The other day, Longtan Elementary, an established school in Taoyuan, offered an award of NT$10,000 for a locksmith capable of opening an old safe that had apparently been sealed for decades. Locksmith extraordinaire Wu Kun-hao accepted the challenge. It took him two hours to do it, but he finally broke the layers of codes. In the end, however, the safe turned out to be empty. According to the school, the “Feng-an safe” was an artifact left over from the Japanese colonial period, and the fact that it didn’t have anything inside did not detract from its value as a historical artifact. After it has been cleaned up it will be placed in the school history room as a display piece.
According to school principal Yang Ya-fang, the school janitor had discovered the over 200kg, meter-high, half-meter wide safe in the corner of a storage room. The front of the piece was decorated with a motif of a pair of phoenixes with outstretched wings, with the characters feng an ku written on the lower part. Neither the principal nor her predecessor had any idea about its existence, and nor was it listed in the school’s inventory record.
The Feng-an safe is unique in that, in addition to the conventional lock, it was also fitted with a rotating disc bearing 25 Japanese phonetic characters, instead of the Roman numerals more common nowadays. The school did some research and determined that it would have been made between the 10th and 20th years of the Japanese Taisho period, and estimated it was over 90 years old.
Photo: Hsu Cho-hsun, Liberty Times
Going through some historical records, Yang discovered that Japanese-language educational directives and staff records would originally have been kept inside the safe, and that at the time there was a rule that, should any disasters such as fire or flooding occur, the Feng-an safe would have been the first thing to be rescued. The school authorities realized that it was an extremely important historical object, and this only made it more intriguing. Given the curiosity surrounding the safe, and frustrated that she couldn’t find any local locksmiths able to crack the lock, Yang was introduced through a friend to Wu, a locksmith from Taipei who had been able to crack many antique safes before. Wu traveled to the school to see what he could do.
Wu, 69, used a variety of tools to remove the damaged lock and then, relying now on his sharp hearing, unlocked the combination lock of three dials, each written with 25 Japanese katakana symbols. According to Wu, breaking the code was the most challenging part of the process, because there were a total of 8,000 possible combinations, and he had to put his full concentration on the clunking and noises coming from the dials as he turned them. In the end, it took him two hours, until he finally heard a click, and the heavy door swung open, to the gasps of everyone in the room.
The school representatives could hardly wait to see what was inside the safe after the doors were opened, and they opened the five wooden drawers inside one by one, only to find that they were all completely empty.
Photo: Hsu Cho-hsun, Liberty Times
(Translated by Paul Cooper, Taipei Times)
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