When Hsu Po-yih (許伯夷) retired at age 38 after a lucrative career in real estate more than two decades ago, he was very unhealthy due to a reckless lifestyle. His early retirement was triggered by thoughts about the meaning of life.
During his retirement, Hsu sold his companies' stocks and began to restore his 50-hectare piece of land in Meinung township, Kaohsiung County, with one basic rule in mind: Making the best use of everything.
During his travels around the country and the world, Hsu collected unwanted but valuable Taiwanese cultural artifacts, utensils, pieces of furniture, Russian works of art, Cuban paintings, Western film posters, film projectors and even construction materials.
He used unwanted construction materials to make a unique building in his villa. Wood door planks with cut glass were used decades ago by local government in Taichung under Japanese occupation, prior to 1945.
Special bricks for the building were made about 80 years ago. If not saved by Hsu, all the bricks could have been trashed decades ago.
In the building, a huge display room is now home to countless exotic pieces of unwanted but valuable things. They are now not only extraordinary decoration materials, but also ideal supplies for museum collections and universities.
"Unwanted things can be restored appropriately to keep their value and cultural connotation," Hsu told officials from the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) last week.
In a display room of his villa are tens of thousands of Taiwanese cultural artifacts, such as bedframes and tools. Hsu even saved delicate tax bills his family had back in the Qing Dynasty prior to Japanese occupation in 1895.
According to Hsu, researchers from National Cheng Kung University (NCKU), Academic Sinica and the Kaohsiung City Government have expressed interest in the collections. In the last few years, Hsu donated hundreds of artifacts, including rare puppets made a century ago for the establishment of a museum at NCKU.
On travels through Southeast Asia, Hsu collected pieces of a command post used during the Vietnam War. Thus, Taiwanese military researchers were given an opportunity to study Vietnamese tactics without going abroad.
Lights once used in Kaohsiung Harbor decades ago were saved by Hsu and turned into material used along the path on a hill.
He also collected unwanted urns, which were once common decades ago in rural areas, and now uses them to decorate his villa. Hsu's passion for reusing old material impressed Environment Minister Chang Juu-en (張祖恩), who said the spirit of "zero waste" can be observed in the villa.
"Waste is actually useful material gets misplaced. If we are creative, all old material can be reused," Chang said.
Hsu, now in his early 60s, says his Po-yih Villa bears the spirit of sustainable development. The forest on Hsu's land is also home to hundreds of monkeys. His secluded villa has been maintained by him and three workers for decades without tap water and other comforts of modern life, like electricity or a telephone.
"Living simple, caring for the environment, and treasuring materials can make you very healthy both physically and mentally," Hsu said. In a bid to share his concepts about simple living, Hsu's villa is sometimes opened free-of-charge to visitors, who need a retreat from the turmoil of the world. In the last two decades, more than one million tourists visited the villa.