My husband, Michael, was the president of a company in Tempe that designed and marketed ladies handbags. The company had been started by a husband and wife team in the modest garage of their home in Canada, and it grew into a widely successful enterprise, successful enough to move from Toronto to Phoenix, Arizona. The bags were unique in that they were designed to accommodate a woman’s portable possessions in a neatly organized fashion with a place for everything. They became so popular in the 1970’s that I could observe every second woman on the street carrying one.
The couple decided to sell the company, collect their millions and move back to Toronto. They needed someone to run the company during the transition and Michael was that person. He took over the management and the company flourished even more. He outsourced the manufacturing of the product to a company in Taiwan because it was economically advantageous. Therefore he traveled frequently to Asia on business.
In the summer of 1978 he was able to take me with him. His associate, John, invited his wife, June, to accompany us so that I would have a companion while the men were busy conducting their business. The plane trip took twenty hours, but it was quite comfortable and luxurious traveling first class. I remember a spiral staircase leading up to a dining area. Every table had a tablecloth and fresh flowers. The food was good and the waiter served us wine. There was a cocktail lounge and all the comforts of a hotel.
We finally arrived in Tokyo where we transferred to another plane (not so luxurious) and headed for Taiwan. We arrived in the middle of the night (in our heads) and prepared to deplane, tired and ready to sleep. As we stepped off the plane, nine Taiwanese gentlemen greeted us. Two of them literally dropped a red carpet before us as we walked forward. Like royalty, we marched to a car awaiting us. We hoped we were heading to a nice hotel with soft warm beds. However, the nine Taiwanese gentlemen were determined to extend their hospitality further by treating us to dinner—Taiwan style.
The nine gentlemen, John and June and Michael and I were seated at a large round table with a large Lazy Susan server in the middle with all kinds of food to serve ourselves as it turned. It was not the kind of Chinese food I was used to at home. Some of it was raw fish that turned my tired stomach. Also, after dinner we were subjected to an old Chinese custom. In order to show their respect for the guests at the table, each of the nine hosts raised his glass (of some kind of strong wine) and not only toasted each of us separately but asked a question in English to show interest in each person. My gentleman addressed me and politely asked, “In Arabia there was a woman who told many stories. What was the name of this woman?” Luckily, I knew the answer: “Scheherazade,” I said. Modeling a Purse for Michael, “Ah, he said, how you spell this?” He took out a little notebook and wrote as I spelled. (I have no idea to this day as to the correct spelling, but I had fulfilled my social obligation).
The next day, after some much needed sleep, June and I were introduced to a handsome young man who was to be our personal guide. His name was Howard Fan. He had studied American customs and language specifically for his position as our guide. To our amazement, he knew the names of all the bridges in New York. He knew the main products of many of the states in the US. He spoke a clear and precise though bookish English. He drove us all over Taipei and showed us all the sights and places of interest and told us their history. Howard took us to the movies. The picture was “The Towering Inferno” with Chinese subtitles starring Steve McQueen. There were scenes of the skyscraper ablaze and people jumping out of the windows. The Fire Chief (McQueen) arrives and stares up at the water tower and knows that the only way to fight the fire is to have someone go up to release the water. But who? Then he realizes that he is the only one qualified, and he says, “Oh shit!” I turned to Howard and said “How do you say that in Chinese?” He told me. It sounded something like “Taiwong.”
After we left Taiwan, we went on to visit Seoul, South Korea. Then Osaka, Japan and Hong Kong. I could go on and on since each place has its own story to tell. But, since space is limited I’ll save them for another time. However, I will briefly describe what I remember about each place, my most vivid memory. In Korea, we stayed at a luxurious hotel with all the amenities of home. However, I was afraid to leave the hotel, even to go for a walk around the block for fear of getting lost and unable to find my way back. Nobody spoke English. The signs were in a strange language and alphabet. I felt completely alien. People looked at me strangely and nobody smiled. In Osaka the Japanese were friendly and some spoke English, but they were very formal. There was lots of bowing according to specific rules about how low to bow depending on the relative age of the bowers. The older the lady the lower we were expected to bow. Hong Kong was more comfortable. Everyone spoke English, and we did lots of shopping. When we finally headed home we stopped in Hawaii. It so felt like home that I was strongly tempted to kiss the ground. Instead I settled for a Hawaiian Pineapple Margarita.