Yangmingshan – Retro Blogging May 17, 1998


Sunday morning I awoke with a fever. Apparently, the shots and the 48 hours of being awake and hungry because of the plane delay caught up with me. After some mercy administering, I began to feel better. (The headache passed, at least.) Three of Chu-wan’s college classmates showed up: Nora, Judy and Min-Min. Nora had a car so we drove to Yangmingshan National Park, which is north of Taipei.

Yangmingshan is the nearest National Park to Taipei and is a popular (and crowded) getaway place for the city residents. Formerly an area of active volcanoes, the park still spouts fumeroles and hot springs.

This was my first excursion into the countryside of Taiwan and I began to see some of the beauty of Taiwan, which had so far, frankly, been lost on me.

For a long time, Taiwan was known in the US as Formosa, which is Portuguese for “Beautiful”. Its full name was Isla Formosa or “Beautiful Island”, and it truly is a lovely, natural setting. “Steep and mountainous” doesn’t do justice to the description of the hills and countryside. Constantly wet with tropical, semi-tropical and temperate zones, the island is lush and green everywhere.

As we traveled around Yangmingshan my fever returned, as did my headache – with a vengeance.

Chu-wan and her friends were catching up on each other’s lives… in Chinese, so I was able to sit back and soak up the scenery, even if I wasn’t feeling in the best of sorts. Near, or perhaps in, the park, are flower orchards. We parked and looked through the fields. One shop had small cacti for sale as some form of exotic plant – a small reminder of home in an alien landscape. Afterwards we walked to a small tin shack where the girls had bamboo shoot soup.

Since I was not feeling well, bamboo shoot soup sounded like another phrase for “boiled wood” to me, and so I abstained. A storm came blowing through with incredible speed, and we headed back to the car and down the mountain. When we returned, I passed out from the fever and ended my day with a whimper.

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Exploration: Taipei – Retro Blogging May 16, 1998


My first full day in Taipei was Saturday, and Chu-wan and I went sightseeing.

Our first stop was a Mongolian BBQ restaurant for lunch. We stopped at the Kublai Khan restaurant, where for only $NT249 (for patrons over 140cm tall) you can have a delicious all-you-can-eat meal. The Mongolian BBQ was not like any I’ve ever had in the states – the meat and vegetables were fresh, the selection much more extensive, and you got plenty of exercise running up and down the stairs, as the eating area and the food preparation area were on different floors.

After our meal her father drove us to National Palace Museum. On the drive over, I began to get the feel of Taiwan traffic. It’s insane. There is only one traffic law (as you and I in the US would understand it): Stop for red lights. Otherwise, there is no order, no one pays the slightest attention to the lines painted on the roads. (Why did they bother?) Unsafe Lane changes? Ha! The cars spend the whole time weaving in and out of loosely defined lanes. If there are three lanes painted on the road, traffic flows in 4 or 5 self-made lanes. Left and right turns are made at full speed from any lane you want, and if that means pulling in front of a car going straight ahead or coming straight on, that’s ok too, they’ll slow down, or dodge. The same is true with pedestrians and scooters. There are lots of scooters in Taiwan!

Pedestrians be warned: The auto traffic would drive over the curbs if they hadn’t placed concrete and metal barriers on all the corners! As it is, the scooters do that anyway, when they aren’t just driving on the sidewalk. What a harrowing experience!

Traffic notwithstanding, we arrived safely at the National Palace Museum. The collection of art treasures is impressive! The museum houses the Imperial Art Collection, which was collected over the last thousand years and contains Chinese art dating back over 5,000 years. There were lots of interesting exhibits, but we really didn’t have time to cover the whole place thoroughly, and, of course, you cannot take pictures. The museum itself can only exhibit a small fraction of the nearly 700,000 pieces of art in its vaults, so the exhibits are changed regularly.

I must admit, by this time, I was already taking comfort in “hanging” with the guided tours for the Japanese tourists. At least I could understand the occasional “kore wa… …desu.” or “so desu ne”, whereas the Chinese language all around me was overwhelmingly foreign. (Mandarin, incidentally, doesn’t really sound like Cantonese, which is all I’d been exposed to through Hong Kong movies.)

After the museum, we went through the magnificent gardens comprising the museum grounds, then caught a bus back into town where we ate at Roundtable Pizza! Curiously, Roundtable is combined with Swenson’s Ice Cream in Taiwan.

The simple fact that there was a Roundtable Pizza in Taiwan was miracle enough for me!

The second most common question I get asked about Taiwan is: “Does pizza taste the same there?”

