Paul is a retired American expat living in Thailand. Besides being an English teacher and translator, Paul likes languages and most sports.
The Author in 1971
1971 was a turning point in my life. After separating from Navy active duty, I had to decide between a career as a high school chemistry teacher or a Chinese linguist.
In this article, I first recall separating from Navy active duty. I then reflect on my immediate trip to Taiwan, living at home, and advice from old college roommates. All played a part in my key life decision.
Separating From Navy Active Duty
January 4, 1971, I remember this date just like it was yesterday. After a snowstorm the night before, I received a five-and-one-half-month early honorable discharge from United States Navy active duty. This happened because the U.S. was planning to withdraw from Vietnam and needed to reduce its active-duty strength of servicemen and women.
I had been stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland, and looking forward to this date for a long time. Shortly after arriving at Fort Meade in March 1970, I decided to get out of the Navy and return to Taiwan to be with my Taiwanese sweetheart Susan. I met Susan a few days before being transferred back to the States on March 1. You cannot imagine how in love I was with her.
After getting my separation orders on Monday morning, I recall the following:
- A trip to Toledo, Ohio, with a Navy buddy
- Visiting old college roommates in Ann Arbor, Michigan
- Living at home for two weeks before departing for Taiwan
1. A Trip to Toledo, Ohio, with a Navy Buddy
John H and I woke up early on Monday morning, January 4, 1971. We were cube mates at Fort Meade and had packed our seabags the night before. Our other personal belongings had already been shipped to our homes of record.
After getting our separation orders, we headed to John's car parked in a lot next to our barracks. We dusted the snow off the windows and then bid a final farewell to Fort Meade.
John was going home to a Chicago suburb and had offered to give me a ride that far. My home, however, was in southeastern Wisconsin.
Since I didn't want to return home immediately, John gave me a lift to Toledo, Ohio, where I had planned a reunion with two old college roommates.
Before getting to Toledo, we made a mid-afternoon stop at Canton, Ohio. John's aunt lived there and had offered to let us stay overnight.
At around 3:00 p.m., we decided to first visit the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton before heading over to John's aunt's home. We toured the Hall player exhibits for about an hour and then checked in with John's aunt.
That evening after dinner, John took me bowling and I rolled a 266, the best game of my life.
2. Visiting Old College Roommates in Ann Arbor, Michigan
The next morning, Tuesday, we continued our trip back home. When we arrived in Toledo in the early afternoon, Marv and Jeff were waiting for me in front of Tennedo's Bar downtown.
I said goodbye to John and then rode in Marv's car up to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Jeff, Marv, and I had been roommates in the Alpha Chi Sigma fraternity from August 1966 until February 1967.
That evening, we all went running Ann Arbor bars and rehashing our time spent together at the University of Michigan. I still remember the big barber chair in one of the bars.
. 3. Living at Home for Two Weeks Before Departing for Taiwan
The next day, Wednesday, I boarded a Greyhound bus in Ann Arbor for Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was finally going home to spend two weeks with mom and dad.
After getting home, it was great to see my siblings and parents again. I remember helping Philip with an English assignment and listening to Milwaukee Bucks games.
My Trip to Taiwan—January–May 1971
Shortly after separating from the Navy, I traveled to Taiwan and lived there from around the end of January until the end of May 1971. I had a girlfriend in Taiwan and wasn't ready to face civilian life in the United States.
In reflecting on my trip to Taiwan, I specifically recall:
- The day of my departure from Milwaukee
- Arrival in Taipei and getting settled
- Studying Chinese and teaching English
- Courting my girlfriend Susan
- Meeting Mona and preparing to leave Taiwan
1. The Day of my Departure from Milwaukee
Since my dad had to work on January 21, he took me to Milwaukee early that morning. With one suitcase in hand, I was bound for my uncle's house on the East Side.
Uncle Augie had agreed to take me to Milwaukee's Mitchell Field that afternoon to catch a plane to Los Angeles that connected to a flight to Taipei.
I remember spending the morning watching Augie roll cigarettes. Right after lunch, I walked downtown and saw an early matinee to kill time. By the end of the movie, it was time to head for the airport.
