Our Old Life, Revisited
Taipei, Taiwan: We took a serious
trip in the way-back machine today. A flood of emotions and memories. After
coffee, we asked the hotel to provide us with a car and driver for a few hours
and they sent the same driver who fetched us from the airport yesterday - and
the same wifi-equipped BMW! We were equipped with three things: First, our
memories and 2:
When we left Taiwan, Dave somehow was given a life membership
card to the American Club - a social and sports club we joined while living
in Taiwan. The lower card is a calling card with our name and address in English
and Chinese. Every expat in Taipei had these cards. On the back of the card is a
map to our house. Times have changed, of course. Our driver put the address in
the car GPS and we were off.
We asked that he take a certain route - the same route we used to get from the
American Club and Dave's downtown office to our home. We wanted to see the
Though downtown Taipei has changed so much, with massive
skyscrapers and fancy condo buildings, the Tianmou area (where we lived) has
changed very little. Small shops with apartments above. Lots of traffic.
We made a stop to the
Taipei American School,
where Lisa attended Kindergarten through 2nd grade... except when Lisa
attended TAS it was a quarter-mile down the road, in a completely different
facility. The new campus, now about 25 years old, is super nice. TAS holds
classes from kindergarten to twelfth grade and follows the American
curriculum to prepare students to attend American universities.
We were happy to see the first Taipei McDonald's was still in existence in the
original location. This place is infamous because early patrons would pick up
their order at the drive-through window, but not drive on. They would sit there
and eat their food. It took a while for the "drive on through" concept to catch on. We held Lisa's
5th birthday party at this McDonald's. So fancy!
Continuing up the mountainside, we found the entrance to our old housing
development, Wellington Heights. Wellington Heights was built by the US Air
Force as officer housing during the Vietnam War. The homes were all
western-style and had living quarters for live-in staff. After the war, the
homes were purchased by locals and most were rented or leased to foreigners
living temporarily in Taiwan. Dave's company leased our house for several years
for whomever was the General Manager at the time.
When we lived at #12 6th Road in Wellington Heights, the home was in beautiful shape. Painted white, with an
iron gate opening onto a covered car port. The home had four bedrooms upstairs,
with two baths (one ensuite in the master bedroom). A living room, dining room,
kitchen, laundry, half-bath and maids quarters were on the lower level. The
floors were hardwood; the kitchen and baths were tiled. There
was a huge back lawn and a massive patio. Views to the city were gorgeous -
especially at night. We entertained often - for business and pleasure - and were
proud of our little piece of home in Taiwan.
Even though one of Lisa's childhood playmates had recently returned to
Wellington Heights on the same memory-lane trip and had warned us about the
condition of the housing development, we were not quite prepared for what we found today. Our home had been abandoned
years ago. Broken doors and windows. Vines are completely enveloping the house.
The iron gate was rusted closed. Dave (and the driver) tried to force it
I was fine with this. There were enough snakes around when
the house was maintained,
I can't imagine how many live there now.
Oh. My. Gawd. I assume our gardener, Mr. Chen, no longer is under
We went through the neighbor's carport (this house is also abandoned) to get
a view to the side of our old house. The upper deck was off the master
bedroom, the vines below are covering a window in the formal dining room. To
the rear, a black-water-filled swimming pool is barely visible. The home did
not have a pool when we lived there. Also the beige home behind our house
was not there 30 years ago.
It looks deserted now as well.
The side door from the kitchen and the huge kitchen window. So sad.
On the way back to town, we stopped to remember the bus stop. Taipei
American School sent a bus up here every day to fetch all the expat kids. I
used to bring Lisa to the bus stop on my little red motor scooter. She would stand
on the floorboard of the scooter between my legs and hold on to the handle
bars. We wore no helmets. Yes, I would go to jail in the states for this.
(I'd pick her up the same way.)
The glory days of Wellington Heights are over. Or are they? We heard someone
bought the properties, then fell into bankruptcy. With the price of real
estate in the area and the demand for expat housing so close to the American
School, I bet someone will come in, tear them all down and start over. We
have so many great memories of our time in Wellington Heights and are still
friends with so many of our neighbors and Lisa's classmates. It was very sad
to see what has become of this once vibrant neighborhood.
On the way back to town, we noticed two old relics still in business. Jake's
- a small cafe serving western-style breakfasts. Pancakes, waffles, omelets,
Jake's in Taipei
We probably came here two or three times a month on the weekends for
Lisa was especially fond of Jake's.
Across the street from Jake's, I was happy to see my little side-business
was still thriving:
Next on the agenda was a visit to the
Taipei (which was known as the American Club in China when we were
members). From touring through their website recently, I knew the place had
been completely revamped and little remained of the social/sports club from
our time in Taiwan - except the pool. Dave presented his "Lifetime
Membership" card to the front desk. They were amazed, saying they have only
seen a few of the cards - ever.
Side note to Lisa: your cute little duck umbrella was not in lost and found.
The American Club is so so so nice now. Three restaurants (including a sushi
bar, a coffee shop and a more formal dining room), plus a bar and a
pool-side snack bar. Other facilities include a swimming pool, hot tub, two
fitness centers, tennis, racquetball/squash, childcare areas, spa/beauty
salon and a take-away shop/grocer. The American Club is like a fancy country
club without a golf course.
Dave, at reception
Back in the day there was a diving board on the right end of this pool.
