I grew up in Taiwan and immigrated to the United States when I was twelve years old. Growing up there in the 80's and the 90's, I still remembered the old Taiwan before it became the modern country that it is today. The city development invaded into the tropic jungle that once covered the island in its entirety. As the city grew, it slowly swallowed up the old landscape that was originally rural and agricultural. I remember there were numerous, nameless and unpaved backstreets, old and abandoned farm houses, overgrown pockets of vegetation which served as short cuts to school and playground after school.
They also provide my friends and I endless backdrops and settings for scary stories that we made up to frighten each other. It is common past time back in those days that we gather around the adults after dinner listening to them telling the scary stories. Everyone had scary stories to tell and they always claimed that the stories were real. Perhaps, it is in the Chinese culture to frighten ourselves with stories of ghosts and spirits that we maintain a healthy respect for the unknown and the unseen.
"Shin-Hai" tunnel is one of the oldest tunnel that was built for the development of the Taipei city. It connects one of the nearby rural areas to the Taipei City for faster transportation. It was notorious for accidents due to its poor lighting and steep curves.
A taxi driver picked up a young woman on the city side of the "Shin-Hai" tunnel around midnight on a rainy night. She told the driver to take her through the tunnel and that her home is just five minutes away from the other side of the tunnel. The taxi driver turned on his meter and proceed through the tunnel. The young woman sat in the backseat quietly. She did not respond when the taxi driver tried to strike up a conversation. She was also motionless the entire trip. The driver pulled up to an old house, and the young woman apologized to the driver that she had forgot her purse at work. She asked him to wait outside and she will go get money from her house. The taxi driver saw her went into the house. He waited and waited until twenty minutes had gone by. He grew inpatient and went knocking on the door. An old man answered the door with a one hundred New Taiwanese Dollar (NTD) in his hand. The taxi driver was very mad and told the old man how he had wasted 20 minutes waiting outside. The old man stood there and let the driver finished his rant. The old man said, "I am sorry. That was my daughter. She died three years ago in a car accident on the other side of the tunnel. Since the day of the accident, she comes home every night."
"Quanfu Elementary School"
"Quanfu" literally translates to reclaim or liberate in English. It was the name of my elementary school in Taiwan. Such patriotic theme was common back in the days when the Taiwanese sought legitimacy and international recognition separate from the mainland China.
Many schools and government buildings in Taiwan back then were old buildings constructed during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan from the 1890's to 1940's. "Quanfu" elementary school was one them. The oldest building of the school was a 4 stories tall circular building which was a very unusual architecture for its time. Floors two, three and four had a circular hallway around and were open in the middle so one can look down to the first floor. There is a large circular skylight on the ceiling. No teacher would admit to it, but based on official government records, this building were used as a prison during the Japanese occupation where prisoners were tortured and executed. Prisoners were hung from the fourth floor inside the building to serve as examples for others. I remembered that no students were ever allowed to go up to the fourth floor when I attended school there.
The story tells that some six graders (few years ahead of my time), sneaked into the circular building one night on a dare. What seemed like a silly prank ended with one of the student falling over the ledge around the circular opening and died from his injury. It was rumored that the students found that the gate to the fourth floor was left unlocked, probably forgotten by the janitor. They climbed up the stairs to explore the fourth floor. The circular hall way was only lit by the moon light through the skylight. All the rooms seemed very old. They peeked into the rooms through the windows and found most of the rooms contained very old Japanese furniture including desks, chairs and file cabinets. As they were leaving one of the student saw something in a room and was startled. He peddled backwards and tripped over the ledge around the circular opening. Confused and terrified, the rest of the students ran out of the building. One of them looked into the room as he ran past the it. In it he saw decapitated heads piled on the floor and the bodies wearing clothes from the early 1900s. As he ran down the stairs, he could hear crying and people yelling in Japanese behind him.
Taiwan has a mandatory 2-year military service for young men when they are 18. I personally did not have to serve since I left when I was twelve. Many of my friends as well as members of my family served in military. My father served in the Taiwanese Army in the 60's. During the of the service, most people are only allowed to visit home once a month. Imagine a bunch of 18 year-old young men, barely graduated from high school, get taken away from home and placed into bases located deep in the jungles or some tiny remote islands off the coast. Homesick and terrified of the new surroundings, one can only imagine the fear these men faced on their first night watch at these remote outposts.
My father told me an incident that happened to his platoon. They were doing the training exercise called "night march." It was an exercise in which the platoon had to march from one base to another in the in the cover of darkness within certain time limit. Failure to achieve this objective often led to revoking passes to the monthly visit home. At the time, my father's platoon were stationed in the bases located in Nantou county, part of the central mountain system of Taiwan, where a large part of the landscape is still covered by the jungle. My father said that "night march" is one of the more dreaded exercises they had to do. There had been many accidents associated with this exercise, such as the platoon getting separated and lost in the jungle or the platoon leader not paying attention and led the sleepy soldiers behind falling a cliff.
