Monday, July 4, 2011

The Oldest House in Xindian

"Xindian's first street, those who will tear down this culture are about to become historical criminals" (or something to that effect)

We went with our friend J this past weekend to seek out an old house/shrine in Xindian, near Dapinglin. J had learned that not only did the house still exist, but that it was slated for destruction despite being a fairly important historical relic - the first house built by the first people to settle Xindian in what used to be the only part of Xindian, which is now a forgotten lane off Minsheng Road.

You can reach this area by taking Minsheng Road (which starts near Dapinglin and is not far from the river separating Xindian from Taipei, very near our house in fact) to Lane 86, which is found after driving through a patch of farmland that nobody would really expect in this part of urbanized northern Taiwan, turning in and walking to the temple at the end past some old broke-down houses (which are older than they look I might add). Just before the temple to the left is a gateway with the name of the shrine on it. Go through there and walk down to the end - you can reach the inside by going in through the open door with the room full of junk (a local assured us this was OK to do) or see the outside by heading to the right and going around.

The house was built by the Liu family, the first to settle in Xindian, and they are apparently fighting to keep it (although from the look of the place they don't have the money for proper upkeep).

Meanwhile, the government along with the MRT company is planning to focibly buy up this and all the other land around it to build an MRT depot near the green and soon-to-be-dug yellow lines. Why they can't just build the depot 100 meters to the left is beyond me.

The temple, despite having plants growing out the roof (below), has a few parts (such as the above) where it looks like some restoration work has been done.

The pillars look recently restored, as well.

The lions and door gods are brightly painted.

As the sun set, we wandered back to the more settled area and ran into Mr. Wei, an ebullient, talkative man in his fifties who was polishing eggs (we guess by the sheer number of eggs that he is in the egg business), playing with his granddaughter and keeping an eye on his 90-year old half deaf father in law, Mr. Chen.

We learned from Mr. Wei that he and some other folks on the street, who are mostly Chens, are also opposing the forced tear-down and relocation, but they're more concerned with compensation than history. Basically, "you can take the house and property but give me a fair amount of money". (Although he used much more elliptical speech: "they prepared the bento box, but they won't give it to me unless I demand it" and "they know that if you are eating food and have some candy, a child will cry like my granddaughter. Give her a candy and she'll be happy. All I want is a candy" and "If I buy a scooter and you want to take it from me, and I paid ten thousand kuai for it, but now it's worth four thousand, well, even if you give me four thousand that's OK because I am not selfish and I don't want to cheat anyone. But don't offer me a hundred kuai!").

Basically, they feel that the compensation offered - nay, pushed on them - by the government is insufficient for what the property is worth and what it will cost to relocate.

There's more to it of course - most people in that neighborhood are old-school Hoklo and are deep green (Mr. Wei used to vote KMT, then realized he hated the KMT, and began voting DPP but is disillusioned by Chen Shui-bian's actions: "he promised soda for everyone, but only he got soda and we got water!") and the government of Xinbei city is, of course, KMT. I can't help but wonder if they want to break up a chunk of opposition party voters. That's speculation, of course, but not outside the realm of possibility.

As we talked, Mr. Wei told us that when his father-in-law, Old Chen, was four years old (so 86 years ago) a huge flood washed away much of the area, and the only thing not underwater was the roof of the Liu shrine. His father hid him up there and he survived - "he says you could see all the way to Gongguan and it was just water. Jingmei was underwater. This whole area was underwater."

As he told us the story, I looked at old Chen and realized for the first time that he wasn't wearing pants.

He went inside and came out, still in his wife beater and skivvies, and proceeded to stand in the doorway and look at us as he put on his pants. Ah, to be a 90-year-old man who can take off and put on pants wherever you like...

"Does he speak Chinese?" we asked.
"No, you have to speak Taiwanese to him," Mr. Wei answered.
"Have you eaten rice?" (jia-ba-buei?) we asked, and he just stared ahead.
"He's kind of deaf, you need to shout."
Old Chen looked at us like we were the strangest things he'd ever seen - three foreigners speaking Taiwanese to him - smiled, and said something (I think it was "I've eaten" - jia ba - but I'm not sure). He then went inside to watch TV.

Mr. Wei gave us a tour of his own house, a rambling jumble of corridors built a hundred years ago of brick and wood shipped from Xiamen, with the old roof beams still intact, and lots of metal and old shingles where necessary - we went all the way out to the old pigsty, now a storage area, and the lemon and mango trees beyond that.

"It's a hundred years old or more," he said, "and they can tear it down I guess, but they have to pay me fairly."


160chan said...

This is very sad. In europe one can visit buildings from the 11th century and earlier.

ST said...

That would be sad. I hope someone managed to preserve it!!
It seems like there ARE others who also care!!