Thursday, September 20, 2012

Fire and Art (Travel in Taiwan)

The single-story three-sided courtyard house is a timeless feature of Taiwan's countryside. These quaint abodes, known in Mandarin Chinese as sanheyuan (三合院), are recognizable by their tiled roofs and wings set at right angles to the main part of the house. Some sanheyuan are cramped; others have enough space for large extended families. The walls may be of pounded earth, wattle-and-daub, or round river stones cemented together, but if the owners could afford it, the material of choice was red brick.

Few sanheyuan have been built since the 1960s, and Taiwan's construction industry now prefers steel-reinforced concrete. Not surprisingly, many brick-makers have gone out of business. Of the 130-plus traditional brick-making kilns which used to operate in Kaohsiung City's Dashu District (大樹區), only three remain, and they all belong to San-He Tile Kiln (三和瓦窯, 94 Zhuliao Road; tel: (07) 652-1432; open: Monday to Friday 8am-5pm; Saturday & Sunday 8am-7pm; groups should book in advance). The company's Chinese-only website features gorgeous photos of the company's premises and products.

As recently as the 1950s, the area boasted 20 companies in the same line of business. All have fallen by the wayside, save for San-He, now managed by Lee Chun-hung (李俊宏), great-grandson of the entrepreneur who purchased the business in 1925...

The complete article appears in the September/October issue of Travel in Taiwan. The picture shows the side of one of the company's three traditional kilns. Two are still in regular use.

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