Down Memory Lane

Memories of Living in Taipei

Our member, Ms Pushpa Chatterjee, shares fond memories of her stay in Taipei’s Shilin district, with Mousumi Gupta.
Ms Pushpa Chatterjee’s husband was a scientist in NASA (The National Aeronautics and Space Administration) during the launch of Apollo 15 in 1971. Apollo 15 was the ninth crewed mission in the United States’ Apollo programme, the eighth to be successful, and the fourth to land on the moon.
Her eyes lit up when she spoke about her husband, who had several achievements to his credit. Ms Chatterjee recalled her experiences of staying in different parts of the world. But the one, which occupies a special corner in her heart, is their stay in Shilin district of Taipei.
“My husband got a chance in mentoring a couple of research students in Shilin district of Taipei after he came back to India. It was a five-year tenure and I accompanied him, because by then our son and daughter had got married and settled in the US.”
“Shilin is a small sleepy hilly town in the suburbs of Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, with its marvellous natural scenery still fresh in my mind. With rain dominating almost nine months a year, we looked forward to sunshine. Language was the major barrier for us there and we had to act and make gestures every time we needed to buy anything from the shops,” reminisced Ms Chatterjee.
“Once to buy sugar, we had to take a glass to the shop and stir the water inside to make them understand,” she said, giggling.
Ms Chatterjee recalled: “But we were astounded to see how hardworking they were, especially the women. There had no helping hands to do the household chores. The women used to go for work with their kids slung from their backs yet climb the hills effortlessly. There were any shopping malls at that time, forcing us to depend on the neighbourhood shops, run out of the residential houses. The male members used to run it mainly but in their absence, the women took over.”
Speaking about Shilin’s beauty, Ms Chatterjee said: “It boasts of many famous scenic spots and historic sites such as Chiang Kai-Shek official residence. I still vividly remember how the guards would stand without blinking their eyes for eight hours in front of Chiang Kai-Shek’s enormous statue. There is a change of guard every eight hours, which is a spectacular sight to watch. The district is home to many museums, including the world famous National Palace Museum.”
Speaking about the local culture, Ms Chatterjee said: “Dragon Dance during the Chinese New year reflects another vibrant side of Taipei. A team of nine performers typically control the dragon, nine being the auspicious number for the Chinese. Each of the vibrant colours depict various things, starting from harvesting to excitement to prosperity.”
“Most people in Shilin or Taipei were lean and thin. They mostly survive on soup and fish. She liked the wanton soup prepared by searing the octopus and squids in hot boiling water with some sizzling. Due to persistent rain, the paddy was short in size and round in shape. Though rice was the staple food for the people there, they never took rice on their menu when they went to a restaurant. They used to have several whole fish dishes (cutting fish is inauspicious in Chinese culture), variety of meat dishes but no rice,” recalled Ms Chatterjee.
“The salubrious weather, friendly and simple people, interesting culture, their joint family set-up everything is still fresh in my mind,” she said.

The Net Melee

Eminent director and our member, Mr Shyamal Sengupta, narrates an amusing episode during his stint as an interior decorator, to Mousumi Gupta.
Years ago, Mr Sengupta got the opportunity of a lifetime to decorate then Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi’s room in Delhi.
He obviously felt honoured and humbled as he carried out the interior decoration whole-heartedly. It was highly appreciated by Mrs Gandhi. He came back satisfied to Kolkata, then Calcutta, after completing his assignment.
“However, soon after I landed in Calcutta, I got a telephone call from Mrs Gandhi’s secretary saying that a key element was missing in the décor. To my utter surprise, I was then told that I had missed out arranging for a mosquito net in the PM’s room,” said Mr Sengupta.
“I actually didn’t know that I was supposed to arrange for a mosquito net. So what followed next was the specification—it had to be cotton, pink in colour and that too must be complemented with pink frills and delivered to her residence the next day. How could I ignore the Prime Minister’s request!?” reminisced Mr Sengupta.
Mr Sengupta directly went to a popular mosquito net market in south Kolkata’s Chetla Haat. After looking around in several shops, he arrived at the conclusion that mosquito nets of various categories and specifications were available but all in white colour. “But the PM’s choice was pink! So, I asked one of the shop owners to buy Ranjak soap (used to dye clothes in those days) and colour the white mosquito net into pink,” said Mr Sengupta.
“The shopkeeper agreed, but nature played spoilsport. It was monsoon. And it kept raining intermittently. So, the big question was how to dry the mosquito net overnight,” recalled Mr Sengupta.
He then asked the shop owner to arrange for six big chulhas (portable clay ovens) to help dry up the mosquito net. The whole night, the net was hung up after dyeing in the heat generated by the burning clay ovens.
The precious pink mosquito net was parceled by a flight to Delhi the next morning before it could be handed over to the staff of its rightful owner.
“The hullabaloo over the simple pink mosquito net will forever be etched in my mind,” said a smiling Mr Sengupta.