1.1 Listening Room
Red, blue & white :
A walk through Taiwan's rainbow village
Narration and pictures by Ching Ching Yang
Around February every year, we celebrate ‘Chinese New Year’ in Taiwan. We get together with family and friends, collect ‘lucky money’ from our grandparents, stuff ourselves with changshou mian and beer till our faces turn red, and shout Happy New Year about two months later than the rest of the world. I prefer to call it ‘Taiwanese New Year’ or simply ‘New Year’. The day after this New Year, I took a day off work to walk around Rainbow Village in my hometown, Taichung. This is an account of that walk.
Illustration by Jishnnu B
Based on Grandpa's art in Rainbow Village
I walk past scattered flocks of visitors clicking pictures with the painted walls and ask to meet with Mr. Wei Pi Ren - the leading member of Rainbow Village.
As I wait, I observe the walls. It is unlike any street art I have ever seen. There are more than a thousand different Mandarin characters and many different animals on the walls yet all of them seem strangely familiar. Though randomly placed, the characters and animals all look connected somehow. Looking at them makes me forget about health, money and all the things that have been making my head fuzzy lately.
Most characters translate to messages like ‘You will be happy’ or ‘You will be rich’ – just like the banners we put up on Taiwanese New Year. Red, blue and white seem to be the dominant colors on the walls. I wonder if Rainbow Village was inspired by the Taiwan flag.
Mr. Wei comes out from behind one of the walls I am looking at, and waves. He is about my father’s age and is wearing black jeans with a plain black t-shirt that contrast with the brightly coloured walls around him. He is taller than the average Taiwanese, with rectangular glasses and a face that looks neither happy nor sad, but welcoming.
We have been in touch before, and there is no need for introductions. Mr. Wei straight away begins telling me about ‘Grandpa’, the now 98-year-old ex-militant who fled to Taiwan from China with the rest of his troops in 1949. To house the troops, settlements started coming up in over 850 villages across Taiwan, which later came to be known as military dependent villages. Young Grandpa found his home in one of these villages in Taichung.
According to Mr. Wei, Grandpa started painting the walls of his village to save it from being demolished by developers, and has not stopped painting since. We walk past an image of a young militant holding a paintbrush as Mr. Wei continues to talk about Grandpa. I wonder what Grandpa was thinking about when he painted this cartoon. Does he want us to paint our own identity like he has been doing or does he want the militants to give up their flags and do something peaceful for their communities instead?
We change lanes, Mr. Wei points to a wall and tells me about a few other members of Rainbow Village who joined Grandpa. They are mostly young artists from nearby universities who have come to think of Rainbow Village as a symbol of Taiwanese identity. Some, like Mr. Wei, are from veteran families that continue to reside in one of the remaining 13 military dependent villages.
For them, Grandpa leads their hope to save their homes from being demolished. Mr. Wei goes on to tell me that Rainbow Village has also become a symbol for members of the LGBTQIA community.
To me, it feels like the paintings have the magic to guide those who want to find their own identities, and the village has the power to bring such people together.
After all, the characters on the wall Mr. Wei is pointing at, represent both – the Taiwanese and Chinese cultures connected in harmony, something I have wished for but not been able to picture until now.
Just as we are about to end our hour-long walk through Rainbow Village, Mr. Wei pauses and asks me if I have seen the red cat on one of the walls before. Like the other paintings, this one looks familiar too. I ask Mr. Wei what it is and he tells me that Grandpa paints things from his dreams. A few coincidences have made people believe that he is able to predict the future from his dreams too. For example - Grandpa dreamt about the red cat he painted, and a few weeks later the fossil of a similar looking 2000 year old cat was discovered in Peru’s Nazca Lines. I don’t know about you but I would like to believe this is true. Everything about the village has seemed like a serious case of déjà vu.
Maybe all of our dreams are connected in some way or the other.
Builders plan to demolish the Rainbow Village by 2024 after which its painted walls will be showcased in international museums and galleries. Mr. Wei tells me to think of this as a way to spread the magic of the paintings to more people who want to find their identities. He says that the demolition of Grandpa’s Rainbow Village will create more around the world.
About Mysticeti’s friends:
Ching Ching Yang is a medic and traveler who believes in representing the Taiwanese identity
Wei Pi Ren is the CEO of China Village Cultural Industry and Director at Rainbow Creative Co. Ltd.
Jishnnu B creates visualization, illustrations and immersive narratives
Reading this photo essay from 2018 by BBC to know more about Grandpa
Visiting Rainbow Village’s website to know more about it
Watching A Touch of Green