From the year 2000 to 2004, though I resided in Kaohsiung and my main job was in Tainan, I was “on call” for work in Taipei. One summer I went there every Thursday morning and returned home at about midnight on Friday. Because I was unfamiliar with Taipei, I spent most of my nights away nights in little hotels on back lanes near the center of town. Evenings in a hotel room can be rather boring, so I’d often wander around. In many places I found shells of former houses that appeared to date back to the immediate post-war years. The thickness of the trees growing out of former floors through former roofs testified to how long it had been since these had been occupied.
The house next to my current residence in Michigan is also nobody’s home. An artist who lives with his wife a few blocks away uses it as a studio. Apparently nobody has lived there for over a decade. But, because this town prides itself on appearances, and because the artist is no dummy, the paint is fresh, the lawns are mowed, and the snow gets shoveled. This contrasts greatly with those house shells in Taipei. They are more like the Alfa Romeo rusting to dust in Tainan.
(Image by Husky Kuma from Pixabay)
The “north campus” at Tainan Theological College (across a narrow lane from the “south campus”) hosts faculty housing, the library, the women’s dormitory and the Sin-lau Kindergarten. It has gates on Chin-nien Road and Sin-lau Street. There’s also a side gate that opens onto a lane leading to Chien-fong Road. That lane dead ends just beyond that gate, ending in a scrap of private property over which someone has built a roof under which sits an Alfa Romeo sedan of 1990s vintage. Befitting an Alfa, the car was once bright red. When we took up residence on the college campus in 2008 it was moderately dust covered. If a cat walked across it, one could see the tracks. By the time we left in 2018, the dust had hardened like plaster and the car itself sat lower to the ground because the tires had gone very, very flat. (The car was still there in 2020.)
A friend once told me of one reason for empty house shells. A surfeit of heirs had come into portions of possession, and one or more of them, in dispute with others, refused to sign off on a sale. It makes me wonder about the Alfa Romeo. Does it belong to too many people? Is it someone’s prize possession, being held onto until its value comes back up? Is it awaiting restoration? Or has it just fallen between owners and the motor vehicle authorities haven’t yet seized it for non-payment of registration?
In these days of plague, my wife and I are probably not the only ones updating a will.
David Alexander now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.