Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Aug 28 2005

My friend Teddy, aka the Carnivorous Teddy Bear, t…

My friend Teddy, aka the Carnivorous Teddy Bear, told me that my old base outside of Miaoli, where I did most of my military service, has been abandoned for some time. Because of filming and other obligations, I couldn’t get away from Taipei to check this out, but this Sunday was free and I really felt like getting on a train to somewhere, so I went to Taipei Train Station and hopped on the first train to Miaoli that had a window seat available. I have to do this periodically in lieu of a real vacation, which I haven’t had in several years, or else I’ll go crazy. And there’s something about train travel that particularly appeals to me, just floating down the tracks watching the gleams of sunlit water in the rice fields keeping pace with the train, no thought of traffic, scheduled stops. Of course the best train trips are with a band on your way to a gig somewhere new and exciting.

The weather was hot, sunny and muggy at the same time when I arrived in Miaoli. The bus stop where we used to get tickets was moved across the street. They’ve covered the old ugly station with white tiles so it just looks new and ugly. The rest of the city looks basically the same, except the bus station downtown is gone; looks like it was literally wiped off the map, and the buses now circle a tiny little stand that looks more suitable for some kid should be selling lemonade.

The winding mountain road that used to bisect the base has been widened. Trees used to grow over the road, but now it’s a four-lane highway, and new walls have been built around the base areas. From what I could see as the bus drove past, Teddy was right; the buildings were all abandoned, and the main gates were shut tight. I got off just past the base and started walking down the road that winds behind it. It smelled just like I remembered.

I went to see if the side gate was accessible. It wasn’t. A pile of old ammunition boxes was even thrust against the inside, I saw when I climbed on a rock to see inside. Grass had grown up all over the former parking lot inside, and not a soul was in sight.

I kept walking to the rear of the base and passed the little side base where we kept the ammunition stores. It was abandoned as well, wild grass growing over what had been a neat little park-like area where we’d spent a lot of time and sweat keeping the munitions in order.

Although the side gate was closed, I remembered a way onto base that we had used to surrepticiously get on and off base without going through the main gates. I walked around back through the old village, stopping to chat with some of the old guys who sat around in the shade of a giant tree. They said the Miaoli County Government is in charge of the base, and they’re considering building a medical center there.

I fought my way through the dense undergrowth to the rear wall, went up and over a low spot I remembered, scaring some cats as I pushed through the briars and around the barbed wire…let’s see, where was it? Oh, yeah: a little slot I could just scrape through. If you didn’t know about it it would be nearly impossible to find. Odd that I was trying to get in to a place I’d often wanted to get out of so badly back then.

I found myself tiptoeing as I walked along the road that ran along the back of the base by the garages where we used to keep jeeps and hummers. I mentally went through explanations should anyone find me there. Stacks of gigantic tree trunks lay in some of the assembly areas, and the grass had grown waist-high. Except for the bees buzzing, it was quiet. I spotted some strange, new-looking posts with black glass areas that looked like sensors placed at intersections. Motion sensors? Alarms? Were they perimeter-based or did they send a beam across the road, high enough that stray dogs wouldn’t trip it off? I guessed it was a beam arrangement and was careful to stay out. No alarms sounded. Even if they did, I wouldn’t hear them in any case. With all the gates closed up, anybody coming to investigate would have to be on foot.

I waded through the grass to the old Karaoke bar, which was just built when I was there. When I was about to get out, I was put in charge of the place, tending the fish, cleaning it out, and other easy tasks usually given to soldiers about to be discharged. The bar was still there, with a couple of chairs. I walked across the tile floor, thinking how many times I’d mopped it. The fish were gone, of course, as were all the electronics.

Our barracks were cleaned out as well. I took a photo of the place this one was taken before, though the angle is a little different. Makes it seem an age or more ago. Grass covered the areas in between the buildings, and more huge logs were stacked on the paradeground. The roads had become paths through the encroaching grass. I wandered around a bit, taking pictures, recalling various things that happened here and there. Too many, really.

I walked up the paradeground to the main gate. If anyone were watching the place, they’d be there. Sure enough, as I rounded the big sign and statue of an elderly Chiang Kai-shek with hat in hand, I saw a guy sitting in the building across from the old guard barracks. I modified my path so that it looked like I had just slipped through the gate before he saw me. A half dozen dogs came out with him.

“What do you want?” he said, and I explained that I’d served on the base many years before and heard the place was being torn down, so I’d come for a last look. He got a kick out of that, and the dogs, seeing this, became a lot less menacing.

“I even met the general after that; I kind of stand out, so he remembered me,” I told him at one point. He nodded, and then looked at me.

“Yeah, hey,” he said. “You know, I think you’ve got some foreigner blood in you.” I looked for sarcasm in his voice and didn’t find any.

“That’s very observant of you; no wonder they chose you to guard the base,” I said, trying to sound sincere. In fact, he said, it wasn’t a bad gig. 12 hours a day, a decent monthly salary and he could do whatever he pleased. They didn’t have any water and had to bring their own, however, which pissed him off. He got a real kick out of my description of the base as it had been. He’d heard it was once very nice, but he didn’t know what had been what and was facinated to find out where everything had been. He must have really been bored out of his skull.

We chatted for a while, with him saying he’d buy and read my book, since just about everything in it happened right there. The afternoon was getting on, so I said goodbye and went to the other side of the road, where the other guard was letting a woman out the gate. He wouldn’t let me in, no matter what I said, though. He was adamant. I wondered if he had some kind of scheme going on on base.

I said ok, seeya, and walked around to the side, where there was another breach in the wall just near where the old side gate had been before they’d widened the road. The gap was partially filled with a painting I remembered hanging on the wall of the activity center that was hardly ever used except for promotion ceremonies, etc. I was promoted to corporal in there.

I climbed over the painting and ducked behind the old PX to avoid the guard’s line of sight, but I’d only gone a few paces when I surprised a dog, a dog with an expression that made it very clear it would be all bite regardless of bark on my ass if I didn’t get out of there. Neither was appealing, so retreated. It was my only way in, so I didn’t get to see that part of the base. Too bad. Still, I got an idea from the other areas what it would be like: big empty rooms where things I remembered happened, totally unlike the base I knew when I was there, eerie and cold and totally devoid of life in a way I’d imagined once when the power went out during Typhoon Herb. Now it was deserted for real, and once again I had to remind myself that it was the people in the buildings that made them what they were, more than the buildings themselves. The base will probably be torn down before I get to see it again in any case. At least I have plenty of photos.

Back outside the base, most of the businesses that had catered to the large population of soldiers had closed their doors. Only one or two remained, dusty patches and belt buckles shining dully in the late afternoon sun. I caught a bus back to town and walked to the train station, but because it was the end of the weekend, the trains were packed with people just finishing up visiting their homes and returning to the city where they work.

On my way over the suspension bridge, I saw a gaggle of photographers surrounding a young girl sitting on the bridge’s planks with her leg at a strange angle. At first I thought she might have fallen, but the dozen-odd young men were just taking pictures of her foot, or possibly something she’d just stepped in. I took out my camera and took a shot of them taking pictures, earning some looks of disdain as I did so. Honestly, it was hard to keep from laughing out loud.

Work tomorrow; back to my Taipei life. It was good to get out for a bit, though.

posted by Poagao at 4:53 pm  

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment