star Mountain. I was supposed to go out to one of the islands, where at one time there was a communications site.  As they were making the arrangements for me, there was a shelling of the island and everything was destroyed so I ended up not going (which was a good thing).
I also got trained as a customs agent, and when someone would leave the island I’d go out and inspect the outbound shipment.  I think I did this four or five times.
I attended the University of Maryland Taipei campus.  I became friends with some local Chinese
students who attended classes, one of whom eventually married Chiang Hsiao-wu, Chaing Kai-sheks grandson.  I still have some of the grade slips and some of the Instructors' names. One of the instructors was Ellen Klossen whose husband at the time worked at the American Consulate.   In the last few years I’ve been able to get in touch with a couple of them, thanks to the internet.

I played softball  on the Grass Mountain team for one of the seasons then got to play on the TDC team.  I didn’t play much; mostly coached first base.  After the Carter announcement, we regularly had softball games against the Chinese unit stationed at the compound. We shared gloves and bats and had a very good time with all of them. They were very professional in every way.

I golfed at Peitou.  The course was across from a military base and once in awhile they would
fire off  a cannon. There was also one hole that you hit across a wide ravine.  The first time I played it I thought I hit a good shot but it went about halfway over then straight down.  I didn’t try to find my ball.  You couldn’t go out of bounds either because of snakes etc.   The last hole had a big rock in the middle so you had to go to one side or the other.  I think I bounced a few shots off of that rock.

I drove a 1978 Ford LTD, which I bought for $8,000 and sold for $11,500.   I never did any maintenance on the vehicle and wore the tires down to nothing before I sold it.  Driving was quite an experience but once you got used to it, it was easy.   I remember the lights turning from green to amber to red and if you were going the other direction, it was all about who could beat whom through the intersection.
I had one accident while I was there.  Coming home from the China Seas, I rear-ended a guy -- $2500 damage to my car but not much to his.  I didn’t get into too much trouble.  By the time the FAP’s got there (it was a cool night) I was sober ( I think).   Dealing with the insurance company was an experience.  I remember having to take my car to a repair shop on a little back street that was barely wide enough for the car. They did a good job on it though.  What was the insurance guy's name?  Jimmie something, I think.   Oh yeah, still have my Chinese drivers license.

One of my sons was born at the Chinese Naval Hospital in Tien Mou (Sept 1978).  It was a real experience since none of the doctors or nurses spoke English.  On the night he was born, I was waiting in the hospital and saw a young nurse come to the door and look at me three or four times but she never came out.  After about 5 hours, the Chinese interpreter assigned to US personnel came out and congratulated me on my new son.  My response was, “Huh?”  The young nurse was supposed to have come out to inform me but her English was poor and she didn’t want to embarrass herself.   When I went to see my son for the first time, I had to walk outside of the room that was round, with all of the newborns inside.  Since I didn’t speak Chinese I had no  clue what to do, so I just started walking.   All of a sudden one of the nurses came running up to the window and instructed me to go back.  My son was the only non-Chinese baby and she recognized that. My wife didn’t like staying in the hospital because she didn’t understand the language and all they served was Chinese food.
I had to get my son's birth recorded so I got all of the paperwork from the hospital, got it translated, and took it to the consulate.  I don’t remember how long it took, but I had to go back down to the consulate after the Carter announcement, and there were long, long lines of Chinese.  I managed to work my way to the front where one of the Marines saw me and let me move to the head of the line.

After Jimmy Carter's announcement, we stopped driving our cars and took a van to work every day to be safe, but still had rocks and other things thrown at the van.  I heard a noise one night at my house and thought someone was breaking in.  I got up to check it out and there were six or seven police officers sitting on the bumper of my car in my carport.  Eventually the Chinese army moved a company of soldiers into the area and we had no problems from then on. There were a couple of stabbings and one or two servicemen were assaulted during this time frame but for the most part the Chinese were pretty decent to us.
Near the end, the post office stopped processing any shipments being made by personnel that weren’t stationed in Taiwan (Lots of folks would come from the Philippines and  elsewhere to buy stuff to ship back).  My wife became friends with a couple of them, so I would stand in line and ship their stuff for them (and sometimes it was a lot of stuff).  Then they would send us stuff from the Phillipines (or Okinawa or Japan).   We ended up with some nice stuff from those places.
I came back with a bunch of pirated record albums that I got from the record store across the intersection from the Roma hotel.   We would buy them cheap and record them on tape because they only lasted three or four plays on the turntable.

We departed 3/21/1979 and were on the next-to-last plane to leave. Our Amahs rode out to the airport with us.  There were lots of tears, knowing that we probably wouldn’t ever see them again.  It was pretty rough leaving, more so for my oldest son, who was four years old when we left.


BILL-USACC said...

Good story Larry, although since we were good friends I know you have many other stories to share.
Amazing what you can experience in a relatively short time.


OkieTeacher said...

I was born in Taiwan in 1965, to a Navy man and a Taiwanese woman. I was adopted by that man and his American family, but have heard a story about a meeting that took place in Club 63. I am looking for any information about finding my Taiwanese mother. My father has passed away after retiring from the Navy after 24 years. Any of you have a suggestion for me? AND does anyone know how I can get one of the Club 63 ashtrays??

