Thursday, March 3, 2011

Lunatic Neighbors

I loved Taiwan, but the hocking, spitting, nose-picking, jack-hammering, shoe-dragging, door-slamming, and shrieking is something I was glad to leave behind.

Yet today, I miss it. I miss the friends I made and the outdoor restaurants where I used to meet them. I miss the monsoon season with its electrical storms and terrifying thunder and downpours. I miss my scooter and having the ability to go anywhere day or night to buy just about anything. I even miss the ridiculous neighbors I had.

Early morning parties, blood-curdling screams, spousal abuse, child abuse, insanely loud music, mental retardation - I experienced it all. An ESL student told me the story of how he and his family of 45 relatives (all living together) had lived beside a man who constantly beat his wife and kids; 'it was horrible, horrible,' he said, shaking his head. I asked him if he had called the police and he replied, 'Negative. We wouldn't call police. Nobody call police in Taiwan because somebody might come to pay back telephone call to police.' In Taiwan, it's all about retribution and the repercussions of what can be viewed as squealing.

Kitty corner to my first apartment in Tainan was another apartment building, and on the ground floor of that building there lived a lunatic that scratched and cursed at all hours of the night as he crept around the hidey-hole that he shared with an elderly couple that lived upstairs. He camped out behind two large garage doors lined with small windows which opened out on to the lane, an area that he had appropriated for himself and that he protected with more vigilantism than a combat veteran. Bed frames, sewing machines, tools, mattresses, stuffing, picture frames and sofas were all piled up to the ceiling in his rooms. It had been a bedding shop at one point and they never got rid of everything when they closed up shop. A baseball bat, with which he used to terrorize the neighborhood, was usually at hand leaning against his plastic lounge chair, where he sat at night smoking cigarettes and keeping guard on his appropriated piece of real estate.

He was a wiry old bastard of about 70 years old and he slept during the day and rustled about at night, sorting and stacking and creeping between the stacks of junk like some kind of obsessive rat, arranging and re-arranging, stacking and re-stacking the goods. If anyone had the temerity to park in front of his garage doors, even if only to let somebody out of their car or wait for a friend, or stop to talk for a few minutes, he would get up off his lounge chair and glare at the person behind the wheel and walk around their car, and if they didn't move fast enough from his space, he'd yell and scream and wave his fist like an escapee - threatening and cursing until whomever was parked there drove away in terror. I got so sick of hearing him shout that I kept a full bucket of water on my balcony, and sometimes when he was downstairs lounging on his chair and just for the hell of it, I'd sneak on to my balcony and from the fourth floor I'd throw the bucket of water over and across the lane way towards him, and quickly duck inside again, but he was always too late to see me by the time he looked up. I really got a kick out of that, but I'm sure he knew it was me because I had yelled down at him to 'shut the f*** up' on more than one occasion.

Just before midnight on a quiet summer's night, a woman parked in front of his garage door with her car idling and waited for her friend, who lived in my building, to come down. I was lying in bed reading when I heard him yelling. Sensing that trouble of some sort was about to happen, I opened my balcony door and peered down into the lane to see what was going on. There he was, Mr. Personality. Screaming at this poor cringing woman, who had made no effort to move her car and didn't know what the heck was going on, and with the bat in his hands, the old fart took to the front end of her car as if he were gearing up for the 9th inning in the 7th game of the World Series, and smashed out the headlights of what looked to be a fairly new car. He didn't waste any time getting started this time and I was shocked to see what he was doing. However, in spite of all the damage he had rendered, he still wasn't finished as he lifted the bat over his head and smashed it down into the center of the hood, leaving a huge dent in the hapless woman's car. She honked the horn then tried to drive away, but her friend suddenly appeared out of my building. They shrieked at each other in Chinese so I didn't understand the words, but the meaning was very clear. Angry Chinese somehow has a far nastier undertone than angry English. The woman finally got in the car and they drove off without running him over, and everyone who had been standing on their balconies scratching their heads as they watched the show returned to their apartments and locked their doors.

