Taipei Air Station - 1966 - - - " What you have in the end are memories"......... Photo Courtesy of Richard Reesh.

Friday, March 2, 2012

More of "From a Yankee Notebook in Taiwan"

During the past two years, we have posted a number of articles, penned by Joe Books, in his hardback, non-fiction book, From A Yankee Notebook in Taiwan.

Earlier today, while paging through his book, looking for an appropriate article to present in a new Blog Post, I realized, most readers of Joe’s articles have little or no background on Joe Brooks, who he was, where he came from, what he did.

Here is the,  ”Introduction” to Joe’s book, written by Spencer Moosa.

            Some of the best historians are not professors, dripping with academic degrees, who write ponderous tomes.  More often than not, they are persons who catch the spirit of the times and the feel of a place by chronicling minor events that would otherwise go unrecorded; who delight in the foibles of their fellow men; who might or might not be punctilious about elegance of phrasing; who pound their typewriters to catch deadlines and who have a perceptive eye and attentive ear.

            Such a person is Joe Brooks, soldier turned columnist, who for the past two years has been delighting many people – and, if I must be conceded, agonizing a few – with his thrice-weekly column “From A Yankee Notebook.”  Readers of Taipei’s CHINA POST are familiar with his chronicling, a selection of which forms this book.

            Joe gives evidence of being a complex character.  He writes with the wonder of a child, and the compassion of an old, old man.  He can laugh, and he can cry.  He can be roused to gargantuan anger by anything mean and vicious, such as the theft of his dog, Happy, who romped through his home and his columns, but who disappeared one day to end, Joe feared, in someone’s stew pot.  Joe wrote in his column that if he ever caught the thief, he would punch him in the nose, and take the consequences.

            One of Joe’s more admirable characteristics is that he never tries to be superior.  In his record of lesser people and lesser events, he is never a caricaturist.  Always, except for people like the unidentified thief who stole Happy, he displays a profound sympathy with the underdog and infinite pity for the poor and the unfortunate.  He is possessed, too, of an immense curiosity.  We find this reflected, for example, in his visits to restaurants which the average foreigner would shun but which, to Joe, are rich with mouth-watering gastronomic delights.  Even a single vicarious excursion with him to one of these restaurants is worth the price of this book.

            Joe has a style all of his own.  Who can quarrel with him when he refers to a “cyclist” as a “biker”?  Maybe it should have been “biker” in the first place.  And who can quarrel with him if he occasionally confuses sentiment with sentimentality, or flirts with prolixity?

            Joe never dreamed he was going to become a writer.  Born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1918, and educated in Oregon, he began his career in the traffic department of the Union Pacific Railroad.  Came Pearl Harbor, his enlistment in the army and, eventually, three years service in China (1946-‘49).  Joe fell in love with China – the old, authentic China, now exemplified in the province of Taiwan – and soon developed an abiding hatred for the Communists. 

            In 1951 he transferred to duty in the Republic of Korea and played a part, worthy of a chapter to itself, in suppressing riots among prisoners of war in the U.N. camps.  He resigned from the army in 1953 and, the same year, went to Taiwan, where he went to work for the Broadcasting Corporation of China.  Later he joined the CHINA POST and, before long, became its city editor.  From the CHINA POST he moved to Radio Station BEC-27, The Voice of MAAG Taiwan, but continued his column in the newspaper.

            In Korea, five years ago, Joe adopted two orphans, Jackie, now seventeen, and Tony, now fourteen.  As if that weren’t enough responsibility for a bachelor, Joe had to go and adopt another boy, a homeless Chinese orphan he found on the streets of Taipei two years ago.  That was Gordon, now twelve.  Joe’s affection for the youngsters finds frequent expression in his column.  Today, thousands of persons in Taiwan, who have never met them, none the less, know of Jackie, Tony and Gordon and the hapless Happy.

            Joe’s heart is as big as himself, which is saying a lot.  He weighs 280 lb. and his girth is accentuated by his modest height of five feet nine and a half inches.  Unfortunately, he is a man of substance only in bulk, and not as bankers would interpret the term.

            This book is, therefore, all the more a big venture – and adventure – for Joe Brooks; and no one will begrudge him success.  If he succeeds, we know who will benefit the most:  Jackie and Tony and Gordon.  And let us not forget Mickey, Mickey who took Happy’s place.

Taipei, Taiwan                                                                                   Spencer Moosa
December 1st, 1955.

And here,  is Joe Brooks'  “Preface” to his book:

            In this book, I have told the story of Taipei as seen through my eyes.  I most certainly don’t expect everyone who reads it to agree with me, for like the three blind men and the elephant – there are just too many things in life here to get a hold on.

