Fri, Aug 03, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Highways and Byways: History smothered by money

Is Anping’s history in danger of being buried by commerce?

By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter

Externally, Haishan Hall looks much as it did a few hundred years ago. Internally, however, it is an art gallery and souvenir shop.

Photo: Steven Crook

“Having come all this way, I’d rather pay to get in, and really learn something about the way people lived back then.”

So said Vincent Mattsson, a Swedish tourist I met outside the Lu Jing-tang Residence (盧經堂厝) in Tainan City’s Anping District (安平). Of the 10 days he was staying in Taiwan, he planned to devote two to places of historic and cultural importance in Tainan.

There is no admission charge at the Lu Jing-tang Residence, and after twice looking around this single-story building — completed circa 1902 and opened to the public in 2014 — I could see what Mattson was driving at.

A trilingual information panel out front informs visitors that Lu Jing-tang (盧經堂) dealt in sugar and kerosene, owned warehouses nearby and that this residence-cum-office faced the harbor. (Due to land reclamation, the nearest wharf is now 300m away.)

“Which room was his office?” Mattson asked me. “It would be nice to know the function of each part of the building, but half of it’s a shop.”

He was referring to an outlet of Dagang Herb Dream House (大港香草夢工坊), which sells handmade lotions and insect repellents. The business is being incubated by Dagang Community Development Association in Dagang Li (大港里), a mere 3km inland from Anping. When I told him later via e-mail that it was an ultra-local social enterprise, he responded: “Better than renting the space to a multinational corporation, of course.”

The next line of Mattson’s e-mail caught me by surprise. “Since getting home, I’ve been thinking about the toilet there.”

There was nothing wrong with the purpose-built toilet block next to the residence, he wrote. Instead, he was wondering where the building’s inhabitants had washed themselves, there being no obvious bathroom in the original structure. “Did they go down to the harbor… That’s what I mean about understanding lifestyles long ago. Is no one else curious?”



>> Tainan City bus no. 2 (departs every 20 minutes) takes around 25 minutes to reach Anping from Tainan TRA Station, and can also be boarded at Confucius Temple. The no. 88 tourist shuttle (hourly on weekdays, every half hour on weekends and holidays) takes a less direct route from Tainan Park via Fort Provintia.

People who do not live in Tainan have to pay NT$50 to enter Fort Zeelandia (安平古堡), the main Dutch base in the mid-17th century. For their money, tourists do get a pretty good museum. It covers, among other things, aspects of the fort’s construction, items of pottery uncovered by archaeologists and the fate of Frederick Coyett, the governor who surrendered the fort to Koxinga in 1662.

Nonetheless, some foreign visitors have come away feeling a little disappointed by the lack of information available at the fort. Michael Booth, author of The Meaning of Rice, went there earlier this year for a book about East Asia he is writing.

“As I’ve been researching the history of Taiwan, it occurs to me that places like the fort are of incredible historic value, not just for Taiwan, but for the world’s heritage,” the British travel/food writer told me via e-mail. “Their history is the history of colonialism and global trade in East Asia which is the history of China, of Korea, of Japan and directly connects with what is happening in the region today. I really enjoyed the festive atmosphere at Anping when I visited, but was a little in the dark regarding the site’s history. I think the two can live together, it’s just a question of good curating and management.”

Hoping to get an official perspective on the issue of “free entry to a commercialized space” versus “historical authenticity at a price” I contacted Tainan City Government Cultural Affairs Bureau. The bureau not only manages the Lu Jing-tang Residence and more than a dozen other relics around the city, but also funded the renovation effort earlier this decade that transformed the residence from a near-ruin to a highly photogenic landmark.

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