Tag Archives: Taiwan

Happy Birthday, Dad

Miss you every day.

Photo from a trip to Scotland in 1985.  I was taking the long way home from Taiwan to start law school in the fall, and we met up in London, drove around England and Scotland, and ended up at a friend’s wedding in Edinburgh.  Driving was an adventure, including England’s almost impossibly narrow country roads, which we shared with all types of wild and domesticated animals.  Here’s Dad attempting to clear the road of flock of ducks who insisted on waddling rather than flying.

And where but Scotland could he find a store bearing his name:

Nifty fifty!

While this could easily be a reference to my brother, who will soon be joining me on the other side of the half-century mark, it is in fact a reference to the lens that our photo teacher recommended as a great all-around lens:  the 50 mm with a wide aperture for interesting shallow depth of field photos.  He confidently asserted that it would not be expensive and would be a good addition to our camera bags.

Not sure what his definition of “not expensive” is but this did not gibe with mine:

At the same time I was pondering this advice, I was puttering around in our basement looking for the lenses from my ca. 1984* film camera  — which, like my dslr camera, is an Olympus — and found that I was already the proud owner of a 50 mm (ok, ok 49 mm) f/1.8 lens.

I started trying to figure out how to use it with my current dslr camera.  It didn’t fit directly, and the first two calls I made to photography stores that will remain anonymous resulted in the advice that (1) this was impossible and (2) that it would cost me $150 for an adapter.  Seriously:  just that contradictory.  But I went on ebay, ordered the adapter in the (blurry; damn!) foreground of the photo above — for $14 — and voila!  I have a nifty fifty!

Clearly I need to learn more about how to use it, but damn it’s going to be fun!

BTW, I actually grew this pepper.  But that is for yet another blog post.


* Faithful readers who are paying close attention and/or are related to me will say, “ca. 1984?  but didn’t you say you got your 35 mm camera for high school graduation?  And you graduated high school in 1978, so what gives?”  The full answer to that will have to await another post that I’ve been meaning to write about having my backpack stolen in Singapore with my camera, money, and passport from the lobby of the Sheraton, putting my frantic mother** on a plane back to the States, contacting the law firm I was working for in Taiwan,*** being put in touch with a Chinese pop star who happened to be a friend of one of the partners, who loaned me money and took me out to dinner****, which allowed me to scramble around Singapore in a taxi getting a new passport, visa and plane ticket.  I was cameraless until that summer when, back in the States and visiting friends in New York, I bought a new one almost identical to the graduation gift, and carried on with my untutored but enjoyable photographic career.

** You think I could have afforded the Sheraton on my own at that point??[UPDATE: ******]

*** And that is one of the other reasons for this post.  Just the other day, I found myself trying to explain what a telex was.  It was sort of 1984’s email in a way.  You typed into a teletype machine in (say) the Sheraton in Singapore and it would print out momentarily at (say) a law firm in Taipei.

**** If you think the style disparity between me and Miss South Africa was vast, I only wish I had a photo of my dinner with Theresa Teng.*****  But, alas, the thief had my camera.

***** Only when I googled her for this post did I learn that she passed in 1995 at a very young age.  RIP, Theresa.  You did a very good deed for a very lost and scruffy Waigwo student at the height of your stardom.  Above and beyond.

UPDATE:  ****** For the record — see Comment #1 — this was not my mother’s fault.  I violated Travel Rule #1:  Always Keep Your Backpack With You At All Times.  I’ve also violated Travel Rule #2:  Don’t Stay In A Hotel With A Preying Mantis on the Bed.  And #3:  Always Wear Sunscreen when Lying on A Beach Below the Tropic of Cancer, even in February.  And many more, I’m sure.  Live & learn!



My Brush with Celebrity: Miss South Africa 1984

I was going to title this “Photographic Proof of My Total Lack of Fashion Sense,” and it is most definitely that.  But it is also an interesting historic artifact.

I lived and worked in Taiwan for three years in the early 1980s.  For two of those years, I was a translator at Lee & Li one of a handful of local law firms serving the international business community.

This was the Lee & Li translation staff ca. 1985.   As a 20-something with a regular, almost professional, job, I was in a bit of social limbo in Taipei:  neither scruffy world-traveling student nor privileged post-colonial white businessperson.  This social limbo may have been related to my tendency to see the rest of the world in mildly disparaging, internally-amusing, and completely accurate stereotypes, though I ultimately found an excellent group of limbo-dwelling judgmental 20-somethings — Chinese and Waiguo — to hang with.  By day we all had jobs; by night we hung out or explored Taipei’s unbelievably wonderful cheap restaurants.  Though many of the young lawyers at Lee & Li were friends, it was a huge place, and the senior partners barely knew we were there.

Until Molly.  Molly joined the Lee & Li staff as an editor in the summer of 1984.  She was sweet, hilarious, fun to hang with, and drop-dead gorgeous.  The senior partners suddenly noticed the hitherto motley now much cuter collection of gringo students who provided language services to the firm.  This was the state of play when the island was graced by a visit from Miss South Africa 1984.

Anyone remember 1984?  South Africa was not as, um, respected as it is now.  In fact, I’m thinking the number of countries Miss South Africa could visit that year was probably fairly limited.  We joked that she was in town for the Miss Pariah Nations finals.

Based I suppose on their fairly prominent position in the international social scene in Taipei, a couple of senior partners arranged to have dinner with Miss South Africa.  And — I’m speculating here — enjoying the idea of meeting MSA with another gorgeous blond on their collective arms, they invited Molly to attend.  And then, for reasons I cannot possibly fathom, but perhaps to avoid dissension in the American student ranks of Lee & Li, they invited me.  I thought this was hilarious in precisely the way a cynical post-apartheid-protest Swarthmore grad would.  I would go, but I would go ironically.  Access to a truly incredible, free, Chinese banquet was of course farthest from my mind.

But I still had to find something to wear.  I wish I could tell you that I wore the outfit below in some sort of ironic protest against the depredations of apartheid and objectification of women that Miss South Africa represented, but I can’t.  It was all I had.  I wore casual cotton dresses or skirts to work because of Taiwan’s intense heat.  (See photo above.)  And I guess some part of my brain said, I’m being taken out to dinner by senior lawyers, I should dress like a proto-lawyer.  I have no clue, but this was the result:

I’m not even going to caption this, because you know exactly who’s who.