            First let me say that in these stories my first intent and hope has been never to knowingly hurt or bring pain to anyone.  There are too many beautiful things – and ugly things can be made beautiful, too – to spend time and effort in cutting down individuals.  But, there are many essences in any city which are faulty or cruel, and sometimes these have been selected for my sketch of the day.

            “Yankee Notebook” came into being one day in January 1954 when I went with the CHINA POST as first a writer, later a general editor and finally City Editor.  In those days the paper needed a column of some sort; something which could capture the heart of Taipei on paper and give it to the people in some sort of readable form.  No one knows better than myself how short I have been in reaching this goal.  However, I hope that I have put into words for many readers, the sights, scenes and emotions they have observed and allowed to go otherwise unrecorded. 

            The individual stories contained herein have been taken almost intact from their original settings in the column.  They are given to you here in the same, rambling general style in which each subject seemed to call for and only obvious errors in words, style and form have been erased; certainly none of the faulty grammar or literary fractures have been amended. Also note – any order of appearance is purely accidental.

            Finally, let it be said that it is only through the kindness of Nancy Yu Huang, Publisher of CHINA POST, that the column, or this book, came into being.  Certainly, that the column appeared in her paper at all is sufficient evidence of her liberal attitude toward journalistic standards.  Simply a case, I always say, of the “end justifying the end.”

Taipei, Taiwan                                                                                   Joe Brooks
December, 1955

Having been introduced to Joe Brooks, I thought we should include in today’s post, an explanation of how things were going in Joe’s life, with three young boys in the house.  

Here’s the article, taken from his book.


As many of my readers already know, I have what may be properly be called an “International House,” --  what with three adopted children.  Would you like to meet them?  O.K.!

First meet Jackie and Tony..... my two little Korean tykes I picked up in March of 1951 at the 38th Parallel.  Jackie is now 16 and when he left Korea a week ago was in the second year of upper middle school – the tenth grade.  Tony is the little on of the pair, now just 13 years old and more or less on the gnome like side – with a disposition to match.

These two I just brought from Korea where they had been attending boarding school.  My Korean language while adequate in some respects is far from fluent; my Japanese limited to almost nothing while their English and Chinese is made up of a hodgepodge of carious words and phrases.  The result of a real tower of Babel when we talk with a grand conglomeration of all four languages and a few gesticulations thrown in for seasoning.

The third member of the household is Gordon, a 12-year-old Chinese boy of Hunanese extraction. H came to my house about the middle of October last year and since his arrival has been a suitable substitute for the alarm clock – which just lays around gathering dust now.  Who needs an alarm clock with a little boy powered with 16-cylinder dynamite and who gets up at the crack of dawn?

The neighbors are beginning to look at me with a troubled air, appalled by the reverberations emanating from my little house each morning, now that the power-package of noise has been trebled with the arrival of Jackie and Tony.  I have come to the conclusion that the only thing to insure peaceful living and a full morning’s sleep is to bribe the cook to put a “Mickey” in their morning milk.

Well, you’re just as wrong as I was!

Tony and Gordon welcomed each other like long lost brothers.  Fifteen minutes after they were in the house together they were jabbering away with a perfect understanding because they both came to me at almost the same time and asked if it wasn’t time to go to the movies – which I had mentioned in a foolish moment.

There is a Chinese story called the “Hung Lu Meng” – which has a quaint, old character called “Auntie” Lu – the native version of a country cousin just come to town.  I hoped that the boys would not be in too much awe of all they were seeing in the big city. They weren’t. 

The second day – they found a ping pong table in my downtown office building and now they arrive faithfully about thirty minutes after I hit work.  I was deeply touched by their affectionate following of their old father around – until I found out about the ping pong table.

And just a little advice – so to speak – from a new father.  Don’t give little boys bicycles.  It only leads to headaches, worries, bloodshed and doctor’s bills.  Jackie, Tony and Gordon have bicycles and since the arrival of the two boys this week – casualties sound like one week at the battlefront.  Jackie has a black eye, an almost broken leg, scratches, bruises and various contusions – while his bicycle has a new rear wheel – the old one having been demolished by a runaway load of steel bars on a handcart.

Tony has roughly fifteen square inches of skin removed from elbows, knees and behind – a great respect for the solid brick walls of Taipei and a world of experience in riding a new bike.

I have bought new pairs of pants, two sport shirts, a small fortune in iodine, bandages, liniment – and aspirin.  The aspirin is for me.  Tomorrow I am going shopping for a pair of old-fashioned earmuffs and a crystal ball.  The earmuffs are obvious while the latter – is to tell me what horrors to expect on each inevitable tomorrow.

Anybody want three little boys?

Reprinted with permission. 
Joe Brooks wrote a column for the China Post newspaper in the mid 1950s.

  This story and other articles found in this Blog came from his book, 
"From A Yankee Notebook in Taiwan"

Find more information about Joe Brooks and this series of articles HERE

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