The answer is: “No, it isn’t the same.” Nevertheless it was still good. Apparently, pepperoni isn’t the number 1 choice of pizza toppings in Taiwan. (Sausage pizza lovers, give up hope!) They had several standard “combination pizzas” but didn’t have “Montague’s All-Meat Marvel” which I figured would have a picture on the menu and I could just order by pointing. Instead, popular combinations seem to involve corn and peas. Once I had realized that crushing blow to my international communication skills, I asked Chu-Wan to order a pepperoni pizza for me.

“I think I got that ordered right”, she said after ordering.

“So, you don’t actually know what I’m getting?”

“I’m not sure what the characters for pepperoni are. Think of it as an adventure!”

“I don’t want adventure, I want a pepperoni pizza!”

I was beginning to feel pretty rundown by this point, so the arrival of the pizza (pepperoni) and Coca Cola (there’s no Dr. Pepper in Taiwan!) was most welcome.

We were near a Night Market, so afterwards we made our way through it. Incredible! Take every swap meet in Arizona, cram it into one square block of small space, pack the entire population of Rhode Island into that block, light it up with the collective light bulbs from Las Vegas and you have a Night Market. It was wall to wall people and I towered over everyone.

By the time I left Taiwan, I concluded that I was the tallest person on the entire island, including any foreign visitors – certainly, I hit my head on enough doorways, trains and buses. Despite my size “advantage” it was slow, slow moving. My back was killing me and I had a headache, so we gave up before completing the entire market. We headed home by bus and I conked out once we returned home.

Incidentally, the question I get asked most often about Taiwan is: “Is it true they don’t have toilet paper in the restrooms?” I’ll leave this answer for your imagination, but I will provide one bit of practical advice: If you’re walking along a street and a girl tries to hand you a packet of tissue paper with advertising on it… TAKE IT.

Notes from the 21st Century
Charming though it was, the girls on the street handing out toilet paper advertisements seems to have diminished to the point of being non-existent. I cannot recall seeing any on at least my last two trips.

Perhaps this has changed due to the rapid expansion made in the Taipei subway system since my first trip. The subways always have nice, well-papered toilets waiting for the weary traveler.

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The Flight, the Time Warp and Arrival: Taiwan – Retro Blogging May 15, 1998

The flight finally took off around 2:00PM. For the next 14 hours I was confined to my cell. I was easily the tallest person on the plane, and, having a window seat, I was truly crammed inside the plane.

Taiwan in on the other side of the International Dateline, so, although as you travel west the time of day creeps backwards, it finally reaches a point where all of a sudden, it is tomorrow. Although the flight was only approximately 14 hours in duration, we spent from Thursday at 2:00PM until Friday at 6:00PM, an apparent flight of 28 hours. It seemed like 40.

I had hit upon the brilliant idea of staying awake for 36 hours prior to the flight so that I would be able to sleep most of the flight away. We were planned to arrive at 6:00AM, when I would awake, refreshed and ready to go on my first day in Taiwan.

The delay in the flight meant that I was awake an additional 12 hours. I slept through one of my meals on the plane, but remained awake for the last 10 hours of the flight. Somehow my sleep plan had gone horrible awry.

Instead of arriving as planned at 6:00AM, we arrived late at night, and passed smoothly through Customs and Immigration.

We had been able to inform Chu-wan’s parents about the delay and they were there to meet us. Her father speaks understandable English, but her mother does not speak any.

We wrestled the luggage into her father’s station wagon and headed off towards Taipei. Their home in Taipei is about an hour’s drive by freeway from the airport. Her father took to the surface streets for some of the journey, so the drive took somewhat longer, but I got my first taste of Taiwan’s cities. Her father is a perfectly adequate driver, but the traffic conditions in Taiwan were terrifying! It was only the fact that it was dark that prevented me from realizing the magnitude of that observation until the next day. I’ll speak more on this later.

We arrived at her parent’s home (which is also her father’s office, Operation De-Handicap) late at night, and I was shown my room. I had honestly thought Chu-Wan was kidding, but true to her word, I was to sleep on a board instead of a mattress. (Hereafter referred to as “The Board”) The room was efficient, clean and, surprisingly, it had a window looking into her brother’s room. Further, the window, which had neither glass nor screen, had to be left open to allow air circulation. In addition to air, it also allowed the mosquitoes to circulate freely. Considering what the CDC had to say about all the indigenous, mosquito-borne nasties, this was less than comforting.

I thought this was an odd lack of privacy, but not intolerably so, especially since her brother never seemed to be in his room. I was further surprised to find out that her 21-year old brother’s only means for entering his bedroom was through his parents’ bedroom, which he did at all hours of the night.

Her brother works at Tower Records Taipei, and likes Metallica, Guns ‘n Roses, and the like. If you’ve ever seen a Taiwanese person do a Beavis and Butthead imitation, well… it’s pretty funny. Her brother kept pretty odd hours, usually coming home around 1 or 2, then staying up playing computer games till sunrise, but not always. At first, I thought he was trying to avoid walking through his parents’ room so late at night. Personally, I would feel uncomfortable having to walk through my parents’ room, but apparently this isn’t the same kind of issue with them as it would be with us.

