(Also see our Guide to a Kaohsiung Trip)
Built between the 1940s-1960s, 眷村 (juàn cūn), or military dependents’ villages are built by the government to house the families of the displaced KMT military when they retreated to Taiwan after a failed uprising in China. In recent years, the Taiwanese government has stepped up their efforts to “reclaim” these villages and redevelop them into economy-appropriate apartment blocks.
First slated for demolition in June 2011, Zuoying’s Zi Zhu Xin Chun 左營自助新村 in Kaohsiung seemed destined to meet a similar fate of destruction. That is, until two female university students who heard about the news, and with the approval of the village tenants, set out to commemorate the village by creating art for and about the village. Their theme 「眷村裡迷路」, which translates to “getting lost in the village”, saw walls becoming canvases, window ledges becoming altars to lapsed youth (hello Happy Meal toys and old cassette tapes), trees becoming new homes for creepy dolls. Over time, more students got involved in the project with their own messages: often of hope and love, sometimes of nostalgia and memories, but almost always imbued with their own ambitions and dreams. People came in troves, there was plenty of publicity and media attention about the village, and for a while, demolition didn’t seem like a popular course of action (ha!).
I first got to know about this place while researching for the Kaohsiung guide. Taken by photographs of the art and the numerous blog entries (most were written in Mandarin) about the place, I immediately put it at the top of my To-Go list. I later found out that demolition of the place would finally start in end-November 2012, but I had hoped that the date would yet be postponed again. And it was! However, when we visited, most of the tenants have moved out and whatever was left of the few stalls that were in business were no longer. The village probably won’t hold out for long, and if you want to see the place, it’s best to start planning a trip soon :)
The mayor of Kaohsiung Chen Chu 陳菊, also affectionately known as “花媽”, seems to be a rather popular public figure. A literal translation of the moniker would be “Flower Mother” – the flower being a reference to the “菊” character in her name, which means “chrysanthemum” in Mandarin. We saw her caricature／mascot on banners, public transport, shop signs, Chinese New Year scrolls etc. For a political figure, I must say her line of merchandise, official or not, is pretty darn impressive. We found in the village this baby blanket with her caricature embroidered on it.
And for a taste of how the village used to look a year or two ago:
The entrance to the village sits opposite Hai-Ching Senior High School of Technology and Commerce on Bìshèng Road (必勝路).
We took a train to Zuoying (左營) station and then rode a cab to the village – the fare came up to slightly less than S$10. It is quite a great distance to walk from the station and according to Google Maps, a bus ride will take the better part of an hour. If you have access to a car and are comfortable driving, it is probably the best option.
Related Links / Sources
A great blog post on the place, with tons of photos