Asked where an artist can be found, the street vender pointed toward Bazi Village, saying the old ladies there made great paintings.
Speaking of the old ladies from Bazi Village in Hualian, art teacher Lin Huaxing, feeling funny and a little upset at the same time, could not hide his complaint: “Those old ladies never think before opening their mouths. They simply have no sense of respect for teachers.” One of them questioned him, a graduate from the Chinese Painting Department of the National Taiwan University of Arts with years of teaching experience: “Teacher, you are always asking us to paint, but can you paint?”
He challenged the students right there. Everybody started to draw the basketball in front. The old ladies picked up the pencils and erasers and began to sketch and erase and sketch again. Lin Huaxing, however, did not need any eraser. With a ballpoint pen, he finished the drawing in a few moments. All the ladies were so amazed: “Wow, Teacher, your basketball is full of air and ours are flat like glutinous rice cakes!” The same funny show goes on frequently in either the classroom of Fuyuan Elementary School in Bazi Village or the Fuyuan Cultural Center. Lin Huaxing is the one to blame. The students show no respect but he could only sigh: “There’s nothing I can do. Some of them used to hold me in their arms when I was little. They’re my elders!”
Originally from Hualian, he returned to his hometown, Fuyuan, when he was thirty, to help with community development. He realized the old people in the township had nothing to do all day and began to spend his free time teaching the old folk in Bazi Village to paint. For some reason, only the ladies showed up for the lessons. None of the old guys were interested in developing their artistic potential. The ladies explained: “The old men had to stay home to do the washing, cooking and looking after the grandchildren so that we could come to paint.” Lin Huaxing kidded that he not only discovered many female potential artists but also help created quite a few wife-doting old men.
As painting has become a fashion, the locals have even changed their greeting line from “Have you eaten yet?” to “Have you finished your painting?” Sometimes when an old lady ran out of inspirations, she would complain: “Oh, Teacher, you’re trying to kill me or what. This painting brush is heavier than the hoe. I’m exhausted!”
Some others expressed: “Thanks to painting. It keeps us busy and opens up our minds too.” Averaging at sixty-nine years old, these old ladies are rejuvenated in the world of painting and become little innocent girls having fun hassling the teacher for instructions. Lin Huaxing chuckled: “These old Hakka painting ladies are in fact the pride of the whole town. Even the betel nut girls know them. When you drive past Ruisui, all the betel nut venders would talk to you about them!”
79-year-old Chen Fengmei is addressed to by every one as the class leader. Because of old age, she does not feel well now and then. But she still paints at home, making the sketch first and then tracing it onto fabric for batiking. “There were more than forty people when we first started learning but only ten graduated.” For these ladies the beginning was the most difficult part. Chen Fengmei doesn’t give up. She has painted the homes in different places she moved to with her foster father in childhood. “There was also a home in the west! There was a well in the grain-sunning yard.”
Bit by bit, through paintbrushes and pigments, old memories trickle out from the depths of these ladies’ minds. Yu Xiulan was born in 1938. She has trouble stopping her tears every time she thinks about losing her mother at he age of ten. She had to farm for people, make vegetable buns, red rice cakes and herbal rice cakes and try to sell them door-to-door. “Teacher asked me to paint the rice-ca