The disappearing old Taipei
By Hubert Kilian, Special to The China PostThere's not much time left for those who want a glimpse of central Taipei's past. Huaguang Community (華光社區), one of the city's oldest communities and seated at the crossing of Hangzhou South Road and Aiguo Road, is set for demolition — a move both disrespecting its historical value and inhabitants' rights.
February 23, 2013, 12:01 am TWN
Today, the majority of residents have left, leaving behind silent alleys and empty houses. Bulldozers have started their work. The land, owned by the Ministry of Justice and valued at NT$50 billion, will be sold to developers for the construction of what some rumors have named a new “Taipei Wall Street center.”
The early morning traditional market, the quiet and moody lanes at night, the old wooden Japanese houses and the little temple dedicated to Mazu: all will be reduced to dusty memories in a few months.
A loss for Taipei's Urban History
Huaguang Community is a compendium of Taipei's urban history. Built in around 1910 by the Japanese, the site was near Taipei's old prison and was designed to house the penitentiary's staff. After Tokyo's capitulation, it was given to the Ministry of Justice to serve as a dormitory for its employees.
Some who grew up there remember well the atmosphere of the prison's walls. “We used to say that it was dangerous to walk over there, it was like a dark side full of bad spirits,” said Kong Zi-ting (龔子婷), who grew up there while her father was serving in the ministry. The prison was still in service up until the 1960s.
In 1949, Chang Kai-shek brought the R.O.C.'s administration to Taiwan, bringing with him more than 2 million mainlanders. Due to this sudden population influx, small houses were rashly and quickly built all over Taipei.
In Huaguang, free spaces in the large backyards of the Japanese houses became a welcoming spot for displaced families. Later, people came from the south of the island to settle there. And what should have been a short-term settlement lasted ... until now. Justice Ministry employees and the less fortunate lived in the area under the shadow of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, which was built in October 1976, for decades. Their children grew up in those narrow lanes, keeping alive a unique lifestyle and tradition.
“I remember the typhoon days in my childhood. The GIs used to drive their jeeps around here and give us some chocolates, warning us of the coming typhoon. In the place of the Chiang Kai-shek memorial, there was a vast field with barracks used by the armies, with a little river running along Hangzhou South Road, in front of our houses with a lot of little restaurants; it was very animated,” recalled Miss Huang (黃春梅), who owned a famous steam dumpling (also called xiaolongbao, 小籠包), restaurant in the area for years. Last year, she had no choice but to relocate to Hangzhou South Road.
“Everybody used to know each other, providing mutual help. Children were playing in the street. There was a rare and unique sense of community,” said Lee De-ren (李德仁), who was born, grew up and still lives in the district.
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