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Customs and traditions Taiwanese history

Buffalo Town, Taipei’s legendary apartheid disco

During my first night in Taipei I ended up in a disco called Buffalo Town, which in many ways was a quite special place.

I forgot at what time of the day I arrived in Taipei in August 1988, but I have vivid memories of my first night in the city. The friend that had picked me up at the airport took me to a MTV, where you could rent your own room to watch (often pirated) movies. In lack of other facilities that would provide some privacy, quite a few Taiwanese took the chance to fulfil specific physical (or physiological?) needs there, too! MTVs were very popular in the 1980s, but when I returned to Taiwan in May 1999, most of them had disappeared due to the surge of the internet.

We decided to watch “Young Frankenstein”, a 1974 horror comedy with Marty Feldman. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a Japanese voice-over copy, with no English subtitles available. I had just finished an intensive course, so at that time my Japanese was far better than my Chinese. Nevertheless, as my buddy didn’t speak Nippon’s language and we both couldn’t understand the original version properly, at the service counter we quickly exchanged it for “Conan, the Barbarian” with Arnold Schwarzenegger. The funny thing is that I never watched that movie again, nor tried to see the one we actually had in mind first.

Then we went to sleazy Buffalo Town, Taiwan’s first real and maybe in those days only disco. Illegally opened in an upper floor of the same building as the MTV, many foreigners who visited still consider it to be an essential part of the island’s “Wild Wild West” period in the final stage of martial law, lifted in 1987, and shortly afterwards. Amazing that while all whites could get in free, all Taiwanese had to pay a cover of 200 New Taiwan dollars, which was a little fortune back then. If American Chinese showed their valid US passports, they became “honorary whites” for a few hours. On the contrary, and I witnessed this myself, overseas Chinese from the Philippines weren’t so lucky. After a lengthy discussion, pointing at their “wrong” identification documents, they gave in and paid the required fee.

I have often wondered what could have happened if anybody would have tried to implement such a racist policy against locals in Western Europe! In East Germany it wasn’t unheard of, as at least some foreign students from other Socialist countries (like Algeria) received their scholarships in US dollars and therefore had foreign money in their pockets. They used to easily get into one of the few available entertainment venues, or to buy certain favors from local women. This kind of discrimination caused a lot of bad blood against those privileged Algerians.

Anyway, my fellow student from Berlin and myself had a lot of fun. The music was excellent. I will forever associate two songs, Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier” and Modern Talking’s “Brother Louie” with the crazy dancing over there. Also, plenty of girls obviously interested in foreigners were available! That night nothing happened, but maybe a month later, when I was wearing a t-shirt from Spanish heavy metal band Barón Rojo (“Red Baron”), I took a Taiwanese lady home, which turned out to be a Mormon! We had sex, which wasn’t particularly good. The great moment came the next morning, when she asked me how old I was. I said “21”, whereupon she exclaimed: “You are too young!” Quite surprised I asked back: “For what?” Being actually 29 years old, she responded: “To marry me!”

Luckily, she didn’t get angry when she realized that she had made a big tactical mistake, and didn’t insist. We still met for another two weeks, and then she suddenly disappeared. I never saw her again, and I can only hope that she found a loving husband. 30 years ago, an unmarried woman of her age would be considered a spinster, so she was under big pressure.

More than ten years later, Buffalo Town was long gone and the whole area had changed a lot. I always thought that the main reason had been the missing license, a total lack of any fire protection devices or other security issues. In reality, an Australian guy “fell off the roof”. Many said he was thrown off the 12th floor for banging the wrong chick, which could have been the girlfriend of a Mafioso.

One of my former roommates told me in 2000 that at another discotheque called Kiss, which is also history now, he saw how at the entrance a group of local man were repeatedly banging a foreigner’s head against a stone lion. My pal thought they would kill him! Obviously that American got luckier, as he was later seen alive with a bandaged head.

Nowadays, a place like Buffalo Town would be inconceivable in Taipei, a very modern and open city with plenty of upscale locations. So that old down-and-out joint had something special that I never found anywhere else again…

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