Chao Jin-rong maintains the Spirit of Traditional Military Dependents' Villages／趙金蓉 暖暖人情話眷村
maintains the Spirit of Traditional Military Dependents' Villages
◎English translation: Wendy Wei Chang
◎Photos by Lin Yu-hung
One of Taiwan's air force bases are located in Gangshan District. There were 18 military dependents located in the district. Lecyun was a village which provided high level military officers spacious, single-family homes that were originally intended for officers during the Japanese colonial era. Families of non-officers lived in smaller homes that were constructed by the Taiwanese government.
In the 1980s, the Ministry of National Defense remodeled the villages in Gangshan. Later, seventeen out of eighteen villages were demolished. Only Lecyun Village was preserved due to its unique architecture and historical legacy. In 2010, part of the village was recognized as historical sites. Residents of the demolished villages were relocated to an apartment complex named "New Lijhih Community". Seven years ago, the couple Mr. Chao Jin-rong and Ms. Lan A-Er were also relocated. They admit that although life in an apartment complex feels different, their new home is cozy and heartwarming. Mr. Chao remembers when he still lived in the village, and people would chat with their neighbors every day, discussing what they were going to have for dinner etc. During the summers, people would sit together outside, sipping drinks and enjoy summer breeze. At that time, they could easily identify any newcomers. In the apartment complex, people keep their front doors closed and although Mr. Chao still interacts with his neighbor from time to time, the boisterous atmosphere and camaraderie of the village has long since gone.
Mr. Chao came to Taiwan when he was 8 years and in 1959 he joined Taiwan's Marine Corps Amphibious Reconnaissance and Patrol Unit. He was even honored as the one of the best swimmers in the ocean which is depicted on a wooden board that still hangs on his wall. Mr. Chao retired from the military in 1975 and for the next ten years, he started to run a cargo ship in order to improve his family's financial situation. He retired two years after he had an accident off the shore of Luzon in the Philippines, which resulted in a crack in the hull of his ship. Luckily, he was able to get the ship to shore and was rescued. After he gave up his maritime career, he became a janitor at a swimming pool in Lujhu's District Office.
Although, Mr. Chao is originally from Hebei, China, and his wife is a local from Taiwan. He met Mrs. Chao, when he was serving in the military. He even had her name tattooed on his arm as a testimony of their relationship. One of the challenges they had overcome was differences in family backgrounds. However, Mrs. Chao recalled how her now late mother-in-law had been very kind to her, even taking the time to teach her how to make the Chao family's traditional New Year's dish of Hebei dried radish. They had a close relationship and would take her on international vacations.
Mr. Chao is a great cook. During his time with the Lujhu District Office, he would often bring in homemade scallion pancakes, dumplings and leek pies to share with his colleagues. His dishes were very popular. Even though Mr. Chao retired from the District Office 14 years ago, he continues to hone his cooking skills. During the Chinese New Year, he makes cured pork and sausages on his balcony and his time-consuming, complex, specialty dish of marinated pig skin rolls for his in-laws.
These days Mr. and Mrs. Chao spend a lot of time creating culinary delights. When they are not cooking, Mr. Chao enjoys spending time in a park drinking hot tea and chatting with his old friends. Mrs. Chao keeps busy volunteering at a local community center. The couple still exhibits the kindness and warmth found in traditional military villages.