Many years later, I was in Washington, D.C. anxiously awaiting an overseas assignment. The word of mouth came that it was Taipei, which I had never heard of. I anxiously pulled out a map and finally located it on Formosa, which I later learned meant beautiful island, so named by the Portuguese when they occupied it hundreds of years ago.
The trip started from San Francisco on Philippine Airlines. The airliner was a propeller driven DC-6, very slow by jet-age standards. Each leg lasted 12 or 13 hours. First stop was Hawaii, followed by Wake Island then Guam and finally landing in Manila. From Manila we boarded an old C-47 single engine puddle jumper that had to land for refueling on a dirt strip carved out of the jungle on the northernmost island of the Philippine Archipelago.
We finally hopped to Taipei, where I was met at the airport. I did not have to go through customs or immigration and my passport came back with a permanent entry chop. Then we left immediately for my lodging.
It was to be temporarily in a large old Japanese-style guesthouse with many rooms and a number of hot sulfur baths, the sulfur water constantly flowing in through bamboo pipes from natural sources farther up the hill in Peitou. About a dozen single American men, working for Western Enterprise Incorporated were staying there temporarily. Western Enterprises, as it was know in Taipei, was actually a CIA front.
An elderly Chinese man was in charge of our daily needs. We had our meals at a round table with a large lazy-susan in the center, Chinese style. I did not know how to use chopsticks but was determined to learn so I wouldn’t starve to death. I did not dare let go of the chopsticks throughout the meal and did manage to eat some of the delicious food. After several more attempts, I finally learned how to hold them after staining several of my new shirts.
I enjoyed the many strange sounds from the street, blind masseuses, vegetable vendors, knife and scissor sharpeners, noodle vendors, etc, each with his own distinct call or noise maker. Fascinating for a young, very naïve traveler like me.
Next day, my work began. Logistics, supply and local purchases at W.E.I. headquarters, which was in an old, rambling structure called the Taipei Guest House. My staff was housed in an oversize Quonset Building in the courtyard. For the first few months there were no air conditioning and I nearly fainted from the heat and humidity.
W. E. I. had its own club and mess hall. There was lots of drinking and gambling for big money each evening.
After two weeks, I finally moved to a house in the city with six other single men. We had a cook and our houseboy, Lawrence, took great care of us. We had good food and clean water. Our cook would try to make us steaks out of buffalo meat, so tough that it took hours to pound it to the point where it could be chewed. I much preferred the delicious Chinese meals he prepared. An old W.E.I. jeep took us to work in the morning, with little boys running beside us part way, pointing and shouting “Big nose foreign devils” in Chinese. I never forgot that phrase “Da Bi Tze, Yang Quei Tze”.
In the evenings we ended up drinking martinis, very strong indeed. (7 to1 kept in the freezer). I tried to be part of the group but after suffering some terrible hangovers, I decided it was not for me. There were very few places of entertainment other than bars full of bar girls or the Club. FOCC (Friends of China Club) was for all Americans living in Taipei, it served American style food, had slot machines and a band for entertainment and dancing- if one had a girl. (I didn’t.) I finally joined the “Grand Hotel,” the grandest hotel in Taipei, with great food, fancy Chinese décor and the most important thing for me, a pool. I went there quite often.
Some of the guys had girlfriends, and through the grapevine I heard of the beautiful Cho twins who spoke many languages. They were somewhat notorious, as it was whispered that they were spies working for the Nationalist Government. I was interested, but didn’t think I would have a chance to meet them.
Before I bought my car, it was very difficult getting around. I took pedicabs, but speaking no Chinese it was not an easy task. With some of the guys, we would go to Tamsui to visit the beach and made several adventures with a homemade Catamaran. One time we went far out into the Formosa Strait and the catamaran would not turn around. We were sure we would end up in RED CHINA and be either jailed or executed. Thank God we finally got it back to Tamsui Beach. After that fiasco, nobody would go out on the cat and it was left to rot.
Among my duties were two flights weekly to Okinawa for supplies. We would leave at 6 a.m. in an old WW11 C-46 unmarked cargo plane. It was always freezing cold in that non-pressurized cargo area and I would wrap up in blankets and sleep until we arrived. We would land in a remote area of Kadena Air Force base, and go in a truck to a warehouse in the southern part of the island. While they loaded the truck I would head for the small snack bar and blissfully consume a milkshake. Milkshakes could not be found anywhere in Formosa. The truck would then return to the plane and the cargo loaded for the return flight to Taipei. After 6 or 8 months I was forced to quit because of a serious sinus problem.
I also flew on supply trips to several offshore islands on another WW11 relic, this one an amphibious PBY. We would land on the sea near the islands and unload supplies into sampans. We then visited the inhabitants, who were armed by WEI for the purpose of interdicting Chinese Communists coastal shipping. We also installed powerful engines into junks for speed, and armed them with 57 mm bazookas. These people who had lived for centuries from fishing and piracy were not allowed to attack British-flag vessels.
Nevertheless, they did attack a British ship and high jacked its load of lumber. The pirates promptly constructed some new buildings on their little isle, which was nothing much more than a chunk of rock jutting out of the sea. The British tried to chase down the pirates but were not able to locate them. After all, they have lived off piracy for hundreds of years, and knew how to disappear quickly among the many tiny uninhabited islands without leaving a trace. We told the pirates if they attacked a British ship again, we would cut off their supplies.
