Thu, Nov 07, 2013 - Page 12 News List

Toad Mountain blues

Artists and residents are fighting to keep a quiet soldiers’ hamlet with a history that dates to the Qing Dynasty

By Ho Yi  /  Staff reporter

“Back in the old days, this was all farmland. After school, kids would play in the fields. It’s relatively isolated and cars are very rare. Even the air is much fresher,” says 72-year-old Chang, who has lived here for half a century, having raised three sons with her husband.

Long before the existence of today’s Roosevelt Road, Han-Chinese settlers laid a trail through Toad Mountain to connect Jingmei (景美) and Sindian (新店) with the Taipei Basin in the early 1700s. The trail still exists today.

In 1736, the Qing imperial government set up Gongguan (公館), a government post for the purpose of taxation and fortification, as the area grew to become a bustling trading hub.

By the mid-18th century, a Chinese landlord named Kuo Hsi-liu (郭錫?) completed the Liugong Canal (?公圳), an ambitious irrigation system that drew water from the Sindian River (新店溪) to irrigate large parts of Taipei Basin. The canal split into three watercourses at the foot of Toad Mountain, and one main course flowed through the settlement.

To Chang, who moved here in 1963 when she and her husband bought a hut from a KMT veteran for NT$20,000, the bygone life around the canal is still vivid in her mind.

“My husband used to take a bath in the river after getting off work at the bus station in the evening… Women went down to wash clothes by the river; kids went swimming and frolicked in it,” Chang recalls.

The canal was covered up in the late 1970s, and the site of the old watercourse is part of today’s Lane 119, Roosevelt Road, Section 4 (羅斯福路四段119巷). However, the “river” has not disappeared.

“One or two years ago, the street was dug up and I saw a torrential river underneath the road,” Lin says. “Since there is little traffic here, I think the area is one of the few places in Taipei where the historical canal can be restored.”

Taiwan-US relations

Kang Min-jay (康旻杰), an associate professor at National Taiwan University’s Graduate Institute of Building and Planning, says one of the most fascinating aspects of the settlement is its little-known connection to the Taipei Air Station.

“Though more research is needed, it is reasonable to assume that this military settlement provided the labor force for the Americans. People worked as drivers, cleaners and other menial jobs to keep the base running. There was an interesting coexistence between the two,” Kang points out.

For example, Chen, who has lived in the settlement since 1954, had worked at the base as a chauffeur for many high-ranking officers including Benjamin Oliver Davis Jr, Vice Commander of the Thirteenth Air Force, who lived at the Taipei Air Station.

“I drove general Davis to dine with [Chiang Kai-shek] and his wife at their presidential home every night,” the old soldier says.

Mathieu says he worked at the base between 1965 and 1968. He didn’t know any Taiwanese inside the base, but remembers that local military men worked as drivers or mechanics.

“If there was a US vehicle of some sort, they always had a Chinese driver driving it,” he recalls.

Mathieu notes that US military advisers worked closely with the KMT’s air force, training them “in fighting techniques, forming tactics and new ways of doing things.”

Toad Mountain was hollowed out to house the Joint Air Operations Center, which is still in operation.

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