Sun, Nov 23, 2003 - Page 18 News List

Adding luster to a dull image

Chunghu and Yungho may be considered ugly, over-populated urban sprawls, but one man has set out to exorcise the Taipei County districts from what he considers an unfairly poor reputation

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER

Covering a combined area of 25km2, Chungho (中和) and neighboring Yungho (永和) are home to 660,000 people and boast one of the world's highest population densities, with over 24,000 people per square kilometer. It's hardly surprising that, with so many people crammed into such as small area, the sister municipalities are considered by many as little more than over-populated urban nightmares.

The butt of a popular Taipei City jibe, which describes the cities "as worse places to live than Keelung," Chungho and Yungho are infamous as the home turf of the "Panther Division" of the Bamboo Union gang and have long been notorious for dodgy dealings and nefarious nightlife.

With the exception of being the birth place of the popular breakfast joint, Yungho Soybean Milk (永和豆漿), which was established in 1955, one could easily be forgiven for thinking that neither place has an iota of cultural, let alone historical, value.

Over the past decade, however, Jerry Huang (黃政瑞) has made it his mission to change the way residents and outsiders view the much-maligned Taipei County cities. As director of the Chungho Historical Society (中和庄文史研究協會), Huang actively works to ensure that the area's little-known cultural heritage isn't lost forever to the high-rise apartment buildings, shabu-shabu restaurants and traffic-clogged streets.

"It's pretty sad to say, but a vast majority of Chungho and Yungho residents are unaware of the area's historical significance. They view them simply as `new towns' with no history," Huang said. "The history that, was until very recently, taught in schools was about China and even now, although Taiwan history is being taught, very few schools bother to teach more localized history."

Founded in 1994, the association, which survives on donations and a miniscule annual budget from the local government, has published numerous books, while holding seminars and exhibits about of Chungho and Yungho's pasts in any museum that will take them.

Huang was so appalled with the overwhelming lack of local knowledge, that last year, the society published a textbook entitled Scenes From Chungho and Yungho Study Book (風物誌-雙和景觀學習手冊) and distributed it free of charge to all elementary schools in the area.

"We figured that the best place to start building a base for local history was with the children so we published a colorful textbook that would appeal to 7 to 12-year-olds," Huang said. "As we designed it so that teachers could simply photocopy the pages and give them to students it's proved really popular and I think that its now used regularly in all the elementary schools in the area."

As the only localized history book of its kind taught in schools anywhere in Taiwan, the publication has also come to the attention of government and education officials in other towns. According to Huang, the mayor of Hsinchuang (新莊) was so impressed by the book that he is considering having one published about his constituency and distributing to schools in Hsinchuang.

Even with all the help and encouragement the society receives, Huang readily admits that trying to change the cities' beleaguered image is no easy task, especially when a staggering 79 percent of the area's residents are not native to Chungho or Yungho.

"Although the area was originally home to several Aboriginal villages, the first people to open it up and establish larger settlements here were from Fujian in China, who came here for economic reasons," Huang said. "And, of course, in more recent years the area has become home to people from all over Taiwan, who, like their 16th-century predecessors, also moved here for economic reasons."

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