Wed, Nov 08, 2017 - Page 4 News List

Sprightly 76-year-old still tiling roofs in Pingtung County

By Chiu Chih-jou and Jonathan Chin  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Veteran roofer Lin Fu-tien holds ceramic tiles as he repairs the roof of a Hakka residential compound in Pingtung County on Aug. 16.

Photo: Chiu Chih-jou, Taipei Times

For Pingtung native Lin Fu-tien (林富田), 76, a day’s work involves replacing glazed roof tiles on traditional buildings in the baking hot sun, often without any safety gear.

He entered the profession as an impoverished child, but these days he works out of a sense of obligation to the old-fashioned houses that are gradually being phased out by modern architecture, Lin said.

“I have a lot of kids and they now have children of their own. I do not have to do this for a living anymore. Even back then, repairing tiles was hard work for me, but young men do not want to learn the trade,” he said. “Taiwanese buildings have changed from mud-brick houses, tiled-roof houses, metal sheds to rebar and concrete. It is changing all the time. I want to help repair those old houses while I am still quick on my feet. Otherwise, this trade is gradually going to vanish and we will run out of tile roofers. Then the red-tiled houses will disappear, except as a fond memory in old photographs.”

To replace roof tiles, the roofer must be familiar with traditional techniques whereby tile arrangements efficiently protect against rainwater without using any modern waterproofing material, Lin said.

Old-fashioned glazed tiles are used to catch and divert rainwater from the roof, which is accomplished by staggering concave and convex tiles to create gulleys, he said.

Roofers have to work as quickly as possible before the midday sun makes it too hot, leading to a host of occupational illnesses and frequent accidents, he added.

“It is not easy to visit the restroom. Each roof is different in tile arrangement and weight-bearing properties. So accidents can happen when your attention slips. I broke my leg and almost quit, but I thought it would be a waste of my hard-earned skills,” he said.

Today, repairing traditional tiled roofs is a dying trade and Lin rarely has more than five jobs a year because of the increasing rarity of old-fashioned houses.

In the past few years, most of Lin’s jobs have been on historic compounds in the Pingtung area.

“Recently, I repaired the roof of a 84-year-old Hakka sanheyuan (三合院, traditional three-section compound) in Neipu Township (內埔),” he said.

“Fewer and fewer people know how to repair traditional tiled roofs. Whenever people living nearby want their tiled roof repaired, they call me. So I could not quit this trade even if I wanted to,” he added.

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