Mon, Oct 12, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Miaoli: The county that debt built

Over a span of nine years, former Miaoli County commissioner Liu Cheng-hung turned Miaoli into a tacky, Hakka-themed amusement park

By Aaron Wytze Wilson  /  Contributing Reporter

Upon entering the front doors, a seemingly overstaffed front desk of four receptionists were startled when we came in. They were slightly confused why we wanted to traipse around a two-storey building filled with miniature models of development projects approved by Liu.

“They call most of these new tourist attractions mosquito (蚊子館) buildings — they are totally empty, and all they’re good for is raising mosquitoes,” Wang said.

The only bright spot of these monuments to Liu is the Hakka Culture Development Center, a beautiful museum that explores the historical impact of Hakka peoples throughout China, Taiwan and Southeast Asia.

Meticulously researched, with excellent display explanations in both Chinese and English, and interactive and fun exhibits for both children and adults, the culture center is truly worth the 14km trip to the outskirts of Miaoli’s Tongluo Township (銅鑼).

LOOKING FOR A MIAO-XIT

Liu’s tourist site building extravaganza likely had an ulterior motive: land speculation. Over a span of two decades as both a legislator and a county commissioner in Miaoli, Liu benefited from a number of real estate plots he owned in Houlong Township (後龍鎮).

As building projects like the roundhouse and the new high-speed rail station sent property prices skyrocketing, Liu made millions on property sales.

But such extravagance comes at great expense to the county’s finances, the cost of building the Hakka culture center alone was a staggering NT$220 million, with construction still ongoing.

Similar building costs can be seen for the Yingtsai Academy, roundhouse and urban planning center, at NT$91 million, NT$130 million and NT$164 million respectively.

With dwindling tourist numbers, and mounting construction debts and IOUs, Miaoli’s new county commissioner, Hsu Yao-chang (徐耀昌), has began to charge admission and parking.

Needless to say, many residents are less than sanguine about the changes.

“I’ve already gone once when it’s free. I don’t know if I’d go again now that there’s an entrance fee,” said Lin Chi-yan (林季妍 ), when asked about the Hakka Roundhouse.

“I didn’t think anyone outside of Miaoli even knew these places existed. There’s nothing fun about those places,” said Miaoli resident Hsu Chia-chen (許家禎).

Attractions that have not enacted admission and parking fees are now in a catch-22 situation. If they charge a fee, no one will come. If they don’t charge, they slide further into debt. But with annual operation costs of NT$42 million for the combined Liu-era tourist spots, the financial pain is sure to continue. County commissioner Hsu may be seeing more mosquito buildings in the near future, thanks to his predecessor.

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