Mon, Oct 19, 2009 - Page 3 News List

Memories live on of military villages

GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN The only things left standing in the Shueijiaoshe Village site are eight Japanese-style homes, the elementary school and some trees

By Deborah Kuo  /  CNA, WITH STAFF WRITER

Businessman Wang Rong-sheng, 61, recently returned to Taiwan on a break from his company in Shandong Province, China, and accompanied his 85-year-old mother on a visit to the Tainan City neighborhood that was their home for decades.

It was a wrenching experience because their old village of Shueijiaoshe (水交社), a 45-hectare residential compound for air force personnel and their dependents since 1948, has been razed.

Wang’s father, an air force officer, and his family settled there in 1950. Memories of his family’s Japanese-style home, the air raid shelter where he played hide-and-seek with his friends, and the stand where his mother would buy steamed buns for breakfast from a veteran from Henan Province all welled up as Wang was overcome with emotion.

Wang’s wife of 35 years could appreciate how her husband and his mother felt after seeing their home of nearly five decades turned into piles of debris as she also grew up in a village for military dependents, known in Taiwan as juan cun (眷村), that no longer exists.

Nostalgia is all many former residents of these juan cun have left as the villages fade into oblivion with the veterans passing away and the single-story dwellings, many from the Japanese colonial era, being torn down to make way for urban development projects.

Roughly 600,000 military personnel and their dependents from China settled in the juan cun — mostly quickly erected shanty villages — and the compounds were like miniature versions of China, with people from different provinces living next door to each other.

By 1982, fewer than 100,000 units in about 300 full-scale compounds were left nationwide. All that remains today are some 1,300 units on sites scattered around Taiwan, their obstinate residents holding out against having their houses torn down.

The Wangs moved out of Shueijiaoshe in the late 1990s in pursuit of modern comforts and new opportunities, but, as with many former juan cun residents, their village still exists in their memories, and some former residents are pushing to preserve their culture in more than just their minds.

Yu Lih-hua (喻麗華), a professor at National University of Tainan who was raised in Shueijiaoshe, and a group of Shueijiaoshe activists have scrambled to save parts of the village since Tainan City began dismantling the compound in 2007.

“We Shueijiaoshe people have lagged behind our counterparts in other juan cun around the country in conservation,” Yu said.

As Shueijiaoshe grew obsolete during this decade, the Tainan City Government quickly moved to reclaim the site and earmarked some NT$200 million (US$6.2 million) to clean up the village, build new roads and manage the land in a bid to turn it into an upscale residential area with a shopping mall.

But through the efforts of Yu and others to keep Shueijiaoshe’s memory alive, the city government left eight Japanese-style residences, the village’s elementary school and a number of old trees. The old residences will become museums and an ecological park will highlight the site’s century-old elm trees, decades-old mahogany trees and giant coconut trees.

A total of 23 juan cun have been preserved in similar ways around the country, and Yu says Shueijiaoshe could be selected by the Ministry of Defense as one of the up to 10 locations that will be developed into juan cun cultural preservation areas aimed at conserving the unique culture of these villages.

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