A village in Greater Kaohsiung’s Tsuoying District (左營) built for the dependents of military personnel, where the walls are no longer pale and time-blasted, but are instead bedecked with an array of child-like graffiti, is to become history next month when the Ministry of National Defense tears down the community.
“Lost in a military dependents’ village” (眷村裡迷路) provides the key theme for a series of artistic creations in Zihjhusin Village (自助新村) which draw thousands of tourists a week.
The project began in the summer of 2010, when two graduates from the Kaohsiung-based Wenzao Ursuline Collage of Languages — Chung Hui-jung (鍾慧蓉) and Huang Hsin-ying (黃馨瑩) — visited the village and accidentally lost their way wandering down an alleyway.
Despite getting lost, the pair asked a district police officer, identified only as La Ko (拉哥), “if they were allowed to paint there.”
“Paint all you want, the village is going to be pulled down soon anyway,” La Ko said to them.
The pair then brought several cans of paint and began to splash color on the walls, breathing new life into the village despite the demolition deadline, which runs in accordance with the Act for Rebuilding Old Quarters for Military Dependents (國軍老舊眷村改建條例).
Spreading through the social networking Web site Facebook as well as blogs, their works of art soon caught the attention of many young people, including a group of students from another Kaohsiung-based school, the Haicing Vocational High School of Technology and Commerce.
While the village has been transformed from an ordinary military dependents’ village into a popular art community, noise pollution and litter issues have arisen. However, the fact that the place has become a must-see for young people still surprises many senior village residents.
Last year, a group of students launched a petition calling for the village to be preserved in an attempt to salvage what they described as a “youngsters’ graffiti paradise.” Several government officials also lobbied for the village’s conservation, but their pleas fell on deaf ears.
Former chief executive of the Executive Yuan’s Southern Taiwan Joint Services Center, Lo Shih-hsiung (羅世雄), conducted an on-site inspection of the village with military personnel in an effort to save the place from demolition. Despite the effort, the military remained firm in its stance to carry out its planned demolition.
Kaohsiung City Government Bureau of Cultural Affairs Director-General Shih Che (史哲) also expressed regret over the defense ministry’s lack of appreciation of cultural heritage.
Sources said that the bureau had exhausted efforts to persuade the military to preserve the village as it had done with the Japanese-style Mingdesin Village (明德新村) as well as the designation of both Jianyesin Village (建業新村) and Hecyunsin Village (合群新村), in the city as cultural landscapes.
The combined size of the three villages totals 59 hectares.
According to the ministry-affiliated Marine Military Dependents Service Section, the majority of Zihjhusin village residents have been relocated to a new building and upon the village’s scheduled demolition next month, the Ministry of Finance’s National Property Administration is to be entrusted with putting the plot of land upon which Zihjhusin sits up for auction.
Profit from the sale of the land is to then be used to fill a Reconstruction Foundation fund gap of more than NT$5 billion (US$167 million), the section said.
“It’s a real shame that it [the village] is going to be torn down,” Chiu Chun-ping (邱鈞評), a recent graduate from the Greater Tainan-based Chongming Junior High School said, who was among a group of young voluntary guides operating in the village.