I made a memorable trip to Buckner Bay, Okinawa, in a Chinese Nationalist LST to pick up an extra large cargo shipment for distribution to the islands. The LST (Landing Ship Tanks) was a large vessel with a huge hold capable of loading tanks, big trucks, heavy equipment, etc. These could then be landed off the front ramp directly onto a beach. Nobody on the ship spoke any English , and I was there to assure that the cargo went to the right destination. I had my own little cabin and ate with the captain and officers. I also had my own supply of canned fruits, etc, as I did not care for Chinese breakfast of rice cooked in a lot of water and some vegetables to wash it down.
Unloading the cargo was uneventful, but time-consuming at the small offshore islands of Paichuan and Matsu, where everything had to be offloaded into sampans because there were no beaches for such a large ship. Several days were needed at each place and I had to be in the cargo hold at all times to be sure the right crates and wooden boxes went to the right island. The captain was very nervous the whole time for fear we would be discovered and attacked by the Chinese Communists. Fortunately, nothing happened, and we all heaved a sigh of relief when we weighed anchor for the last time and sailed for Formosa.
About a year and a half later, I finally met one of the famous twins. Her name was Chi and she was seeing Jack, one of my colleagues, and also teaching him Mandarin Chinese. She was tiny and beautiful and spoke flawless English. I was very envious of him. When Jack’s tour was up, he asked me if I would be kind enough to give her rides to and from Spanish classes, as he did not want her riding pedicabs at night. Would I? You bet! Even better, I decided to take the classes, too. Our teacher was the son of the Spanish Ambassador.
In true Chinese fashion, Chi felt obligated to repay me in her own unique way. She asked me to be her escort to a very formal dinner party at the French Embassy where she was working. I enjoyed myself hugely , except for a remark made by the French Military Attaché after a few rounds of good French wine: “So you work for Western Enterprises! BURN BEFORE READING!” and laughed uproariously at what he considered a very clever joke. With the very delicious French meal, rounds and rounds of wine were served followed by brandy and other after dinner drinks. I was so drunk that when Chi and I left the party, I immediately drove my British Ford into an open gutter and had to take her home in a pedicab. What an idiot she must have thought I was!
To make up to Chi, I invited her out to the Friends of China Club to dinner and dance. Later, I drove slowly by the river to see the moon hanging over the Grand Hotel. I got stuck again, this time in soft ground! Humiliation again!. She must have liked me in spite of these stupidities, as we continued to date and slowly became more and more serious. I fell in love with this girl and when I had to return to America I asked her to marry me. I told her I would return home to see my family, manage some of my affairs and return for her. Chi did not believe a word of this, as she was naturally suspicious after all she had been through.
Chi and her twin sister Lu were sent to a French School in Beijing, China, at age five to learn French and British English. They lived in the lap of luxury, servants, chefs, nannies and a chauffeur driven car. But at age thirteen, the Communists took over Beijing, and their father, worried about their safety, sent them away with one suitcase each to an aunt in the south. He promised to bring them back home when things quieted down, which never happened. Their parents went into hiding never to be found again. The twins ended up in Formosa with their older married sister. Without parents or money they had mostly to fend for themselves. I think what gave them the strength to keep going was their belief in the “Yin Yang” philosophy, which is opposites and balance, and never to “lose face.” The Chinese call it “Diu Lien,” which is instilled in every Chinese child from the moment they are old enough to understand. Three years later, Chi found a fabulous job with the French Embassy and Lu became an airline stewardess that took her all over the Far East.
Several months after I returned to Washington, I received a letter from Chi, saying she had been offered a job in the Chinese Embassy in Athens, Greece. She was going to travel with a diplomatic passport and live in the Embassy. She accepted immediately. She was thrilled to have such a glamorous job, and at last to travel the world in style!
We continued to write to each other, and with each letter I asked when I could visit her. She loved her position in the Embassy and was hoping to get transferred to Paris in a couple of years. She loved France and had always wanted to live there. She used to tell me she would be happy in a little cottage in Provence, near the Mediterranean Sea eating Camembert and Brie cheese with a warm baguette, washing it down with a good glass of French wine. She kept putting me off. I finally saved up enough money and told her I was coming. I was going to Greece to marry her, or if rejected, go back to the States and get on with my life. To my surprise, she accepted my proposal and we were married in the Chinese Embassy in Athens. The Chinese Ambassador was our best man. She told me we could always visit Paris together sometime in the future.
When I accepted a job with the United States State Department, Chi became an American citizen, and we were sent overseas. We raised two wonderful children, and now have two granddaughters. We lived in thirteen countries on five continents and enjoyed knowing the people and learning their languages and cultures. It was a good life, with one frightening exception when I was kidnapped in Guatemala. Chi negotiated with the Marxist guerrillas and with the help of the American Embassy and the United Nations, and I was finally released after nine weeks. To compensate for our suffering we were sent to Bridgetown, Barbados, where we lived for four glorious years.
We are now retired in Tucson, Arizona, enjoying the companionship of our family nearby, with good friends, warm sunshine, glorious sunsets, and the chance to frequently hear and speak Spanish.