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

While the American advisers officially left Taiwan on April 30, 1979, Mathieu says that by the late 1960s, the number of US personnel had dwindled, as “pretty much all the training that was necessary had been done, and new equipment had come in.”

Around the same time, the American base was torn down to make way for the overhead expressway on Keelung Road.

In 2005, Mathieu set up a blog (taipeiairstation.blogspot.tw) dedicated to the history of Taipei Air Station. Former servicemen have contributed to its online archive of documents and records.

“The blog is to preserve the history and keep it open. People put in files, available for years, hopefully forever … People see this stuff, use it and pass it onto their blogs and Web pages,” Mathieu says. “Many young people don’t know [Americans] were here. But it is interesting history.”

Uncertain future

In another bid to preserve that history, documentary filmmaker Lin Ting-chieh launched the Good Toad Club (好蟾蜍俱樂部) in April.

The club has invited artists and members of the public to clean up the vacant homes and to explore creative ways to use the community. They have held a series of music performances, guided tours, exhibitions and a screening of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s (侯孝賢) Daughter of the Nile (尼羅河女兒), which was shot near Toad Mountain in 1987.

This month, Hou will lead other filmmakers to shoot movies in the area as part of the upcoming Golden Horse Festival. Meanwhile, organizers of the Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture in Hong Kong and Shenzhen plan to incorporate Toad Mountain as one of its exhibition and event venues, though NTUST has yet to agree.

Lin says that as the government lacks funding for resettlement, the new development NTUST hopes for is unlikely to happen soon.

“So it does nobody good by tearing down the vacant air-force dormitories. Our appeal is that when you can’t build new buildings, why not let something good happen here … It’s more practical to preserve the place and revive it in creative ways,” Lin says.

For Kang, Toad Mountain is a priceless living artifact.

“Like Treasure Hill, Toad Mountain has rich historical layers. You can’t pinpoint it on a specific point in history. Its value lies exactly in the multiple layers of different time periods, offering an interesting profile of Taiwan,” the academic says.

After a series of mediation meetings in September, NTUST and MND agreed to halt the demolition work till the end of this year. But the university rescinded the decision last week and asked the MND to proceed with demolition.

In response, the Good Toad Club has initiated a campaign to have the Taipei City Government designate the 39 dorms as historical architecture.

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