Sun, Jun 25, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: The ‘Atlantis of Taiwan’

An elementary school building sits at the bottom of Feitsui Reservoir among other structures that were submerged during the creation of the reservoir in the 1980s

By Han cheung  /  Staff reporter

Completed on June 30, 1987, the Feitsui Reservoir submerged several villages and displaced many people.

Photo courtesy of Taipei Feitsui Reservoir Administration

June 26 to July 2

The ferry sets off into the Feitsui Reservoir every Tomb-Sweeping Day, taking passengers into restricted waters. Provided for free by reservoir authorities, this year it made 24 trips, taking 342 passengers to two locations.

These former residents of the area are only allowed to return once per year, and the grass has grown high. They disembark with bags of ancestral offerings and navigate the vegetation to find the graves of their ancestors. Some are underwater, and those residents place their offerings by the shore and pray toward the reservoir.

Graves are not the only structures that rest at the bottom of the reservoir. There are houses, temples and even an entirely submerged elementary school building that once serviced the children of Bishan Village (碧山). Shihding Township’s (石碇) official Web site indicates that the building resurfaced during a drought in 2002, comparing it to the sunken city of Atlantis.

THE DISPLACED

Located in New Taipei City and encompassing 303 square kilometers, the reservoir was completed on June 30, 1987 after eight years of construction. As the second-largest reservoir in Taiwan, people were inevitably displaced — although not to the degree caused by the Shihmen Dam (石門水庫) in the 1960s. Planning for the Feitsui Reservoir started in the early 1970s as the Taipei metropolitan area was suffering from overpumping of underground water, leading to water shortages and land subsidence in several areas.

According to a Liberty Times (Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) report, Bishan was once the largest village in the area with more than 1,000 inhabitants. The residents had lived there for four generations, growing oranges and tea. Wang Chao-nan (王昭男) told the reporter that it was saddening to see that what once was a mountain next to his village had become an island, dubbed “Crocodile Island” for its shape, and is now a popular photo-op along the Beiyi Highway (北宜公路).

While most residents were removed, there were about 400 inhabitants who remained in the reservoir area living above the 171-meter flood line. These are mostly the ones who still make the yearly trip to worship their ancestors.

Although their villages survived, their lives were still greatly affected as the only bridge to the outside world went underwater. For years, they could only use government-provided ferries to go to work or school. The reservoir’s official Web site indicates that they were all relocated between 1995 and 2000.

Another victim of the reservoir was the Wulai azalea flower, which actually did not grow in Wulai but is native to an area now at the bottom of the reservoir. According to a 25th anniversary publication of Feitsui, the flower became a “rare and endangered plant” after the initial flooding in 1984. It has since been revived, and by 2012, authorities had planted about 10,000 saplings along the reservoir and its administrative offices.

UNWILLING RELOCATION

In 2002, the Liberty Times featured the last village head of Bishan, Chan Lung-kui (詹矓桂) on the 20th anniversary of his relocation to today’s Sindian District (新店). He wistfully displayed old photos of himself growing oranges and yearned for his lost homeland, stating that he was “forced” to leave.

While the aforementioned 25th anniversary publication only spares one sentence to the displaced (while dedicating a whole chapter to the revival of the azalea), it does state that residents were forced to leave.

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