For the next several stories I plan to introduce you to Taiwan in the middle to late 50s.I hope you grow to love the people as did I. It had its' moments when East met West, but mostly it was fun for me as a teenager.
What can I tell you about Chan? I might have sparred with him, but if it was really important that I do as he suggested, I would, eventually, do it. Julian Tzu, was the only other Chinese person I completely trusted. He will get a story-line all to himself.
But I'm ahead of myself. I saw the ground at the ocean port in Keelung and promptly fainted as I walked down the stairs to get off. I have fainted only twice in my life, this was the first. I woke up in the car taking us the 40+ miles to Taipei. Now, the map today shows a much straighter road between the two towns.
My dad, rather than being annoyed with me, gave me a huge smile. "Well done, dear. You saved us a couple of hours of welcoming speeches, Chinese music, and general milling around." I heard the Chinese driver chuckle at this information. "Do you feel OK now?"
"Me? Fine, Just embarrassed."
"Well don't be. It was the excitement, I'm sure." The rest of the drive was listening to what we were passing. That included a cave where things brought from China were hidden until permanent "homes" could be found for them. We saw several Temples. To my American eyes, they were garish and harsh, which, actually reflects their god's perceived attitude of those bowing in humble, crying, desperate supplications before them. "This month, The Request," a meditation I wrote, will be up which is about a woman going into one of those temples just down the street from us.
When we drove through Taipei. Most of the traffic was bicycles and pedicabs (bicycles with a two person covered seat behind). Car traffic was slight. One clever thing was that the bicycles had a broad lane for each direction of their own. The first day I hopped on my trusty bike to go to my assigned Chinese playmates, I had an accident in that lane. I turned left to cross the car traffic. I was hit by another cyclist. He yelled at me until I'm sure he thought, "Stupid long nosed foreign devil. Can't even ride a bike right." But when he understood I didn't understand, he got his message across: bikes followed the car's rule. I should have used my hand to show a left hand turn. He was speaking as he demonstrated. I'm sure he thought he had to make it simple for the simple minded. One thing you should know now, Chinese consider themselves as "The People," the only ones, well, the descended Han ones do. Everyone else is below them in the order of the universe. Much like our American and British belief of our place in the order of nations.
We arrived at the house's gate. The horn was honked twice and we could hear the slap of flip-flops as the gate keeper, yard man, general low man on the totem pole, came running to open the gate. As the car came to a stop, the gate was shut, and a little man ran to open the screen door for us. I never did learn any name for him. I'm not even sure how often we had a new one, or even if we did. He was invisible in the scale of things. Now, at my reflections, I suspect he was Taiwanese and not Chinese at all. Further reflection suggest that each of our servants had servants in their own homes. They had all followed the Generalissimo in battle and retreat. At that time, even the lowest of the low was apt to have a servant.
As the door opened, a middle-aged Chinese man welcomed us into the house. He snapped his fingers and two more men ran to get our luggage, and put them in their proper places. He was introduced to us. His name was Chan, pronounced with a split sound of s and c together. I still slip in that tricky pronouncement.
My father had hired Chan, who hired the other three servants. Yes, we had four servants altogether. Actually, him hiring Chan is not entirely accurate. Daddy said yes he would like to have Chan when he first came to the house and Chan was waiting for him. I wasn't there yet, but knowing the way things worked out in those early days, he was chosen for us, and it was up to my dad to agree. Chan, I later learned, was a general in the Republic army. He had taken this job at the Generalissimo's "request". My dad was to keep someone from spying on the Generalissmo, and Chan was to keep someone from spying on us, well, other than him that is.
Allow me to digress just a moment and I'll tell you a true story to make this circle plainer. There was a lady in our American group who, one day, couldn't find her keys. She looked. All her servants looked. But, no matter where they looked the keys could not be found.
Finally in desperation, and I might add not running this idea past her husband who would have surely said "NO!" she picked up her phone. Without dialing she said, "I need to talk to the person who follows me when I go out.
After several denials that such a thing could happen, "Mam," he said, "you remember last week much rain? You wear rain coat. This rain coat plastic and clear. Mam, remember this coat? You put keys in right pocket. They still there." This information was followed by the familiar "click."
The original operator-listener came on and said, "Mam, you happy now? I not speak you again."
But, here's the truth, they listened to our conversations, we knew it, they knew we knew it, so no harm done. My dad's favorite remark was: "I pity the poor man who has to listen to your teenage drivel."
Truthfully? I didn't care. This was the life that was allowing me to have a daily adventure. I could eat street food, as long as I got it fresh from the oil and brought my own napkin to put it on. My mouth still waters at just the mention of a Spring Roll like a north Chinese would make. I could ride my bike, even in the evening all over town. I could wander through the rice paddies and walk miles away from home, alone, well except for my unseen follower.
Not one thing was allowed into the house without Chan's approval. Sweet potatoes were the exception. Every now and then, Mother would bring home some sweet potatoes from the Army Commissary. The first time they were pronounced, "Coolie food! We not eat. You not eat. We not have in this house! Garbage man tell other servants. Other servants laugh at us. No, no, madam. No this potatoes."
"Well," my mother said, "bury the skins after we eat the potatoes."
"No, Mam. Dogs dig up and show."
"Chan, we're Americans. We eat sweet potatoes." At this point Mother had fallen into "haggle" mode.
"People not know we no eat. Please, Madam, no eat."
Mother stood her ground and he stood his: two concrete hard wills in place.
"Chan. Tell the cook to cook them. We are eating them tonight. Take the train, go to the coast, and put them in a trash can there. Or, you can throw them in an alley. Makes no difference to me. Then, no one knows you or us ate them. Our secret will be safe. But eat them we will," she finished forcefully.
This writer doesn't know just how this all turned out. Did someone take the train to the coast only a few short meals? Did they place them in a garbage can next door? I didn't care because, I for one, ate the skins slathered in melted butter. I could only feel sorry for the servants who missed such a delicious treat.