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When Paddy first appeared in the driveway of my family home some time in 2005, he was so skinny and weak he could barely stay upright while eating. Although my mother had been the one who initially spotted him and started feeding him, over time he became my father’s cat. Soon, my ordinarily undemonstrative father would often be overheard cooing so loudly and embarrassingly over Paddo, Paddyboy, Boy Boy or whatever other variation he felt like on a given day that it would have been stomach-turning if I hadn’t been so endeared.
I don’t have many good photos of Paddy. The fight scars (which he thankfully stopped racking up once we got him neutered) meant he wasn’t much of a looker. But the more challenging problem was that every time I would stoop with my camera to try and get a photo at ground level, he would charge at me for snuggles. I only managed to get this shot by leaping to my feet and stretching my camera arm out, pointing the camera back down towards where Paddy was still intent on getting cat hair all over my orange pants.
On 2 July, 2013, my father came home from work to find his Paddyboy dead in the road. Paddy had always seemed fine as an outdoor cat, which is one of the reasons he had never been taken into the house, but unfortunately he must have been no match for one of the many drivers who see fit to tear along that road as if it’s a main road (even though it is in fact a small road very near a primary school).
Paddy had ruled his little slate-tiled kingdom with a benevolence that belied his physical ability to crush most of the other cats who wandered in and out. He loved lounging on the car roof, and we used to joke about the caving-in which seemed inevitable some day. These days when I visit my family home I imagine an invisible dent on that car roof, as if to pretend he is still with us.
In my recent attempts to be slightly better at blogging about my travels, I’ve found that the impetus to do a post either arises from wanting to provide value to other travellers doing their research online, or wanting to share photographs I took while travelling which may not necessarily be useful snapshots of “what you will see at ___ sight” but that I’m reasonably happy with nonetheless.
This post is because cats.
A village of cats.
Houtong is a small village in Taiwan, an easy train ride away from Taipei. It’s part of a group of former coal-mining villages which have now reinvented themselves for tourism. As uninspiring as this may sound, the villages are surrounded by rolling hills and waterfalls, have done up their abandoned mining facilities quite educationally, and are handily connected by the little Pingxi railway line, which you can travel all day for the pittance of 54NTD (day pass).
Houtong’s done a pretty good job with its coal-mining sights, but evidently decided at some point that it would obliterate all possible notions of being nothing more than a bleak industrial wasteland by cultivating and cosseting its fuzziest residents.
When you get off the train, one side of the tracks leads you to the visitors’ centre, a nicely done little coal-mining museum and some rather evocative mining ruins, and the other side leads you to the residential streets. There are plenty of cats to be seen on either side, but just in case you’d like some guidance, here’s a totally useful map.
Wandering around, at almost every turn you come across feeding dishes, little cat shelters and of course the cats themselves, who were mostly very lazy on a rainy afternoon and content to sit around looking cute and snoozy for photos.
Just in case it has managed to elude you so far that cats are an important part of this village, there’s also a giant cat statue.
In hindsight, I realize I should have used a smaller aperture for this photo because the depth-of-field is too shallow to effectively make the point that this cat is a real-life version of the giant statue seen faintly in the background. I was probably too overwhelmed by ZOMGADORRRRBBBBSS!!! in the moment.
Here is the village logo, which combines references to Houtong’s name (侯硐 means “monkey cave” in English), its mining past and its delightful present. Alec, who does not share my enthusiasm for disturbingly oversized cats, did not share my enthusiasm for this logo either. Humph.
I set my umbrella down in order to better photograph this cat. Naturally, it then decided that it can haz umbrella.
Most cats I saw in the village were shorthairs, similar to the strays we have in Singapore, but I did come across this regal chap guarding a doorway.
To get to Houtong:
Take an east-bound local train out of Taipei Main station or Songshan station to Ruifang (瑞芳). If you can read Chinese, look on the digital displays for trains heading to Yilan (宜蘭), Hualien (花蓮) or Taidong (台東), but if not it may be easier to ask for help. I believe you can buy tickets in advance for a variety of trains (express vs local etc.) with different journey times, but we just took the next available train and paid with our EasyCards by tapping-in as usual at the ticket gates.
At Ruifang, there is a ticket office on the platform where you can buy the Pingxi line day pass. (If you used the EasyCard to pay for your Taipei – Ruifang ride, you can tap-out with your card on the platform near the ticket office without having to exit the station.)
From here, the Pingxi line sequence is:
Ruifang – Houtong – Sandiaoling – Dahua – Shihfen – Wanggu – Lingjiao – Pingxi – Jingtong
I might write more about the rest of our Pingxi line explorations in a separate post, but just in case I don’t get round to doing that, make sure to check train times as you plan your own explorations, because the trains aren’t always regularly spaced out and you could end up waiting around longer than you’d wanted to at one stop because you’ve just missed one train and the next will be in more than an hour’s time.
Till next time, here is a hoodie I spotted on the train out of Houtong.