Drive south from downtown Taichung on Highway 63. Cross the Dali River (大里溪). But slow down because tucked under a highway overpass, Dali Bridge Little People Country (大里橋下小人國) is easily missed.
Stop and look around, and a man in a faded yellow cap will greet you with a big toothless smile, a tiny metal basket and a piece of candy.
That’s Lee Ching-chi (黎清池), the creator of this miniaturized metropolis. For the past six years Lee has dedicated himself to replicating Taiwan’s agrarian past by constructing dozens of farmhouses out of wire mesh and small stones, cemented together using the surrounding red dirt.
Photo: John Evans
“It reminds people of old Taiwan,” said Lee, who, even at 70 years old, has the spryness of a younger man.
Like benign Godzillas, about a dozen visitors gingerly stepped among the tiny buildings and pint-sized pools of water on a recent afternoon.
And while many search up and down the highway for the exact spot, for others such as Jack Chiu (邱韋傑) it’s as easy as clicking on Google Maps.
Photo: John Evans
Chiu and his classmate stopped by to see the Lilliputian village after having lunch in the nearby town of Dali.
“It’s like Utopia, that computer game where you build cities,” Chiu said. “But it’s in a cool Aboriginal style.”
Photo: John Evans
That wide-eyed wonder is exactly the reaction Lee hopes to see from each visitor.
For younger visitors, unaware of the history lesson they’re traipsing through, the scene is more like playful sandcastles at the beach.
When a group of three families came over to give thanks, Lee took the opportunity to crack jokes and espouse religious faith, having patience and striving for goals.
Photo: John Evans
Not long ago, upwards of 1,000 visitors a day came to see Lee’s creation. But now, Lee adds with relief, the buses carrying Malaysian and Japanese tourists have ceased and the traffic on the nearby roads is uncongested.
Much of the hype occurred several years ago when television news stations and other national media first brought Lee’s artwork to attention.
Now, with the numbers a trickle of what they once were, Lee has more time to devote to his creations.
Lee says that he works harder today than he did when he was half his age. His self-imposed working hours are seven days a week, from sunrise to sunset. But he is accustomed to hard work. He spent a lifetime working a series of factory jobs, one of which involved cranking out parts for multi-tonne elevators. Now his products are on a pint-size scale.
Armed with a pair of needle-nose pliers and a spool of metal wire, it takes Lee just a few minutes to twist together a tiny bicycle, which he either gives away or exchanges for a small donation.
“I’m happier now,” Lee said, reflecting upon his old factory days. “I’m very grateful for the life I have.”
A lifelong bachelor, Lee lives with one of his five siblings. From his home in Wufeng, it’s a 15-minute bike ride to work.
Upon arriving each morning, Lee sets about to water the plants and tidy things up. Then he steps into his “office” — a wicker chair set up behind a makeshift plywood table. The only wall is a concrete pylon of the highway overpass.
After retirement Lee found himself aimless with little to do, recycling scraps of metal and cardboard to make a little extra money.
That’s when the artist inside him emerged.
“Every time I picked something up, I realized I could build something else,” Lee said. First came a farmhouse, then another. Before he knew it, a whole village had sprouted up.
While the land under the bridge is public property, local government officials visited the site several years ago and gave him a nod of approval to continue his work, he said.
Lee said he has little interest in actually counting the number of structures he’s built. Instead, he’s just happy to keep building his little houses and, of course, entertaining visitors.
“I’ll keep doing this until I die,” he said.
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