Taiwanese war veteran uses art to save his village
TAICHUNG, Taiwan – Modernization that begun decades ago has turned many villages into high-rise condominiums and business districts in Taichung City, Taiwan.
But a war veteran in a small village in Nantun District refused to give up his home, despite developers buying out the properties around him.
Armed with acrylics and paintbrushes, 97-year-old Huang Yung-Fu began painting walls, roofs, and floors to save his village from demolition some 10 years ago.
"I was bored and I did not want to leave so I started painting," said Huang, who wakes up at 4 o'clock in the morning to paint.
The white walls of his bedroom became a canvas where he painted playful portraits of men and women.
After painting his house, Huang soldiered on and decorated his neighbors' homes with whimsical characters.
He drew boys, girls, men, women, and animals in thick brushstrokes, covering every surface of the village with vivid colors.
Huang, who earned the nickname Rainbow Grandpa, painted 11 houses that were once part of a community of 1,200 houses divided into 3 villages.
His little act of creative defiance turned his neighborhood into an attraction now known as the Rainbow Village, which drew attention from some university teachers and students.
Wyatt Lin, who is one of those students now helping Huang run the village, said they felt "it would be such a waste" if Huang's artwork would disappear because of the demolition.
Lin and the other students lobbied to the city government for the village's preservation. Former Taichung mayor Hu Zhiqiang heeded the call and turned the village into an art park.
"We also organized a group that would assist Grandpa [to] secure his artwork, accommodate tourists, and take care of him," said Lin.
Rainbow Grandpa came from Guangdong in China. He started to draw when he was 3 years old, but abandoned his interest in art to join the military during the civil war.
After the communist party defeated the Kuomintang, Huang moved to Taiwan along with other war refugees and lived in temporary shelters.
He served in the Taiwanese military and retired in the veterans' village where he lives now.
In the ‘80s, the Taiwanese government ordered that the deteriorating temporary shelters be replaced with modern condominiums, which prompted residents to move out.
By 2008, Huang was the only resident left.
The government's decision to preserve Rainbow Village has "inspired" him to continue painting, said Huang.
"I was very happy when I learned my house was not getting torn down anymore," he added.
'Love and happiness'
Today, Huang lives in the same house, this time with his wife, whom he met in a hospital in 2013. They got married soon after.
One day, outside his house, which visitors can easily identify because of a painting on its wall of a soldier holding a paintbrush, a group of young Filipinos posed for a photo.
"This place is impressive, not just because of the colors but also because of the complex details of the paintings," said Eloisa Reyes, a graphic designer from Davao City.
"I am sure the man who did this has a lot of love and happiness in his heart. These paintings give me a joyful and compassionate feeling," she added.
Thousands of visitors from different parts of the globe come to Rainbow Village every day. Some of them have no idea how one man's vibrant paintings saved an old village.
Lin said Rainbow Village is something Taiwan can really be proud of, adding, "As a local, I want to contribute to its growth and preservation."
Rainbow Grandpa still wakes up before dawn and tries to paint, but not as often as he did anymore because of his health. The work he has done, however, will continue to inspire people who use art to make – or prevent – change. – Rappler.com
Mark Saludes contributed to this report.