WHEN THE SMALL navy plane settled down on a hot, dusty, almost deserted airfield near the U.S. Navy base at Tsoying, Taiwan, in August 1956, any illusions I might have had about the exotic Orient vanished. This place held no more excitement than the farm country in Montana where I had grown up. No wonder they called the Taiwan assignment a "hardship area" and added extra pay for teachers who were willing to be sent to this drab, lonely location. We were each to be paid $4,500 for the school year, somewhat more than most elementary and high school teachers earned in Montana.
Riding from there to Kaohsiung, however, in the navy jeep that met us, my husband, Clyde, and I encountered a landscape entirely unfamiliar to me. We traveled on narrow dirt roads that crossed flooded rice paddies, the water held inside neat squares by earthen dikes. This was far different from the vast dry fields of wheat in Montana! Farther on, we passed even more lush fields of garden crops being watered and fertilized by coolie women in woven hats with peaked brims, their faces, arms, and legs covered with multicolored scraps of cloth to protect their skin from the sun. They carried water in buckets slung on bamboo poles across their shoulders. And some were dipping buckets into wooden tank wagons pulled by horned, black water buffalo. The tanks, we later learned, were filled with natural liquid fertilizer; this nightsoil was dipped by hand from sewers in the city and sold to the farms by the drivers of the vehicles that Americans called "honey wagons."
The jeep driver honked the horn many times as other water buffalo, ducks, chickens, and pigs wandered across the road in front of us and children stood dangerously close to watch us go by. More coolies walked along the same road, barefoot, bearing baskets filled with fish or vegetables balanced on bamboo poles. For the first time, I saw "pedicabs," large rickshaws each powered by a wiry man on a bicycle, often loaded with whole families and bundles of cabbages, or chickens in cages, being brought to market.