Taichung (CNN) — Residents of Taiwan’s Rainbow Village are not your average fellow homo sapiens, but whimsical, brightly-colored animals.
Covered in vibrant colors and funky illustrations from the walls to the floor, the 1,000 square meter art park in Taichung, central Taiwan, has been an Instagrammers’ favorite thanks to its kaleidoscopic visuals, attracting around two million visitors per year before the Covid-19 pandemic.
People don’t visit just for its aesthetics, they also love its backstory: The village was once on the verge of demolition, but one veteran’s simple action of painting saved it and gave it an even more glamourous second life.
In 2007, Huang Yong-fu — then 84 years old — learned that his home was going to be demolished and the land sold to developers.
Born in Guangdong province in mainland China, Huang was constantly on the move during his life as a soldier.
He fought in the Second Sino-Japanese War, lived in Hong Kong, then joined the Nationalist army on Hainan Island to fight the Chinese Civil War before retreating to Taiwan with the troops led by Chiang Kai-shek in 1949 following their defeat.
He went on to serve at an airbase in southern Taiwan and finally retired as a clerk at a recruit training center in Taichung. Since then, he had been living in a military dependents’ village, one of the many communities built to accommodate Nationalist soldiers who fled to Taiwan, as well as their families.
An artist touches up a detail at the Rainbow Village.
To bid farewell to his home of nearly 30 years, Huang picked up a brush and started painting his furniture. Playful images of imaginative creatures and local superstars were brought to life one after another, crawling from his wardrobe, desk and stools all the way to the exterior walls and the neighbors’ abandoned houses.
Little did he know that his fate — and that of his beloved home — was about to take an unexpected turn.
When students from nearby universities discovered Huang’s artwork, photos of the colorful buildings went viral online. The 11 houses covered in quirky paintings quickly became a photo hotspot under the nickname of “Rainbow Village,” leading to a petition campaign to save it from demolition in 2010.
The Taichung City government eventually agreed to keep the village and turned it into a public park in 2014. Huang, now 98 and known as “Grandpa Rainbow,” was allowed to stay and continue his daily routine — painting the village and greeting visitors.
Paintings of blessings
Wei Pi-ren, 68, has been supporting Huang since 2010 and shares his vision for the village. “We want this place to be fun, healing and romantic,” he tells CNN Travel.
For decades, Wei has been working to preserve the culture of military dependents’ villages and assisting veterans like Huang with hospital visits. When Huang’s younger brother from Hong Kong asked him to look after the veteran and his art, Wei founded Rainbow Creative and recruited young…