BILL-USACC said...

Hey OKI Teacher,

Those ashtrays are offered on Ebay now and then.

Are you an Oklahoma or Okinawa teacher?

As for your mother, I would look for Taiwanese websites that could search for you, as well as Facebook, and other Yahoo groups.

Good Luck

George said...

Okie Teacher,

Some of us were stationed there in 1965. Any way to get your Surname? Not meaning to pry, but it could be that one of us will remember your Dad's name. Don, what would you suggest?


OkieTeacher said...

My dad's name was Leonard Gene Thompson. He was stationed there from 1965-1968. Okie is for Oklahoma. I do know for a fact that he was a frequent patron of Club 63. Any of you guys recognize his name?

George said...

I was stationed at Headquarters Support Activity Admin Office in the West Compound 1965-67 (not far from Club 63). His name does not ring a bell. It might help further if you knew where he was stationed during his stay in Taiwan?

OkieTeacher said...

The only address I have for him is a temporary address that says Chi Lan Villa Yangminshaw, Taipei. I wouldn't have a clue if that is on the base there, or private housing. He was an aircraft engine mechanic during his stint in the Navy, if that would help anyone place where he might have been stationed in Taiwan. My birth mother's name is Hsiang Li Chuan, but I think she went by Flo, not positive on that either. He must have actually been there in 1964, since I was born in June of 1965. Thanks for any help that ya'll can give me or directions that you can aim me in my search.

George said...

Many US Military occupied housing on Yangmingshan (an area near current Yangmingshan Park..a beautiful mountain area about 10-15 miles directly north of Taipei). There was BOT (Bank of Taiwan) Housing as well as several Hostels for Americans. It seems that the temporary address you have would be located there, although an article in the link below indicates that the land may have been auctioned by BOT several years ago. Do you know if you were born in a US Navy Hospital or in a local Chinese Hospital? If it was a Navy Hospital it would have been in Tien Mu, a town just north of Taipei. The article has about five pages and you can click next at the bottom of each page. It would be difficult to tell if your Dad lived in the housing described in this article or any of the other Military Hostels, but the address you have is certainly closeby. You can also Google "military housing yangmingshan taiwan" for other articles.


Misty said...

As you were adopted then there will be records of this. Contact the Taiwanese government and ask them for records. They will be able to help you.

I know someone who was also adopted by an American family and taken to the US when she was 2 or 3. She was able to trace her Taiwanese family through the adoption records. You'll need a local to help you through this.

It was relatively common to adopt children back then so there should be plenty of channels to get the information you need.

Good luck!

Don said...

Les Duffin contacted me and asked that I post the following info. The Blogger comments section seems to be a little flaky at the moment.


Okie Teacher:

I agree with Misty that your best bet is probably to start with ROC adoption records. I'm not sure which Taiwan government agency keeps these (maybe someone else knows?). Another possibility is the adoption agency or lawyer who helped arrange the adoption, if they still have records after so many years.

But your success will probably depend on what records you yourself have available or can find in your father's home. I'd hope you have a copy of your adoption records, and your birth certificate (more on this below). It will be vital as a first step to learn your mother's correct name in Chinese characters; a romanized version like Hsiang Li Chuan is almost useless (these days it would be rendered as Xiang Lizhuan). And since neither Hsiang nor Chuan is a common Chinese surname, there's a chance that even that is a corrupted version.

As to the birth certificate, the hospital in which you were born might have issued a certificate of live birth and it probably would have your mother's correct Chinese name on it. As for official government birth records, there are two possibilities: (1) If your dad acknowledged you at birth, the US Embassy in Taipei should have issued a Consular Record of Birth; that's a document that takes the place of a birth certificate for US citizens born abroad. Unfortunately it doesn't list either parent's name, so it would be of little help to you. (2) But if, as seems more likely, you were born a citizen of Taiwan (and only later adopted and naturalized), then your "birth certificate" would instead be something called a Household Registration. The latter is a record which lists all the residents of a single household, including the head of household and his wife, all children, and any other relatives (grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc) who live there. If your mother merely lived with your dad, it's unlikely she would have established her own household registry, so she probably remained on that of her own family. And you should have been added, at birth, to that document. If you have a copy, it will not only show your mother's correct name in Chinese, but her date of birth, "native place," and other information about her. Better still, it should list any brothers and sisters and maybe other relatives who might still be living. So, if you have trouble finding your mother, you might be able to locate a relative who can point you in the right direction. It's probably worth mentioning that there was no central repository for household registries; they were kept by the police precinct responsible for the area in which the household was located. But if you can find your mother's official residence in 1965, that precinct may be able to put you onto a later address since anyone moving out should have been transferred to another registration at the new residence.

Unfortunately any documents you can find, whether birth or adoption records, will help you learn only her true Chinese name and maybe the address where she or her family lived when you were born. But your mother may have moved several times over the years and it might take considerable detective work to find her present address.

Obviously some of the above may have changed over the years, but that's how the system worked as late as 1978.

I hope this helps at least a little, and I wish you luck in your search.

Les D.

Anonymous said...

the pearl s buck foundation I believed help with adoptions there. don't know if they are still around