By Stella Karageorgi
For those young at heart, the Rainbow Village is a must-visit if ever near Taichung, Taiwan. People often cheer as they encounter the vibrant place, even more so after learning of its story. The location spreads across a neighborhood of 11 houses of what used to be a former military housing complex of 1,200 buildings. Some 10 years ago the Taiwanese government started demolishing the settlement to make way for a modern apartment complex. The majority of the families had already abandoned the village, while the last remaining resident, the 86-year-old Huang Yung-fu, was offered money to move elsewhere. With no family and nowhere to go, Huang took matters in his hands and unexpectedly transformed the fate of this forsaken village and, consequently, his life. In a hopeful attempt to hold onto the only thing he had left, Huang started painting his bungalow walls. A small bird of hope first made its appearance through Huang’s ‘magic’ brush, and then ‘flew out’ to spark life into the lifeless streets of the deserted village.
Once visitors started to flock to the Rainbow village, the government, upon popular request, declared the location a protected cultural area and did not proceed with the demolition of the rest of the houses. Thanks to Huang’s desire and vigor, the village has now transformed into a cultural spot and a popular tourist destination with over 1 million visitors a year.
This elderly man, a former soldier, had no training in art; whatever he drew was a remembrance from early childhood memories. He is now a somewhat untraditional street artist who has offered the world the gift of his inner spark. “It touches people’s hearts looking at this man’s work and hearing his story. It wasn’t a violent protest. He wasn’t asking for any help. He just loved his home” Yang said. His art is colorful and playful, with a child naivete that great artists could only dream of achieving. As Pablo Picasso once stated, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”
Setting foot in the village is to enter a whimsical and vibrant world inhabited by playful and quirky characters that awaken our inner child. It is an immersive environment, a colorful dream world where each street has a story to tell. Cheerful owls, mischievous birds, and bunnies make their appearance in the alleyways while quirky creatures, kissing sweethearts, and dancing samurais join the merry dance. The walls and the village streets are all submerged in an explosion of colors, radiating life and joy; nothing is left untouched by Huang’s ‘magic’ brush.
Currently, the young at heart 96-year-old Huang is now lovingly nicknamed the ‘Rainbow Grandpa’. “There are many things that I can’t do anymore, but I can still paint”, Huang said. “It keeps me healthy, and adding a little color can turn something old into something beautiful.” Huang has set a remarkable example for all of us to look up somewhere over the rainbow, way up high, where dreams come true.
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