Lisa learned to swim here and would jump off the diving board to fetch
The coffee shop - overlooking the tennis courts
The last stop on our tour through our past was for lunch at The Grand Hotel.
Built in 1952 by Chiang Kai-shek and Madame Chiang as a hotel impressive enough
to house foreign dignitaries, the Grand Hotel was the tallest building in Taiwan
until 1981. While we lived in Taipei, it was rumored
Chiang lived in the top floor, though she had several residences in the the
United States. Madame Chiang lived to be 105 years old.
The Grand Hotel in Taipei
The first night we arrived to Taiwan in the mid-1980's was spent at this
hotel, and we remained here until our household shipment arrived and we
moved into our Wellington Heights home a month later. Those days the rooms
were dark and damp. The whole place was a bit dreary and few guests occupied
the rooms. Four year old Lisa would run up and down the deserted hallways
and corridors while the housekeepers and wait staff gave her sweets and
tousled her curly hair. Later, Lisa and I would return again and again to
have Chinese Chicken Noodle Soup (my
recipe is here) from the tea house in the basement.
The Tea House is no longer there, but has been moved upstairs and into part
of another dining room. Chicken Noodle Soup is no longer the menu (I cried,
just a little), but was so happy to see the tea tables from the old
restaurant were still in the hotel. I so loved the tea tables, I had a set
made and still own it to this day:
Tea tables in the Grand Hotel
The dining room
They had a "Taiwanese" section on the menu which included San Bei Ji (Three
my recipe here.)
After lunch, the driver returned us to the hotel where we had a 30 minute
rest before heading out again on our next adventure - taking the elevator to
the top of Taipei 101. This was an easy task as the hotel has a covered sky
bridge from the lobby to
Taipei 101 - with sky bridge from our hotel
Street entrance level
The first six levels are shopping - and by shopping I mean Gucchi, Louis
Vuitton, Chanel, Prada, Dior... let's just say a lot of shops with not a lot
From the 5th floor, we took the world's fastest elevator to the
88th floor observatory. Don't look down!
The building with the red striped heli-port is our hotel.
A view to the yellow-roofed Sun Sat Yen Memorial and the National Stadium.
Our old house is in the hills to the far back of this photo.
From a sign near the wind damper: Building dampers
originated from Japan, a country frequents by earthquakes. The earliest version
was nothing more than a stone foundation to put the building on. The damper
worked by isolating the building from the earth, which creates relative shift
that produces a counterforce, effectively reducing earthquake energy. In
addition ot regular high-rises, damper appears in towers, bridges and high-tech
facilities among other large buildings. Since material and feature variations
result in different designs, dampers also differ from building to building in
terms of materials and looks. It may be a big tank, a large concrete block or
made of visco-elastic materials such as a rubber cushion. Their wording,
After spending an hour or so at the top of the observatory, we went down to the
basement of the tower. Why the basement? Well, everyone knows the best part of
an Asian department store or shopping center is the basement. The basement is where the
food emporiums, restaurants, food carts and gourmet grocers are located.
Modern grocer in the basement of Taipei 101
There must have been 25 restaurants, ice cream shops, coffee
shops, sushi bars, etc., in the basement of Taipei 101. We found a huge
supermarket stocked with foods from around the block and around the world...
none of which were available when we lived in Taipei.
Seriously? I asked DT if he could arrange to get transferred
back to Taipei. He reminded me he has been retired for 16 years. Jerk.
The skies were getting dark, so we decided to walk back to
the hotel. We were too late. The skies opened. Torrential downpour would be
View of the street from the sky bridge on the way to Taipei 101 - and the
view on the way back
After a long rest and a cocktail in the hotel bar, we took a
taxi to Lin Dong Fang Beef Noodle (No. 274, Section 2, Bade Road, Taipei).
If you would walk by this place, most surely you would never enter the door.
Dingy. Florescent lighting. Metal chairs and little stools.
Until you notice the long line
The soup is made in plain view - right off the sidewalk
Casual is an understatement. If you need a napkin, please take one from the
dispenser on the wall under the fan. And they are not really napkins... more
like tissues. No drinks served, by the way... but if you are thirsty, it is
acceptable to go next door to 7-11 and purchase something.
While waiting, we had fried tofu skin. Simply delicious with fragrant sesame
oil. Cold dishes like this tofu and
Taiwan pickle are in a cooler. Help yourself and pay when you leave.
And finally the beef noodle soup. It truly was perfection and now I
understand why it is the most popular beef noodle soup place in Taipei. Our
dinner tab for two bowls of soup and the tofu skin was $10. (Cheaper than
one ticket to the top of Taipei 101, by the way!)
You may imagine our day was a roller coaster of emotions,
memories and observations. It was amazing to see how much Taipei has changed
(Taipei 101) and amazing to see how it remains the same (hole-in-the-wall noodle
soup stalls). We loved every moment and are so happy we decided to return to see
it all once again.
It was only fitting that just before going to bed, we felt a little 5.3
earthquake. Welcome home, indeed.
Until my next update, I remain, your "shaken, not stirred" correspondent.
Sign Up is NOT required! Anyone may comment. Sign
up only if you would like to add an avatar, or if you wish to be emailed when someone responds to your comment.
(Sign-up will take you to my safe and secure comment server, Shadow-Pnyxe.)