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Ruan Old Family House

阮家古厝(金德興藥舖)

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Jingliao and Ruan Old Family House

Long ago, Jingliao was an important way station between Tainan and Chiayi. The village is now bypassed by the main north-south arteries, which has had the unintended effect of preserving much of the old town. These days, this tiny hamlet has experienced a sort of renaissance thanks to the 2005 documentary film Let It Be, which depicted the lifestyles and life stories of four elderly local farmers.  

Even if the documentary had never been made, Jingliao would surely be on the tourist map. The town’s Old Street is loaded with traditional shops and eateries, such as the Ho Hsin Fruit and Ice Shop, wwhich has been operating for nearly 80 years and still offers old favorites like banana ice and red bean milk ice.

About halfway down Old Street stands the Ruan Family Old House, also called the Jing De Hsing Drug Store. This is a Grade 3 National Historic Site and is an architectural treasure. The house was originally built during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor, between 1735 and 1795. While it has obviously undergone extensive remodeling and rebuilding—concrete wasn’t used for construction until the Japanese colonial period (1895-1945), yet four concrete columns support the eaves at the front—the entire facade is nonetheless made of wood as is the greater part of the side and back exterior walls. Because of the local climate—and the voracious local termites—very little woodwork here lasts more than a century, making the Ruan Family House a great rarity in Taiwan.

How much of what stands today is original is not of great importance. This is a timeworn and fabulously alluring one-and-a-half-story structure. It is worth spending some time studying the woodcarvings and painted panels that face the street. When you step inside, on your right you’ll see a steep, narrow staircase up to the attic (off limits to visitors). In the days of old, the upstairs would have been used for storage or as sleeping quarters.

No one has come to Jing De Hsing Drug Store to purchase medicine for a very long time, but the tools of the Chinese herbalist’s trade remain in place. There are mortars and pestles, dozens of vials, and sets of drawers labeled so the physician could quickly find what he needed. 

Many of the labels are so faded as to be illegible, but those who can read Chinese will find the clearer ones engrossing. Drawers are set aside for dried land dragon (地龍干), or eviscerated earthworms (considered to be effective against pain and certain kinds of arthritis); spider brake (鳳尾蕨), a fern used as an herbal remedy; and Perilla frutescens (紫蘇梗), a species related to mint (the dried and sliced stems are used to treat vomiting and stomach cramps).

Visitors planning a trip to Jingliao should be aware that the Chinese title of the documentary, Wumile, has been adopted as an alternative name for the town; some of the bilingual signs that direct cyclists here read Wumile Community, and visitors wanting to pick up a map, rent a bicycle, or refill their water bottles will be directed to the Wumile Tourist Information Center. 

 

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  No. 191, Jingliao, Molin Vil., Houbi Dist., Tainan City

  台南市後壁區墨林里菁寮191號

  +886 6 6621261