Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Houtong 猴硐

Houtong Station is one of the stops on the Yilan Branch Line and is one of the stops serving the Ruifang District in New Taipei City

Houtong (猴硐) was once Taiwan's largest coal mine. In addition to an information centre that provided historical information on the place, there was a derelict coal purification plant closed for public access, too. It was the Ruey-San Coal Dressing Plant (瑞三选煤厂), which was constructed in 1920 to accommodate the newly-established rail transport service in Houtong. Two coal purification machines with the capacity of dressing 500 tonnes of coal each day were installed in the plant. Coal was first sifted through a sieve with one-inch meshes and then was processed by the electric-powered coal purification machines. After workers (mainly women) picked out unwanted rocks by hand, the processed coal was loaded onto trucks automatically and then transported out of the plant to be sold. The two machines were the only coal purification equipment in Taiwan at the time. 

Do you notice that feline in the foreground of the above photo? It was not the only one. There were so many of them around and I suppose, that was how Houtong became known as Houtong Cat Village (猴硐猫村).

How did a mining village become a cat village? Well, before it became a cat village, it was a monkey village and was called Hou Dong (猴洞). Literally, it means Monkey Cave and was named so due to the monkeys inhibiting the cave nearby.

As coal is a natural resource that is not renewable, once the supply diminished, so did the growth of the village. From a population of over 6,000 people, it gradually dwindled down to a few hundred as the younger generation moved to other towns for better sources of income. It was in 2008 that things started to change for the village, when a local cat lover organised a group of volunteers to look out for and care for the stray cats in the village.

Photos they posted online went viral and as news spread, more and more cat lovers visited Houtong, thus reviving it as a tourist destination.

As a result of the cats, everything in the village took up a feline theme; from the toilet, to the design of the pedestrian bridge, to cat-themed cafes and souvenir shops, as well as cat wall murals and cat staircases.

As I walked around the village, I noticed colourful little catboxes in various designs. I made the assumption that they were either prepared by the volunteers or perhaps, even by the local residents.

I was in luck, as when I was there, one volunteer was there feeding the cats. She could remember every cat by name!

My bro would have loved it here. I could imagine him not wanting to leave until he had taken a picture of every single cat there. Or pat them to say hi. Or something. He is a super cat lover.

Last evening in Taiwan for this trip and seeing these cats made me miss my furry ones back home.

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