The first time I visited Kezailiao (蚵仔寮), and wandered through the narrow streets north of the much-visited fishing harbor, I said to myself: “This reminds me of Penghu (澎湖).”
It wasn’t just the ocean breezes that blow through this part of Kaohsiung, about 11 km northwest of the city center. As in the remoter parts of the Penghu archipelago, there were picturesquely decrepit cottages around every corner. Most of them were unoccupied, and several were ruined.
KEZAOLIAO’S OLD ABODES
Photo: Steven Crook
Last week, I returned. Nothing and no one stopped me from wandering among — and, in some cases, inside — these old abodes. The oldest, which I’d guess to be more than 100 years old, are made of rough chunks of coral stone or mud bricks covered with tiles. The newer buildings are brick or concrete, but even most of these have suffered earthquake or typhoon damage. An exception is the three-sided, single-story courtyard home located at 30 Chihkan West Road (赤崁西路30號), about 1.5km up the coast.
Known as the Chihkan Liu Family Old House (赤崁劉家古厝), it was apparently built in the 1920s. (I haven’t been able to find an exact date.) Just A Balcony (justabalcony.blogspot.com), a Chinese-language blog that focuses on architectural gems of this kind, describes it as a wooden-framed brick structure that combines Western and Chinese styles.
One feature above all makes it a special building. While not quite a true porte-cochere (there’s no way you’d get a car under it), the concrete porch at the very front is notable for its six pillars, four of which are smooth-sided Tuscan columns, while the two at the outer corners are square. On the left, as you face the porch, a narrow stairway leads to the top of the porch, around which there’s a balustrade. At the center, a semi-circular feature highlights a single Chinese character — the family name (Liu, 劉, of course).
Photo: Steven Crook
If you stand close to the house, you’ll notice rabbit motifs above some of the windows. Rabbits are fecund creatures, and thus symbolize many children and a large, happy family.
The house and its grounds aren’t officially open to the public, and judging by various bloggers’ reports, the gate isn’t always open. I was fortunate: At the time of my most recent visit, the man tending the garden waved me in when I asked if I could take some photos.
The structure immediately to the south, at number 32, isn’t quite so charming, but it has an interesting if stained facade. Above the doorway, it looks as if a surname crest has been removed, presumably when the building changed owners.
Photo: Steven Crook
The house at 82 Chihkan West Road, probably the only two-floor abode in the neighborhood built before World War II, also bears the surname Liu. Unfortunately, it looks in real danger of collapse. A very obvious crack runs down the front from the roof, while one corner appears ready to shear off during the next earthquake.
A couple of landmarks hereabouts seems to have benefited from official conservation efforts. One is a 280-year-old well which apparently supplied exceptionally clean water, despite being within 100m of the ocean. Another is Chihkan Lighthouse (赤崁燈塔), which stands where Chihkan West Road hits the seawall. It’s shorter than many of Taiwan’s lighthouses. A few decades ago it served as a military lookout post.
Around Kezailiao, as along much of Taiwan’s coastline, hefty concrete tetrapods have been piled several deep against the seawall. These bleak objects are ugly for a reason: According to the relevant Wikipedia page, the tetrahedral shape is intended to “dissipate the force of incoming waves by allowing water to flow around rather than against them, and to reduce displacement by interlocking.”
Photo: Steven Crook
Yet every time I see these eyesores, I wonder if Taiwan could do better. Some say tetrapods influence wave action in a way that actually hastens erosion. And no one doubts that the cement industry produces a great deal of climate-changing carbon dioxide.
Along the beach closest to my father’s home in the south of England, the breakwaters are made of what are either genuine rocks, or concrete blocks convincingly colored and shaped so they resemble natural boulders — I can’t tell which. If they’re artificial, they appear to have been purposely textured so algaes and other lifeforms can easily establish themselves.
Photo: Steven Crook
The majority of tourists who come to this part of Kaohsiung show little interest in the town’s oldest neighborhood, or even in the ocean. Seafood is the great magnet. Kezailiao Fishing Port is quite busy, judging by the number of vessels moored here, the nets piled on the dock and the Indonesian sailors coming and going.
During my most recent visit, the harborside ice factory was going nonstop. One man dragged meter-long rectangles of ice from the factory’s unlit interior, pushed them into a special elevator, then tipped them into a crusher. After several seconds of deafening noise, coin-sized cubes began shooting out. Every time, a substantial fraction of the ice ended up on the ground, or showering the person trying to collect it in buckets.
The Tourist Fish Market now occupies a purpose-built hall right next to the harbor. There are around 50 vendors, some of which sell ready-to-eat items. Many of them are closed on Mondays, and several don’t get going until after lunchtime. As you might expect, the market is busiest on weekends and holidays.
Steven Crook has been writing about travel, culture, and business in Taiwan since 1996. Having recently co-authored A Culinary History of Taipei: Beyond Pork and Ponlai, he is now updating Taiwan: The Bradt Travel Guide.
Between two and four buses per hour connect Kezailiao with the high-speed rail at Kaohsiung’s Zuoying Station (左營). Services are designated Red 53B (紅53B) or Red 53D (紅53D). One-way full fare is NT$24, and journey time is around 30 minutes. There’s a share-bicycle rental station in the parking lot across the road from the fish market.
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