That night, his platoon received the march order from the central command, a 20 kilometer march in full battle gear through the jungle after a whole day of training. The fog had came in and the visibility were very poor. The only light sources were their own personal flash light, which they were not allowed to use without permission from the platoon leader. The whole platoon were exhausted and they had 4 hours to complete the objective. As they were marching, people were losing their footing left and right. My father said some of his squad mates were practically asleep marching on their feet. About halfway, the platoon leader gave the order to stop and allow the soldiers to rest for 10 minutes. My father was initially quite relieved from the much needed break, but the he realized the platoon leader had stopped right next to an old abandoned burial grounds. These unattended burial grounds were not uncommon during the 50's and 60's when many poor farmers who had no money for proper burials would leave the dead in swallow, unmarked and sometimes, uncovered graves. My father said that he could smell the rot in the cold, damp mountain air. He did not even dare to protest or warn his squad mates about their location when some of the them started taking a piss neared the swallow graves. His squad leader gave the order to sound off before starting the march again.
"One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve... thirteen."
There were only twelve people in his squad.
"Which one of you idiots is too sleepy to count straight?! Drop and give me twenty."
Everyone in the squad groaned. My father said he was so furious at the squad mate who messed it up for everyone else. Whoever it was, he better hoped that people could not figure out who he was. The thought of staying next to the burial ground and doing push up were just terrifying.
"One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve... thirteen."
"Who did this? Wake the f___ up!"
Another twenty pushups.
"One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve.... thirteen."
"This is not funny anymore. Whoever it is, please stop."
Another twenty pushups ordered from the squad leader. By this time, my father's squad is the only squad that remained next to the swallow graves.
Then he heard his squad leader,
"What the f___, we are next to a ___, let's get h___out of here."
My father was relieved to hear that. By now all his squad mates had realized where they were and everyone was freaked out. Everyone ran as fast as they could.
To this day, my father could not tell if it was a prank from his squad mates or not. He played that voice who yelled thirteen again and again in his mind. He said it does not sound like any of his squad mates. He was number twelve and he was certain no one was behind him. At least he hoped so.....
"It is busy out there tonight."
My friend, Eric, who served in the Taiwanese Army in the 2000's told me his story while he was stationed in a remote outpost in Taitung county.
Eric was a smart guy, skinny bookworm type with glasses. He had already been accepted to college prior to be enlisted. To his surprise, military service was not bad at all for him. Since he had already been accepted to college, his platoon leader assigned to him to light duties such as bookkeeping and other various office jobs. He was excused from most of the physical trainings.
His bunk mate, a native Taiwanese from the nearby country side, was some sort of prankster who claimed he can see ghost and spirits. Eric said most people just laugh it off when his bunk mate reported the "paranormal activities" out in the woods during night shifts.
One night, Eric was on night watch duty from 1am to 4am. His bunkmate was the previous shift and as they were switching off, his bunkmate said in a very serious tone,
"It is busy out there tonight. Keep your eyes open."
Eric was not amused by this. He almost wanted to introduce the butt of his rifle to his bunk mate's face. Grudgingly, Eric stepped out into the bitter cold and darkness.
The entrance of the base is well lit. Nothing happened as Eric stood in the bitter cold for the first two hours. Eric said it was probably around 3 am when he saw someone flip over the wall and ran toward the officer's bunk. Startled, Eric moved cautiously toward the officer's bunk. It is not uncommon that some senior officer would sneak off base to the nearby town for a drink or two. Eric did not want to cause any trouble that could jeopardize his cushy assignments. He found one of the officer's bunk window was lit. He peeked in the window and found one of the officer awake sitting at his desk. The officer noticed him and called Eric to the window.
Eric explained to the officer what he saw and that he was investigating if someone has sneaked into the base. Eric also told the officer that his bunk mate has been telling spooky stories which making him a bit more nervous. The officer laughed and told Eric don't believe that nonsense. Reassured, Eric returned to the post and switched off with the next shift.
The next morning, Eric went to look for the senior officer wanting to thank him for his encouragement from the previous night. However, he was unable to find the officer. When he arrived at the officer's bunk, he found that the room he was at last night has not been in use for many years. Other people at the base told Eric it belonged to an old officer from China who had no family in Taiwan. He died in a accident 5 years ago when he sneak out of the base to drink and returned drunk. The officer fell asleep behind a military truck and was accidentally ran over by the driver the next morning.