Story & Photographs by Bernice Beltran
Armed with acrylics and paintbrushes, war veteran Huang Yung-Fu painted a small portion of his village hoping to save it from demolition. Little did he know that his small act of creative defiance would turn his neighborhood into a tourist spot in Taichung City, Taiwan that is now known as the Rainbow Village.
Every year, millions of visitors from across the globe flock the Rainbow Village. Huang, who earned the nickname Rainbow Grandpa, would come out of his house and greet them.
Born in China, Huang used to draw when he was a child but spent most of his youth as a soldier. As a teenager, he fought with the Chinese army to defeat the Japanese in 1937 and later on joined the Kuomintang army to fight against Mao Zedong’s communist government.
When the communist party defeated the Kuomintang, Huang moved to Taiwan along with the other war refugees where they lived in temporary shelters.
Huang became a soldier for the Taiwanese military and retired in the veterans’ village where he lives now. For four decades, Huang became part of a community of 1200 households, all of them came from China. He lived in the small bungalow alone but according to him, they were like one big family.
In the ‘80s, the Taiwanese government ordered to replace the deteriorating temporary shelters with modern condominiums, which prompted residents to move out of the village. By 2008, Huang was the only resident left.
Soon, a letter from the government arrived at Huang’s doorstep telling him to leave his house. With nowhere else to go, Huang took upon himself to preserve the village.
The white walls of Huang’s bedroom became a canvas where he painted playful portraits of men and women. After painting his house, Huang soldiered on and decorated his neighbors’ homes with whimsical characters. He drew abstracted images of boys, girls, men, women, and animals in thick brushstrokes, covering every surface of the village with vivid colors.
Two years later, a university student passed by Huang’s village and discovered his wall art. The student took pictures of his work and initiated a petition against the demolition with the help of other students and faculty members of a university in Taichung.
Grandpa Rainbow’s story soon got the public’s attention. Concerned citizens urged the government to let Huang keep his village. As a result, the government declared the newly painted veterans’ village a public park.
Today, Huang lives in the same house, this time with his wife. He met the love of his in a hospital in 2013 and got married soon after. While Huang’s neighbors all moved out, he entertains visitors from all over the world every day. As millions of tourists flock the Rainbow Village each year, the couple receives help from volunteers to run the place.
Read the story here: Taiwanese war veteran uses art to save his village