Despite having to work in a cramped and sweltering hot space on a daily basis, a middle-aged couple from Greater Tainan’s Paiho District (白河) has pledged to protect the source of the Guanzihling (關子嶺) Hot Spring to continue its legacy as one of the most celebrated thermal spring sites in southern Taiwan.
Every day at about 8am, Hu Hsun (胡訓) and Chen Ying-ju (陳瑩如) drive to the nearby Huowangye Temple, which stands above the source of the famous hot spring that has attracted tourists since the Japanese colonial period.
Upon arrival, the couple perform their daily routine: After crawling into a narrow space below a wooden staircase in the temple — where the hot spring source is hidden — they drain the reservoir that contains the thermal water and wash away any mud that has accumulated in the reservoir tank.
Watching the couple carefully inspect the reservoir is a gray-haired woman — Chen’s 78-year-old mother, Chen Lee Mei-fang (陳李美芳).
Chen Lee Mei-fang and her late husband, Chen Tzu (陳賜), were the first generation of “guardians” of the hot spring source.
They tidied the site twice a day for over 30 years before the “family business” was passed down to Hu and Chen Ying-ju after Chen Tzu passed away.
Despite also having to tend to their farmland in the city’s Tungshan District (東山), where they produce citrus fruits and coffee, the couple still manages to find time to maintain the area’s natural treasure.
“The mud that piles up near the source of the hot spring must be washed away every day, otherwise it would start to smell,” Hu said, adding that in the past, not even typhoons could stop his father-in-law from carrying out his self-assigned duties.
“The quality of the spring water is really good. In an effort to ensure that everyone can enjoy a sanitary bathing experience, we must do a thorough job in tidying the site,” Chen Lee Mei-fang said, as she opened the lid to a container attached to the spring water reservoir and revealed dozens of pipelines that transport thermal water to several hot spring resorts in the region.
Chen Lee Mei-fang said the cleaning work has become harder than it used to be, particularly after the construction of a wooden staircase above the water source which has made the working environment more cramped.
The site is close to unbearable, especially during the summer season, Chen Lee Mei-fang said, adding that thermal water can reach up to 60°C, which is hot enough to slowly boil eggs.
The Greater Tainan Government only allocates a monthly subsidy of NT$10,000 (US$344) for cleaning the spring source, which has to be proved by taking photographs of the site on a daily basis, Hu said.
“However, it is a sense of self-responsibility that has motivated us to put great effort into the place and to ensure the enjoyment of every tourist visiting the area,” Hu said.
“We don’t need a camera to remind us of our purpose,” he added.