My maternal grandparents raised me in this house. My grandfather was a legislator, a scholar, and all around raconteur. Born to a well-to-do family, he graduated from Peking University, and was elected to China’s National Assembly in the 1940s. He, my grandmother, and their adopted one year old daughter (my mom) fled to Taiwan along with the rest of Chiang Kai-Shek’s government in 1949. Because the government no longer had control of Mainland China (where the electorate resided), National Assembly members got to hold onto their seats until the Communist rebellion was quashed. Because that quashing never happened, my grandfather became a legislator-for-life.
My grandfather, in retrospect, was a dandy. He had long fingernails, an old school way of showing that he was a stranger to manual labor. He smoked 555 brand cigarettes until he died of lung cancer. And other than our evening walks, whenever he left the house, he wore a suit and tie.
My grandmother was quite the opposite. She never went to school. She was illiterate and didn’t know math. Her feet were bound but someone decided to stop the process half-way. Her feet were tiny, but not mutilated. Despite these differences in education and life experience, my grandparents were equal partners at home.
Now, let’s get to our house. In the 1970s, the government gave every member of the National Assembly a house in the rural outskirts of Taipei, Taiwan’s capital. My grandfather was the most respected member of the Assembly so all of his friends and colleagues let him have the house with the #1 street number.
My grandfather was a talented calligrapher. He wrote “Humble Garden” and had it transferred onto a marble slab and affixed that to the entrance of our house.
Because the house is on a hill, there are two yards on two levels. The upper level had this small “farm.” My grandfather grew lots of vegetables on this little plot of land. My dog, Little White One, also lived there.
The lower level contained a large pond with a couple of footbridges. You can see that there are years of overgrowth.
Why was the house abandoned? During a scare in the early 1990s, when we thought China was going to attack Taiwan, our family sold the house for some ridiculously low sum to a female Buddhist monk/televangelist/real estate mogul. The land where the house sits is worth millions now. She is just letting it sit fallow, waiting for the value to continue rising. As the permanent National Assembly members passed away, these houses were purchased by businessmen, razed, and McMansions built in their place. The building next to our old house now belongs to the son of Taiwan’s Vice President.
Now, for the tour. On the ground floor, we have the kitchen, dining room, maid’s bedroom, and a bathroom. My memories of our maid–
- She once killed and plucked a chicken in front of me.
- She had a Rod Stewart poster in her room.
- She once cried after being yelled at by my grandfather.
- During her grandmother’s own wake, the grandmother came back to life.
- She was not allowed to speak Taiwanese with me; only Mandarin.
Our living room covered the entire second floor. There were two couches. One was never used and covered in its original plastic. When my grandparents were not around, I would poke holes in the plastic with my fingers. We used the other couch instead. My fondest memory was sitting on one end of the couch while my grandmother sat on the other end. I would pretend that a small square pillow was a steering wheel and I was driving a bus with my grandmother sitting in the back.
This is a view from the living room. That’s my mom.
The third floor consisted of two bedrooms and a bathroom. I had a plastic plunger from a syringe that I used as a water gun. I spent many hours next to the bathroom sink, playing with it.
On the fourth floor, there were two rooms. One was used as a guest bedroom. I remember a member of Taiwan’s national basketball team stayed over one night and his feet dangled over the edge of the bed due to his height. The other room was a shrine to my great-grandfather. He fled with my grandparents to Taiwan and died in the 1950s. His last wish was to be buried in his homeland– China. Problem was, people were not allowed to travel between the two “countries.” As such, he was cremated and his ashes were kept in the upstairs room until we liberated China from the Communist dogs. It was very Cold War.
And here is the top floor. There was a balcony and this, my grandfather’s study. He would hole himself up here with his pet birds, practicing calligraphy and writing his book about his hometown in China. When he died in 1983, he had not been home in China since he fled in 1949.
Images source: Maxichamp