My four-to-five-hour flight out of Milwaukee was almost an hour late getting into L.A. I only had less than 30 minutes to get on my Northwest connecting flight. Vividly I remember running across the tarmac and boarding my Taipei flight just as the cabin door was being closed.
My Father and Uncle Augie
2. Arrival in Taipei and Getting Settled
After a journey of about 20 hours from Los Angeles, I arrived at Taipei's Sungshan Airport in mid-afternoon on January 23. The trip took so long because my Northwest flight made stops at Honolulu, Guam, and Tokyo before getting to Taipei.
Susan and my Navy buddy's girlfriend were waiting on the tarmac as I disembarked. Lily gave me a big hug and Susan broadly smiled as they approached me.
We quickly hailed a taxi and the girls found a small hotel for me on Chung Shan North Road Section 3 near the U.S. military compounds.
I was exhausted and spent that evening alone in the hotel. It was one of the coldest nights of the year and I was shivering under the covers in an unheated room. Before sleeping, I remember that a Navy acquaintance came to visit and suggested that I find an apartment to rent in Jentan, a nearby Taipei northern suburb.
The next morning, Susan's father met me at the hotel and helped me go apartment hunting in Jentan. We quickly found a two-room small place off Tong He Street. Then, he took me furniture shopping. I remember purchasing a bed, sofa, and a big wardrobe that day.
A few days later, my best Navy friend and also Lily's boyfriend hooked up with me. Since Rick was also living off Tong He Street, he asked whether I wanted to share his apartment. I agreed in a heartbeat because my rent would now be cheaper and I would also have excellent companionship.
3. Studying Chinese and Teaching English
In the first week of February following the Chinese New Year, I visited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Taipei. There I received an entry visa to study Chinese.
I was enrolled in a Chinese Mandarin class at the Mandarin Training Center of the National Taiwan Normal University. My first class would begin on February 8.
The Mandarin Training Center was located on Heping East Road. I rode city buses to get to my classes. I had an individual tutorial where listening and speaking skills were initially emphasized.
Besides studying Chinese, I decided to teach English to earn extra money. An old Navy buddy living in Taipei found me a teaching gig at the New Life Newspaper Office. For four months, I taught a small class of news reporters.
I also found employment at the Tam Kang Language School on Chung Shan North Road until I left Taiwan.
4. Courting My Girlfriend Susan
After arriving in Taipei, I spent a lot of time with Susan over the week-long Chinese New Year holiday which began on January 27. I would see her most of the time in the apartment off Minchuan West Road where she lived with her mother and father.
On the second or third day of the New Year, I treated Susan and her family to a Peking duck dinner in a downtown restaurant.
A few days later, I accompanied Susan and her parents to Taoyuan County to visit some relatives.
Susan and I dated regularly during the four months I spent in Taiwan. Besides going often to her home, we saw movies, went bowling, and once visited Chinshan beach in early May.
I also showed Susan my apartment on one occasion. At that time in either April or May, I proposed marriage. Susan refused my offer and said that I was a poor man with no good employment. This made me feel so heartbroken that I decided to leave Taiwan and return to the States. I had nothing now to live for in Taiwan and no further interest in studying Chinese.
5. Meeting Mona and Preparing to Leave Taiwan.
I booked a ticket with Northwest Airlines to depart Taiwan on or about May 30.
During my last few days in Taiwan, I felt miserable and drowned my sorrow in the evening. On one evening while drinking at a club off Chungshan North Road, I met Mona. She was working there as a waitress. Mona was a shoulder to cry on and she comforted me.
We dated a few times but I had no feelings for Mona. I did, however, give her my U.S. address and said she could write me if she desired.
I sold my bed and sofa to Rick for $100. He didn't want my wooden wardrobe so I gave it to Mona on the day before I left. I can still remember Rick helping me carry the heavy wardrobe down three flights of stairs on a hot and humid day. Mona then had it hauled to her rented room.
Living Back at Home—June–December 1971
I arrived back home at the end of May. My parents and siblings were happy and excited to see me again but I still felt miserable.
