Mr. Hollywood with James Wang and Rebecca Rees in Taipei.
It was January 28th, 1986, and I had just arrived to work on The Brave Little Toaster at Wang Film Studios, a.k.a. Cuckoo’s Nest. I had been put up at the China Hotel, and must have arrived on the weekend as the studio was closed during my first full day there. After breakfast at the hotel, I took a walk to check out the town.
I was just 23 years old, and found the city of Taipei to be like the land of Blade Runner. The buildings, the lighting, the smells, and the noise let me know with no uncertainty that I was far from the animator's safe haven of Burbank. Taipei was very loud, and on the eve of Chinese New Year, firecrackers went off constantly throughout the city, with rolls running the height of three story buildings. Most all signage was in Chinese, rendering me illiterate. American fast-food was there; Wendy's, Pizza Hut (with ketchup in lieu of tomato sauce on their pizza) and of course, McDonald's. As I approached a life-size, fiberglass Ronald McDonald on the sidewalk, a small boy puked a strawberry milkshake at his feet - a National Geographic photo-op missed. It was all so intensely bizarre and exhilarating, I strolled around like a Replicant, drawing stares for being a strawberry-blonde haired, green-eyed freak.
Day one in Taipei.
Walking past a large, shiny department store, my green eyes caught a bank of TVs in the showcase window with footage of what appeared to be the space shuttle exploding. I stopped short, taking a closer look next to a couple of locals. The footage was on a thirty second loop, the shuttle exploding, then back intact, then exploding, then back intact. The locals were talking about it, but in Chinese, so why was I eavesdropping? I went into the store to hear the TV commentary. It was an American news report dubbed in Chinese. I could hear a familiar voice (Brokaw?) reporting, but Chinese translation transposed on the tape made it very difficult to decipher. The Chinese news also added musical score for dramatic effect. Really.
Hours later, I met up with some of my American Toaster crew mates and learned that the shuttle had, indeed, exploded killing the entire crew. Every January 28th since, when reminded of the disaster, I flash back to the front of that Chinese department store and that bank of televisions, luring people to come shop with a loop of the Challenger exploding during Chinese New Year. Shin yen kwai le!