A few weeks later, at two in the morning, I awoke to a terrible banging. Wood was splintering and glass was breaking! I leaped out of bed and on to my balcony to see what was going on, and luckily just in time to see the violence that was being done to my neighbor's garage doors. Teen-aged boys with baseball bats were smashing the crap out of his storefront, kicking and booting the door until it fell off its hinges and was left clinging to the frame by its rusty nails. Shards of glass glittered on the pavement and gaping holes were all that was left of the windows. They kicked at the garage door til it was done but no one, not even the raving lunatic himself, arrived at the scene to protest. Finished, they ran down the lane and disappeared and nothing was heard about it again. The cleanup kept him busy for a while.

A month later, I woke up to loud voices downstairs and looked over to the old man's place. He was seriously arguing with someone and again, the violence in the Chinese language when spoken with hostility struck me. They carried on for a while until the man he was arguing with ran down the alley and got into his car and sped off. Finally, silence. I sighed and went back to bed, but within the hour I heard the siren of an ambulance as it came up the lane and stopped. The guys cut the siren, took out the stretcher and went inside the cramped space where the old man slept. Two security guards from my building were also in there and everyone was talking and walking back and forth. They were there for a while and I could only see the bottom half of their bodies as they moved around; then I saw the old man's legs as they strapped him on the stretcher and rolled him out. He was uncovered and moaning and babbling, and I was shocked to see that his legs, his white t-shirt and his face were covered in blood. They lifted him into the ambulance, closed the back doors and drove off. The next day I asked the security guard in our building what had happened. He laughed and shook his head and said the old bastard had gotten into an argument with somebody and had been stabbed. 'Do they know who did it?' I asked. 'No, nobody knows anything about it.' And that was the last that was seen of him.


I moved from this apartment complex to another which housed just as many crazies, albeit different from the above-mentioned crazy. I was happy with my new apartment and I had a friend living downstairs, who I had met at my school. A few weeks after moving in, I was hanging some pictures when all of a sudden I heard one blood-curdling shriek after another. It was something you would have heard while walking in the jungle, as if something were being skinned alive, or scalped. After all the screaming there was a tremendous crash of something heavy falling and the the breaking of glass.

My knees trembled as I wondered what kind of raging gorilla was downstairs and if he'd set fire to the place. Ever since hearing the story of a man who had burnt down an apartment building in Taipei to spite his wife, and had killed fifteen people in the process, it'd been on my mind. I debated whether I should bolt the door and lock myself in, or run over to my friend's apartment and stay with him, or go outside until whatever was in the building was psycho-tropically restrained. But it was quiet after the crash, nothing more happened, and in the next few minutes my curiosity overcame my fear and I crept down the stairwell to find out what was going on.

I could hear voices on the second floor and I surmised that that's where all the crashing had come from. I stole quietly around the corner and saw a door to an apartment was open, so I peeped in. It was empty except for a large prayer mantel lying face down on the tiled floor, and obviously the heavy object that I'd heard crashing to the floor. Vases, flowers, incense holders and water were shattered and strewn about the floor. A small girl of about five crouched in the corner crying and quivering, and a sobbing boy of about eleven came out from a bedroom and looked at me.

I shook my head and asked the boy what had happened and he said 'my brother,' but that's all he could muster through his sobs. Suddenly, the boy's mother and father arrived and behind them strode the lumbering gorilla I'd heard shrieking. They took a look at the mantel and their sobbing children and I crept away again to leave them to it. I shrugged and they sighed and I felt sorry for them with their retarded son who was obviously - difficult. Their one last precious possession was in ruins at their feet. Although he was 22, his mother told me later, he had the mental capacity of a five-year-old. The pain of living with their son had obviously taken its toll.

After that night, I could hear his blood-curdling screams and when I finally left that apartment I gave them my couch, so they could at least have something unbreakable to sit on in their living room.


More Pics of Tainan City, Taiwan


Specialty tea shops in Tainan City.


Jade Market

Tainan City's Jade Market is a shopping experience. It's not as large as Taipei's jade market, but it's definitely worth seeing.

Jade isn't the only thing for sale; vendors are selling antiques, paintings, pottery, woodwork, and jewelry, which isn’t made of jade. You can find old perfume bottles, ornate wooden boxes, hand-painted ceramics, antique incense burners, as well as many other treasures. In addition to antiques, there are some new and interesting crafts for sale.