Her mother prepared dinner for us, which was something very much like beef stew, but served with rice, steamed cabbage, cooked peanuts and cold chicken. I also gave her parents the presents I brought them for their hospitality, and they seemed well received.

Since it was late, but we were still internally on Arizona time, we went walking around the streets of Taipei and the park across the street from her home. 7-11s and Circle Ks were welcome reminders of home, as was the Sizzler Steakhouse down the street.

Taiwan is humid – nothing like Arizona! My hair, which is never very controllable at the best of times, turned curly and remained totally unmanageable for the entire trip. No amount of hairspray could contain it. From the moment I arrived till a few hours after I left, I was never completely dry. What an odd feeling! No amount of toweling could complete the job as the water just kept coming back.

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Destination: The Waiting Lounge – Retro Blogging May 14, 1998

We were scheduled to depart Los Angeles at 1:00AM on May 14th. The Singapore Air flight boarded on time, but we sat on the runway for an unusually long time. After we’d waited about 45 minutes the pilot announced over the intercom that “(They’d) spotted a fuel leak in number two engine and were investigating. ”

15 minutes later, he announced that “Repairs are estimated to take two hours, please stay seated and thanks for your patience.”

I think it’s important to explain about my seat on the plane, or, as I came to think of it: my cell. The plane was a 747 Megatop 400 – a big plane, to be sure. There must have been 300 or more people on the flight, but the seats were not designed for someone of my stature. By the time the pilot explained that we had a additional two-hour wait on the runway, I had already decided that the 14 hour flight was going to be miserable, the three extra hours on the plane were just icing on gravy.

After two hours, the leak had been repaired, but a problem remained in the system, and so, the flight was postponed until 12 noon May 14. Relieved as I was that the pilot chose to have the plane repaired rather than risk the crossing, I was also annoyed at the delay. The precious hours of my vacation were ticking away in California.

Singapore Air arranged ground transportation, hotel rooms and meals for us. The problem was, there were only one or two shuttle busses running at 4:00AM, and they weren’t very big. We spent nearly 3 hours outside waiting to get on the shuttles to go to the hotel. It was while trying to get on the shuttle that I discovered that, unlike the British, Chinese people do not believe in standing in an orderly queue. Utter chaos ensued each time the shuttle bus returned as men, women and children fought to get on the shuttle.

Much the same experience awaited us as we spent another hour in the hotel lobby trying to check in. Like a scene from Night of the Living Dead, the passengers from the plane senselessly, almost instinctively, crowded towards the front desk, attempting to get at the one, overworked and totally unprepared graveyard-shirt hotel clerk.

Our free breakfast was an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet from 8AM to 9:30 AM, so we had to hurry for our meal. We couldn’t clean up much since our luggage was already stowed on the plane. Our flight was rescheduled at 12noon, and we knew it would be a similar nightmare returning to the airport, so we only had time to catch a shower and about an hour’s sleep, then we made our own way back to the airport.

We arrived back at LAX at around 11:00AM where we discovered that the flight was further delayed until 1:30PM. We settled into the airport lounge for an anticipated 2 hour wait.

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Destination: Los Angeles – Retro Blogging May 13, 1998

Chu-wan, and I left Phoenix on May 13th, aboard an early evening flight to Los Angeles. Our goal: a connecting flight to Taipei on Singapore Air. The flight departed Phoenix and arrived in Los Angeles on time. We arrived with plenty of time to catch our connecting flight, and spent a few hours in LAX late at night. We grabbed dinner at a Japanese fast food place inside the International Terminal. The food wasn’t very good. I hoped this wasn’t going to be an indication of what was to come – we had only traveled a few hundred miles towards Taiwan and already I wasn’t enjoying my meals.

Notes from the 21st Century
As you can detect from the tense of this writing, these journal entries were written later on. I kept hand-written notes in a travel journal and transcribed them in eMail when I had the opportunity.

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An American Pizzahound in Taiwan – Retro Blogging May 11, 1998

My adventure began when I decided to take a vacation to the Republic of China on Taiwan with my girlfriend, Chu-Wan.

Prior to my journey, I tried to make all the necessary preparations that any would-be international traveler would need. For example, I used the Internet to check out information about obtaining a US Passport and information about the country, visas and any pertinent travelers’ information.

The R.O.C., or Taiwan as it is more commonly called, exists in a unique status. The Nationalist Chinese government was ousted from mainland China by the Communists in the 1940’s. The Nationalists set up a provisional government on the island of Taiwan, which is off the eastern coast of the mainland. Both governments still claim to be the one, true government of all of China, including Taiwan.

