Photo of USTDC courtesy of Les Duffin

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Big Ed and the Authentic Chinese Meal -- Part One

Pete, an army friend, probably knew Taipei about as well as any American. In addition to his job at USTDC, Pete was a buyer for the PACEX (Pacific Exchange) military mail order catalog, and his visits with local businesses and manufacturers took him all over the city. I rode with him one Saturday to visit a few of them and I’ll write about that another time.

One day Pete and his wife decided to take some of us out for an authentic Chinese seafood dinner in an area of the city whose name I don't remember and likely couldn't pronounce anyway. They invited Air Force Larry and me, along with somebody Pete called Big Ed and his wife. I’d never met Big Ed, but he was an old friend of Pete’s so I figured he must be a pretty okay guy.

So the big evening arrived and Pete’s Volkswagen bus rolled up to the door of the hostel to pick up Larry and me. We were introduced to Ed and his wife, and off we went.

It wasn’t until we arrived at our destination and piled out of the bus that I understood how Big Ed got his name. He was about seven feet tall, or at least he would have been if he could stand fully upright. A land mine in Vietnam left him with legs that weren’t of much use to him, except that he could still hobble around on crutches. Even then he towered over the rest of us and his muscular upper body and bushy beard gave him a fierce appearance that belied his true personality. In truth, Big Ed was a gentle giant.

The area we entered was unlike anyplace I’d ever seen. I was accustomed to the “GI” environment near the HSA compound, but this was totally different. The streets were very narrow and jammed with people, and there were small shops and restaurants along both sides. This was not the Taipei that catered to tourists and American military people. This was the real deal. These were working class people on their own turf.

Big Ed was quite a novelty to these folks and many of them followed along as we made our way to our restaurant. The crowd grew with every step and before long we found ourselves leading a huge parade of curious onlookers. When we stopped, they stopped. When we moved on, so did they. We were like a group of roadies walking alongside a rock star.

To be continued . . . .

No comments: