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 changes.
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 open. Nothing.
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 employment?
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, etc.
Jake’s in Taipei
We probably came here two or three times a month on the weekends for breakfast.
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 American Club 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 coins.
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 Madame 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 Cup Chicken)!
(Try 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.
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 of shoppers.
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, not mine.
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.
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 andTaiwan 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.