In the 1970’s the U.S. government formally transferred recognition of China’s government to the People’s Republic in Beijing, leaving the R.O.C. as a non-government in the US’s official eyes. As they are not the government of a country, they cannot maintain foreign embassies in the US, nor do we have embassies in Taiwan. Both governments maintain “Cultural Exchange” centers, which act as surrogate embassies. Information on Taiwan can be found at http://www.taipei.org on the Internet, and it was there that I first turned for my research.

The US and Taiwan maintain friendly relationships, so a US citizen with a passport valid for at least 6 months, can enter Taiwan without a visa or any advance paperwork provided that they have verifiable plans to leave the country within 14 days.

There are no required immunizations to enter Taiwan, unless you are traveling from a Yellow Fever infested area, such as Africa. I was pleased no end to learn I wouldn’t need any shots.

As my departure date loomed near, that sudden grip of paranoia that says, “You’re missing something important. They’re going to turn you away at the gate when you arrive,” began to play havoc in my brain, and so I frantically began looking for every additional scrap of information I could find.

Only a week before my departure I discovered a little worry. Although no immunizations are required there were several that were strongly recommended depending on your circumstances. I had researched the Center for Disease Control’s web page and concluded that I should get Tetanus and Polio boosters, and that I should also get protection against Hepatitis A. As a further precaution the CDC strongly recommended mosquito and insect repellant containing DEET.

With this information in hand, only two days before my flight, I found myself in the office of a “travel medicine specialist.” He looked over my itinerary, discussed my vaccination history, and then printed the information from the Center For Disease Control concerning Taiwan. His conclusion: I needed to get my Tetanus and Polio boosters, that I should get some protection against Hepatitis A. and that I should buy plenty of bug spray containing DEET.

Well, it’s nice to have a professional opinion, and it only cost me $175. At least that included the shots.

Satisfied that I had taken every possible precaution, I prepared for departure.

Notes from the 21st Century
This history of Taiwan and China is a long and complex one, and it is a very polarizing issue for both the people who live there and those concerned in the rest of the world. My description of the ROC here was based solely on US Government documents at that time.

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Retro-Blogging: My First Command Performance

In 1964, when I was born.  My mother started keeping my first “diary.”  Transcribed from the original paper documents, I’m committing these to my blog.

Saturday, November 21, 1964.

Saw my mother for the first time today at 10:30 A.M. She is fine and has already been to the bathroom by herself and has had a shower.  Understand my Mommy gave the hospital a rough time again because they did not bring me in to see her when they promised. Seeings as she lo stubborn Dutch, they soon conceded to her demands and delivered me to her arms.

This afternoon I awakened by the nurse when she carried me in a basket to a large window where a large bunch of adult humans were peering at all us babies. Uncle John, Patti and my daddy were there. They were back again at night and seemed to be quite amused at what they saw.

My first day was quite eventful but everything is going along fine. My Mommy is well and has no problems and neither do I. Doctors gave me a clean bill of health.

Retro-Blogging: I Am Born

In 1964, when I was born.  My mother started keeping my first “diary.”  Transcribed from the original paper documents, I’m committing these to my blog.

Friday, November 20, 1964.

Around 1:00 A.M. I really began trying to get born but it wasn’t until 3:00 that they decided to go to the hospital. On arrival at the hospital many nurses and various other people were busy getting my mommy ready for the great event. The doctor was called but from the information he received from the hospital staff, decided not to come see us until after 7:00. When the doctor arrived he found that things were not going so well so he ordered medication to help out. After many hours, the way was paved for me to enter this world and I did so at 6:55 P.M. Came out with only one forcep mark on my right cheek. Doubt seriously whether this will hurt my good looks.

My daddy, on seeing me, was evidently quite disturbed at my blue coloring and oddly shaped elongated head. The doctor assured him that I wouldn’t stay that way. He was further reassured when he saw all other babies were the same color.

Mommy had a little trouble with the hospital staff before they removed her from the recovery room to her bed — she complained that the doctor had sewn her fast to the mattress and refused to be moved until they did something about it. Course everyone got quite a laugh out of this.

I am 2l long and weigh 7 lbs. 13½ ozs. and have red hair.

Retro-Blogging: Before I Was Born

In 1964, when I was born.  My mother started keeping my first “diary.”  Transcribed from the original paper documents, I’m committing these to my blog.

The Beginning:

Thursday, November 19, 1964.

Well, today is Great Uncle John Van Meters birthday so think I will begin my long journey into this best of all possible worlds” — perhaps being lucky enough to arrive before midnight.

Around noon today I started giving my “new momma” some discomfort. This process went on throughout the day but with no good results. Mamma even accompanied Poppa to the bowling alley where’ she watched his team get beat.