When someone first suggested visiting a “merchant house” I wasn’t exactly jumping up and down with anticipation. Really, what could be so interesting to see in a place where business was conducted? Dragging my feet, I went anyway because it was close by, and we had nothing else to do. Upon seeing the place, I was pleasantly surprised, and glad I went.
The Tait and Co. old merchant house is situated right beside the Anping tree house in Tainan. This building was built in 1867 and has served many functions over the years – the current one being a museum of early Taiwanese life and life with the Dutch.
When they first set up shop (1867), Tait and Co. dealt in tea, camphor and opium. Yes – legal drug dealers. Business was booming, until the arrival of the Japanese in 1895. At this point, the Japanese took control of the opium and camphor, leaving only the tea. Profits fell, and good times dwindled. Then in 1911 all the foreign traders were given the boot out of Taiwan, and the Tait and Co. building was converted into a salt company. Finally, in 1979, it was converted into the museum it is today.
When I first saw the building, I remember being vaguely impressed by the shape it was in. It certainly doesn’t look like a decrepit almost 150 year old building. It’s 2 storeys high. Walking into the first level, I was quite happy to see a wax museum!
The exhibits depicted life in Taiwan over the years, starting with the aboriginal hunters (400 years ago):
Moving forward to the end of Dutch rule – depicting their surrender to Koxinga:
and finally to the Chinese settlers who came over to Taiwan:
describing their salt gathering techniques:
In addition to the wax figures, there were also cards that described each exhibit in Mandarin and English, so I was able to understand and appreciate everything without constantly bugging my companion to tell me what was happening.
One of the funny things I noticed at the wax museum, especially the exhibits where the Chinese come to Taiwan, was that all the figures were smiling – looking very happy with what they were doing. Seemed incoungruent with what was actually going on. I’m sure that a poor worker lugging around 50 kgs. of salt on his back in the hot Taiwan sun would NOT be grinning like this was the best thing in the world!
All in all, wax museum = cool.
After the wax museum, we ascended to the 2nd floor. It was at this point that I was told that photography was prohibited in this building and asked to put my camera away. No wonder all those people downstairs were looking at me – I’d just chalked it up to the typical “let’s-stare-at-the-foreigner-to-see-what-he-does” phenomenon, but this time I was, unwittingly in the wrong. So unfortunately, no pictures from now on.
The second floor contained tonnes of information on Taiwan during the Dutch rule. It was presented in Mandarin, English and sometimes even Dutch. Some of the interesting things covered are daily life in Taiwan, punishment for crimes, the life of a Dutch housewife, life of a typical Chinese family, a typical business – many topics. There were also anecdotal stories describing short snippets of life in newspaper article form. It was entertaining as well as informative.
I felt that the facts were fairly introduced – there wasn’t any biasing propoganda to support either side (Taiwan or the Dutch) and everything was just laid out in matter of fact terms. It took a while to navigate these rooms because of the sheer quantity of information presented, but you will learn a lot about life at that time.
All in all, I’d definitely recommend a visit to the Tait and Co. merchant house. It’s not as boring as the name would suggest – quite the opposite. Just remember, no photos, or you will be looked at like a rude zoo animal!
Here’s where to find it: