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Hopping down memory lane in Taiwan’s Rainbow Village

Artwork in Rainbow Village

Artwork in Rainbow Village  

Taichung’s best kept secret is a village of whimsical cartoon characters, hieroglyphs and cheery flowers that tell a fascinating story

Flying fish and rotund pandas, a bull that looks like a bird, girls with pigtails in bright skirts, a bearded Chinaman playing a drum, candy-pink hearts, patterns, swirls and stripes — the whole wall is an incredible burst of colour. Images that appear to be part of a surreal dream, jump out of the tops of roofs, walls, windows and even the floor at Rainbow Village, in a sleepy, nondescript suburb of Taichung, Taiwan’s second-largest city.

Looking back

Not long ago, this was a drab row of more than 1,200 concrete houses, one of the many characterless military settlements built for old soldiers, who had fought in the Chinese Civil War on mainland China. They were established when Chiang Kai Shek and many of his loyal soldiers fled mainland China during the Civil War.

Once there were as many as 800 such colonies across Taiwan, but now only about 30 remain. In the bid for modernisation, these pockets of tradition started disappearing under the wrecker’s ball. Huang Yung Fu, a nonagenarian military veteran originally from Guangdong province in China, who did not want to leave his home of three decades, took up a brush and cans of paint and started painting his home with these quirky images, in an attempt to stave off the bulldozer. Slowly, he started using the 11 abandoned homes and the pathways, as a canvas too, letting his imagination run wild.

Later, young students from nearby Ling Tung University came to visit. They were touched by the veteran’s story and his peaceful protest, and petitioned the government to stop demolition and the rest is history. The government allowed the popular spot to remain as an art park, and today, it’s one of Taichung City’s main attractions, with more than a million tourists flocking to this small village, in a year.

“Even Bruce Lee, the famous martial arts expert, has visited the village and met Rainbow Grandpa, as he’s called now,” explains local guide Jerry Chen.

The homes and maze of alleys plastered with murals and soulful images are reminders of aboriginal art; others look like simplistic images from a child’s colouring book, while some others are reminiscent of Japanese anime. A funky street artist in an Ironman costume, with a huge helmet and sunglasses, poses against a vibrant wall as tourists crowd around him clicking selfies.

One of the houses has a room filled with photographs of all the famous people who have visited the village. Another corner has cans of paint and a paint-splattered set of overalls used by Rainbow Grandpa. There is a small souvenir store packed with memorabilia inspired by Grandpa’s art. Since admission to the village is free, visitors are encouraged to support the colony by buying souvenirs.

Chen tells me that Huang, who is 96 years old now, is often found here interacting with visitors, dressed in his signature flat cap. He rises atcrack of dawn and makes additions to his ever-changing canvas of images. No two visits to the village are alike because of his habit of painting new images regularly. I wonder what will happen to the village after Rainbow Grandpa’s time. Whatever the story may be, the psychedelic images that spell joy and positivity are a living testament to the power of one man and his mission to save his home one art stroke at a time.

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 2:12:25 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/hopping-down-the-memory-lane-in-taiwans-rainbow-village/article27284863.ece

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