A trip to the Rainbow Village of Taiwan s of India Travel
A cat, in a hat, sits perched on a ledge. A laughing tiger leaps from a wall, permanently caught in this pose. A red dolphin jumps over the moon. On looking closer, I see that the lion bears a mouse’s body. Soon I’m distracted by a pig in a dress! This is not a surrealist print, or a page out of a children’s picture book; it is an entire settlement in Taichung, Taiwan, that’s smeared in happy colours and cartoon-like figures. Aptly nicknamed Rainbow Village, the story behind it is just as dreamy as the facade.
The village was just one of many military settlements dotting Taiwan a.k.a military dependents villages that housed former soldiers and their families. But as time passed, many of these quaint colonies gave way to malls, multi-storeyed buildings, and other contemporary structures. While inhabitants were re-housed, they lost a bit of their culture, their heritage and their old ways. The promise of modernisation soon reached this settlement in Taichung. Everyone left, except for one spirited former soldier. All of 86 years old in 2008, Huang Yung-Fu decided to stay as long as he could; his resistance came in the form of a brush and cans of paint.
With no formal training, he began tentatively at first, painting the inner walls of his humble home. Soon he worked on the facade. In time, he had painted all 11 homes that made up the settlement. The colourful ghost-village attracted the attention of local university students who, in turn, spearheaded a campaign to save it. As word spread, tourists came from far and wide to walk right into this storybook, and meet ‘Grandpa Rainbow’. No two people can agree upon what they see: I see hints of surrealism, a likeness to the Spanish painter Miro; my friend believes inspiration came from Japanese anime. No two visits promise to be the same as grandpa often changes everything with just a stroke. As the number of visitors grew, so too did public opinion and the village was preserved and declared a public park. Today, the village is among the most visited attractions in Taichung.
Much like his artwork, grandpa’s reasoning too is shrouded in mystery: a handful of people claim that as his neighbours fled, Yung-Fu was bored and so he took to painting. Others believe that grandpa always planned to use his artistic ability to try and save his home. He just never knew he would succeed!
There’s only one man who can tell us exactly what the paintings mean. At 96, Yung-Fu continues to live in the village, and often talks to visitors. I could’ve asked him. But every fairy tale — even those that come true — needs a sprinkling of magic and a hint of mystery. Yet the moral of this story rings clear: all it takes is one person to make a difference.
Huang Yong Fu, Rainbow Grandpa, still lives and paints in the village and is somewhat of a local celebrity. If you’re lucky, you can meet him and buy one of his signed pieces of art.
The author of the story is Kiran Mehta