Back in January 2017, I took a holiday to Jiufen of all places (I was still relatively new to Taiwan). We stayed in an old but nicely decorated house beside a graveyard at the top of the town. We realized pretty quickly that Jiufen went dead after 9pm with most places closing as the crowds all went away. We still found a place serving beer at 9.30 pm, but sadly we had to take them to go. Also, being next to a graveyard was quite creepy at night, and when we walked around at night, the once busy streets were pretty creepy. Thankfully we had our 平安卡.
On a little day out, we stopped by a nice cafe on our way to Jinguashi (金瓜石 or Kinkaseki according to the elderly people that we met) called 金瓜食堂 (it’s closed now sadly) and met an elderly man. He was smoking away and enjoying his break and we caught each others eyes. My partner helped me translate a lot since he mostly spoke Taiwanese. He was 93-years-old and was still hiking around the area. He told us that he grew up there and visited quite often on weekends. It’s quite a thing to see someone in their 90s smoking. The funny part was that he was a doctor.
He told us that after WW2 he went to Japan and studied to become a doctor. He came back to Taiwan, had a family, and was now chatting to a ginger Irishman.
He also told us that when he was a teenager, he used to run from Jinguashi to Keelung most days of the week to keep his bus fare to buy a pack of cigarettes. Pretty badass and that’s commitment to an addiction. That’s real commitment to your vices.
He brought us on a little tour of Jinguashi (金瓜石) and showed us the Taiwan War Memorial (Called 國際終戰和平紀念園區 in Mandarin) which is dedicated to British, Australian, and Kiwi soldiers that were POW’s in the area. They were forced to work in the gold mines and were treated horribly. He said he remembered the Japanese soldiers holding their guns and seeing British POW carrying their friends away after they died. Below is a plaque he brought us to.
He later brought us to where we could get a bus back to Jiufen and we enjoyed more chats on the bus. I still think about that gentleman every now and again. That was over four years ago (2021 now at time of writing this), and I hope he’s still alive and enjoying himself. I’d love to meet him again and might take a gander down to Ruifang when I have some time off.
To this day, that gentleman’s kindness and sincerity in wanting to share his home to me has stayed with me.
I’d also recommend checking out “Never Forgotten.” It’s a book that took 24 years of research and is a must-buy
“‘NEVER FORGOTTEN’ tells the story of the Japanese prisoner of war camps on the island of Taiwan (Formosa) in the Second World War. It is the only book ever written that provides the complete story of all the Taiwan camps and the men who were interned in them.”
For anyone interested in visiting the war memorial, here’s the location below! It’s not very far from Taipei. I’d recommend making it part of your trip to Jiufen because that little town is basically a daytime night market. Be sure to check out some of the history behind Japan’s POWs in Taiwan.