NEWS & FEATURES
Have you heard the woofest mews?
Have you heard the woofest mews?
By ALMA J. BUELVA
NO self-respecting cat lover should pass a chance to visit a cat village even when a typhoon is about to hit it. Taiwan has one up north in Houtong reputed to have at least 200 free-roaming cats. The day I came for a visit, typhoon Maria had the same plan.
It was a gloomy afternoon when I reached Houtong by train along with other tourists, just as typhoon Maria started to hit the northern parts of Taiwan. But though the skies looked dark and pregnant with rain, Maria thankfully didn't rain on my parade until I finished a quick tour of the cat village.
Maybe it was the impending rain and blustering winds that caused most of Houtong's cats to hide away that afternoon. It was unfortunate that only a handful of them were around to amuse travel-weary guests.
The Houtong train station wastes no time and space in shepherding tourists to the tiny cat village. A stairway immediately connects the station to a bridge – almost like a short tunnel adorned with cat items that opens to the cat village. There we were greeted by our first two Houtong cat residents, a black-and-white kitty and a grey tabby that walked a short distance with us.
Despite the poor attendance of actual cats that day, the place will still excite cat lovers given the number of cat objects around the village. From street signs and memo boards to flower pots and stepping stones, just about anything that can follow the cat theme has been done so.
The Houtong Cat Village is a very tiny community, which is all that is left from what used to be a busy mining town. From the bridge, guests can walk up the Cat Corridor where cat-inspired shops and cafes are located. Here we found a few more feline wanderers who, like us, were peering into the glass doors and windows of shops that closed early due to typhoon Maria.
It must be delightful to shop and dine right at the Cat Corridor, if only the weather was less unforgiving the day we came.
Below the Cat Corridor is a narrow lane where people actually live, which means more cats to see. Although people there are used to tourists walking up and down their streets, it still felt like we were trespassing so I veered away from the area.
At the ground floor of the train station is another street with gift shops. Here I found a bakeshop selling pineapple cakes in cat forms. Pineapple-filled cakes are one of Taiwan's popular souvenirs. I wasn't convinced that I want some until I found them in the shape of cats!
Most of the cats, if not all, in Houtong Cat Village are strays but residents and volunteers attend to their basic needs. I've spotted cats with one of their ears clipped which means they have been spayed or neutered already, and I've also accidentally walked in on pairs while they are mating.
As in any big cat colonies, the Houtong Cat Village has cats that look sickly or with skin ulcers. As for behavior, the prevailing cat attitude the day I visited was indifference. Sure, there were sweet cats who followed tourists with cat food to give, but many were aloof and stubbornly refused eye contact. In fact, meowing at them or saying “Here, kitty, kitty...” would get you nowhere. But we can't blame the cats for not being accommodating. You would be a sour-puss, too, if you had to put up daily with cellphone-toting tourists who take your photos all the time. To get the cats' attention, one must be creative so I barked.
Seeing that the cats were not in the mood to play good hosts that day, we went back to the station to wait for our train to Taipei. It was then that typhoon Maria brought cat visibility down to zero, for the time being.
Overall, Taiwan's Houtong Cat Village is quaint and charming but is starting to look tired and lonely, too. But I'm sure you can overlook what qualifies as eyesores here and there if you are truly fond of cats. After all, with allegedly over 200 cats, Houtong is like no other purridise.
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* Pet rock, anyone?