I was also now confronted with the reality of adjusting to civilian life in Wisconsin and getting on with my life.
While living with mom and dad, I specifically recall:
- Readjusting to civilian life
- Helping dad tear down a machine shed
- Deciding on a future career
- Seeing for the first time a penpal whom I had known for 10 years
1. Readjusting to Civilan Life
Living in Taiwan for four months seemed like a continuation of Navy life. The problem was that I had no profession, responsibility, or direction in my life. This is probably why Susan refused my hand in marriage.
Reality hit when I returned home. I was broke, unemployed, and undecided about what to do in life.
Since I didn't want to freeload on mom and dad, I immediately applied for unemployment compensation from the State of Wisconsin. I was entitled to this because the Navy gave me early separation.
I also decided to drill with the Navy Reserve in Racine. By attending meetings every Monday evening, I would be able to get away and pick up more income.
At the urging of mom, I also made an appointment with a Burlington dentist to get my badly neglected teeth fixed. She found out the Navy would cover much of the bill.
2. Helping Dad Tear Down a Machine Shed
While I lived at home, mom and dad worked off the farm during the day. Dad didn't have cows and barn chores but he did have an old wooden machine shed that he wanted to tear down. After it was down, he planned to have a new big metal machine shed put up in its place.
For about four weeks in July and August, my brother Philip and I worked taking down the shed. We loaded the wooden debris onto a flatbed wagon and then hauled it to a small empty gravel pit on our land.
3. Deciding on a Future Career
I finally started to ponder my future shortly after returning home.
Although Susan jilted me, I was still in love with Taiwan. After my brother and I took grandma back to Marshfield in June, I applied for employment with the C.I.A. If hired, I could surely use my Chinese and get an assignment in Taiwan. I remember interviewing with an Agency representative in a motel room in Milwaukee. A few days later, I received a rejection notice.
At this point, I considered it useless to think about Taiwan and use my Chinese. Instead, I could easily find employment as a high school chemistry teacher. Since I already had a Bachelor's Degree in chemistry, I would only need to take a few education courses to get certified as a teacher. VA education benefits would pay for this education.
I decided to apply to the University of Wisconsin School of Education in Madison for the first semester of the 1971-72 school year. My acceptance came quickly. During the last week in August, I moved my books and some personal belongings up to the old fraternity that I still belonged to.
A few days later, Jeff and Marv from Michigan came to visit me at my parents' home. They wanted to see the fraternity at the University of Wisconsin and gave me a ride to Madison.
While we were in Madison, we had a beer at Josie's Bar. The subject of conversation turned to my future life plans. When I told my old roommates that I was going to become a high school chemistry teacher, they questioned whether I would be happy. They knew I had already learned Chinese and had been to Taiwan. Marv and Jeff also were aware that I had not used any chemistry for five years.
After admitting that going back to chemistry wasn't my first choice, my friends advised me to do what I loved. I had to admit that I was still passionate about Taiwan and Chinese studies.
My future course in life was decided. I withdrew from the School of Education and applied for admission as a graduate student in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literature. I would have to wait, however, until February 1972 to begin my study.
4. Seeing for The First Time a Pen Pal Whom I Had Known for 10 Years
The fall of 1971 passed quickly because I had a purpose in life.
In September, builders came and quickly put up a big Morton machine shed. Later, I helped dad pour a cement floor for his workshop in the shed.
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I went Christmas shopping and bought my mom and dad a slide projector. My real motive was to have a projector to show my Taiwan color slides.
Then, in the first week of December, I received a letter from my pen pal of ten years, Betty J. It was a pleasant surprise to hear from Betty because it had been almost two years since receiving her last letter.
Betty was now a registered nurse working in Milwaukee. She was also married and living in a Milwaukee northern suburb. Betty invited me to her home for dinner between Christmas and New Year's Day. We finally got together and joyfully shared our life experiences.
On New Year's Eve, I rang in the 1972 New Year by going out to celebrate with a neighbor my age. My life was now only starting to begin.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Paul Richard Kuehn