Fri, Mar 28, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Hsiluo Bridge celebrates its 50th birthday

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

Although it has been superceded as the main transport link between Changhua County and Yunlin County, the Hsiluo Bridge has retained its place in the hearts of local residents. The bridge, which was completed in 1952, will be celebrating its 50th anniversary as the center of a cultural festival designed to showcase the tourism potential of two of Taiwan's less high-profile counties.

Started in 1937, when Taiwan was still a Japanese colony, construction of the bridge was delayed by World War II and was only completed with American funding in 1952. At the time, at nearly 2km in length, it was the longest bridge in Asia and served as a major artery of north-south transportation. This role has since been overtaken by the newer expressways, but the bridge remains a powerful symbol of unity -- at least, on this occasion, when the two county governments have got together to throw the biggest party ever for this local engineering monument.

The highlight of the event will be regular displays of martial arts put on by the Yunlin county government -- in what was once a rough and wild area, Yunlin had the reputation of producing the best martial artists -- and copious displays of flowers, for which Changhua is famous. In addition, many other local specialties will be on display, with temporary rice and soy source museums set up on the Yunlin side of the bridge -- both products for which the county is famous.

According to Lin Re-yang (林日揚), head of the Yunlin Tourism Bureau, local enthusiasm for the event has been so great that there have been twice the number of applications for stall space as stalls available.

Last year, official figures for attendance at the Hsiluo Bridge Festival was 300,000 people, but Lin said that with all the additional activities put on for the 50th anniversary, he expected at least 500,000 over the nine-day event this year.

Puppeteer Huang Hai-tai (黃海岱), now a national treasure and, at 104, Taiwan's oldest puppetmaster, will turn out for the event and will preside over an issue of stamps featuring many characters that he and his family have immortalized. The celebration has been used as an opportunity to bring a number of international acts currently in Taiwan to perform at the Yunlin Cultural Center (雲林演藝廳), a step in the much-talked-about endeavor to ensure that arts and culture do not become the exclusive preserve of the capital city.

The festival is the prelude to a comprehensive revamp of the bridge into a tourist attraction that Lin hopes will bring domestic tourist dollars to both Yunlin and Changhua counties. "We will be spending quite a lot of money putting lighting along the length of the bridge, making it a lovely environment in which people can drink coffee and relax," he said.

While the bridge is still used by pedestrian traffic -- mainly vegetable farmers taking the produce to market -- Lin said that even this function will come to an end in around two years, and there is a proposal at the moment to turn the bridge into a sculpture corridor.

The opening ceremony for the festival will take place between 5pm and 9pm tomorrow along the length of the bridge and there will be events daily through to next Sunday.

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