Eye On Taiwan
Date: May 18, 2016
By: David Wang
Few if any millennials as well as Taiwanese from the X and Y-generations would have an inkling of Enola Gay or that the wittily-named American B-29 bomber changed global history in August 1945 when it dropped Little Man and Fat Boy on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to nuke Japan into surrender. Nor would many of such Taiwanese youths have opinions on how only 4 or 5 years later their homeland would see an intrusion of millions of mainland Chinese driven out from their homeland by the Communists to seek shelter in their backyards across Taiwan.
Circa 1950, without carbon dating or first-hand accounts from the owner, when Taiwan was in political upheaval due to the KMT government having just set up shop on the island, the brick house as shown probably was still literally wet-behind-the-ears and throughout the cement that had recently been tidied up with a wooden screed.
The neighborhood in Taipei around this throwback of a humble abode in 1950 would have been as unrecognizable (and as incomprehensible) to the owner of the brick house as the corner of Nanking and Zhongshan today, within a half-kilometer radius of which stand the 5-star properties as Taipei Regent, Hotel Royal, Okura Prestige.
In fact the owner, as he or she proudly supervised the last brick being laid, in 1950 or so probably was not sufficiently privileged to be educated under the Japanese colonial rulers to be able to read about the lead up to the nuking of Hiroshima, nor could he or she figure out what was going on in Taiwan amid the sudden influx of his “compatriots,” people who basically looked the same racially but enigmatically spoke in dialects as foreign as Greek, which certainly did little for gregarious mixing since he or she likely could only manage to communicate in the Min-Nan dialect (Taiwanese) perhaps peppered with Japanese.
Incidentally the owner of this brick house would have knitted his or her brows while the cement dried around 1950 had anyone mentioned the term “5-star hotel,” a concept that would have been as alien to him or her as talking wirelessly on iPhones then. The same owner would have also popped his or her eyes out at the Ambassador Hotel, arguably the first upscale hotel in Taiwan during the days when owning a set of golf clubs or a single-speed Raleigh was regarded as enviable as owning an M3 today, as it rose enviably in the 1960s to cause plenty of neck craning.
Tell the brick house owner around 1950 that only 30 years later the area in Hsinchu would be home to a tech park as well as semiconductor giants as TSMC and UMC to enable Taiwanese officials smugly brand the island as “Economic Miracle” and one would have either elicited phonebook-memorizing boredom or quizzical queries of lunacy.
“Semiconductor xi sha-mee wah-gow” would likely have been his or her response.
This same owner, if told to buy real estate in his neighborhood with the silver or gold pieces (or newly minted New Taiwan dollars) hidden under the mattress around 1950, would have sprouted an expression of bewilderment as many in Taiwan still lived under martial law without knowing if the Communists across the water would invade to retake the island that it considers as one of its provinces. In essence, Taiwan was an uncertain nation with a populace mostly too unsettled to appreciate the savvy, timeless value of the adage “buy land amid upheaval.”
“Li gone sha-mee?” (or perhaps the iconic Taiwanese epithet made up of either 3- or 5-characters to equal the English counterpart universally known as variations of the 4-letter word) would likely have been his her response as the home owner pondered the wisdom or insanity of such advice as he or she looked beyond the front yard (likely unobstructed around 1950) to see occasional street vendors peddling smuggled Marlboro and water buffalos plodding alongside pedicabs, the Uber taxis of pre-PC days in Taiwan.
Look who is kicking himself or herself in regret now?
Anyone who had the gall (and extra gold and silver pieces) to invest in land around this brick house in 1950, per-unit price of which would have been significantly less than that of a Louis Vuitton or Prada purse today, would be singing and laughing all the way to a bank in 2016, not to mention humbling even the likes of Warren Buffet who probably would not have had the foresight to advice as such.
The swanky Mitsukoshi department store in a 13-plus story high-rise by the way sits only about a 100 meter north of this brisk dinosaur in the Zhongshan district of Taipei, which is seeing frenetic pace of condo tower construction to rival major western cities.
On the other hand, the owner of this brick dwelling could be one of those urban legends in Taiwan, a landlord from the 1960s era sitting on prime real estate in Taipei that has been inherited. The only “Economic Miracle” he or she knows of is how multiples of property developers have over the years have approached with offers to demolish and build high-rises on one of the lots held in the family portfolio. In which case the cliché “pah-bian-jah-yun,” the Taiwanese expression often used by politicians and low-budget TV ads to loosely mean “hard work pays,” would not apply.