Peggy Chien (簡佩玲), a housewife-turned-feline-photographer, has helped transform a village in Rueifang District (瑞芳), New Taipei City (新北市), into a tourist attraction known as the “Cat Village (貓村).”
Rueifang is one of the many places Chien has visited to discover “cat muses” for her photography, and was surprised to find a group of elderly people and street cats that seemed to have been forgotten by society.
Chien said cats have played a major role in her life since she was in college and took on a part-time job.
At the time, Chien’s employer imported a few long-haired cats from overseas in an attempt to start a cat breeding business, an idea he later scrapped due to his lack of knowledge of raising the animals.
Her boss then gave the cats to Chien as her “dowries,” she said.
After she graduated from college, Chien married a veterinarian.
She started a blog to share photographs of her daily life after she resigned from her job as a piano tutor following the birth of her daughter.
After her daughter started attending an elementary school, Chien adopted five cats, which she said quickly became her main photographic subjects and the highlights of her blog.
Chien was subsequently dubbed the “Cat Lady” (貓夫人) online due to her knowledge of the animals.
She started visiting a multitude of remote villages around the country in the hope of finding more cats and taking their portraits, traveling from military dependents’ villages and fishing ports to time-worn streets and rural areas.
It was not long before she arrived in Rueifang’s Houtong Village (猴硐) that she was astonished by the many stray cats roaming the streets.
Remembering her first visit to the place, Chien said that because many elderly residents in the area knew nothing about raising cats, she decided to introduce medicines, such as flea repellent and vaccines, for the cats, and bring in voluntary workers to help clean up the community and take care of the elderly residents.
Chien’s efforts have breathed new life into the area.
Houtoung made headlines in 2009 with its large population of cats, earning the place the nickname of “The Cat Village” and increasing revenue of the nearby train station fivefold.
In addition to helping facilitate economic activities in the community, an ensuing influx of tourists to the area has also attracted more resources and attention from the government.
“What I care about is not just the street cats, but the solitary elderly people living in the region,” Chien said, adding that she hoped Houtoung’s fame and popularity would not be short-lived, but rather serve as a catalyst which could draw public attention to more historic communities worthy of visiting around the country.