Camphor Trees Recall Jiasian's Captivating History
【◎Written by Chen Ting-fang ◎Photos by Zeng Sin-yao ◎English translation by Hou Ya-ting】
Taro from Kaohsiung's Jiasian District enjoys an excellent reputation. However, after 2009, when Typhoon Morakot wiped out Jiasian's Siaolin Village and devastated local roads, the district suffered economic woes. Businesses in the commercial heart of Jiasian experienced a slump in trade. Efforts to revitalize local tourism have included the development of new sites in the area, including a cat-themed painted alley and Chen's Vanilla Garden.
Jiasain's history is deeply intertwined with the area's geography. Long ago, poor transportation infrastructure in Kaohsiung's mountainous districts meant that those traveling between central Jiasian and what are now Taoyuan and Namasia districts often had to spend a night in Jiasian. Therefore, the town became an indispensable gateway to Kaohsiung's mountainous interior.
In addition, Jiasian has a great many camphor trees. During the 1895-1945 period of Japanese rule, the colonial government began a massive logging operation to cut down camphor trees and extract camphor oil. Jiasian's camphor resources were aggressively exploited. To bolster this profitable industry, the colonial authorities encouraged the arrival of migrant workers, improved local sanitation, and planted taro.
The district now celebrates the Jiasian Taro and Bamboo Shoot Festival to promote locally-grown produce. Few people know that taro was introduced to the area during the colonial period in order to feed the camphor industry's workforce. Taro farming expanded after World War II, and it became one of Jiasian's signature agriculture products.
There are three camphor trees which were transplanted to Jiasian in 1907, and which have survived turbulent times to still stand at He-an Old Street in front of Jiasian Police Station. During the colonial period, when the Japanese authories continued to deforest Jiasian's camphor trees, local indigenous people fearlessly confronted the colonial government in order to protect the local camphor forest. These three camphor trees are witnesses to that local history.
Jiasian residents did not give up in the face of the tourism downturn that followed Typhoon Morakot. Among local stimulus measures, one of the most successful has been the cat-themed painted alley. Located behind He-an Old Street in downtown Jiasian, it has become a popular sightseeing spot. This charming 100m-long alley was a collaborative work with contributions from students at the nearby elementary and junior high schools. Walking along the alley, the cat paintings are very eye-catching and amusing. Also, the top of the alleyway is decorated with colorful umbrellas, allowing a mellow light to shine on the alley. Colorful shadows create a pleasant ambience. Not surprisingly, the alleyway has become a popular place to take photos.
The 300m-long Jiasian Old Street reflects a mix of old and new lifestyles. During the Japanese era, this was a boisterous thoroughfare with hotels, high-end restaurants, an apothecary, a grocery store, shaved ice shops, and other businesses. Zanshengtang Traditional Herbal Apothecary has been in business for over a century, and Jincheng Grocery Store has operated since the colonial period. Customers would buy breakfast at the intersection of Linsen Road and He-an Street.
Another popular site is Chen's Vanilla Garden, established by Mr. Chen Jhih-cheng, head chef of Jiasian's renowned Huangdu Restaurant. There's no admission charge and guests are offered vanilla tea bags for free. Chef Chen welcomes visitors to enjoy a cup of vanilla tea and sit beneath the trees while appreciating the tranquil scenery.
As pointed out in a 2013 documentary about Jiasian in the wake of Typhoon Morakot, “Bridge over Troubled Water,” if people join events and activities in Jiasian, the district will once again flourish. For this reason, Jiasian residents cordially welcome everyone to visit their hometown.