Leisure & Culture #06

The Over Half-century Old House Guardian

The Old House Inn in Tainan

Written by RMM

Tainan is the oldest city in Taiwan. It has over 400 years of history counting from the time when Zheng Chenggong expelled the Dutch from Taiwan. With its unique history, folk customs and pace of life, Tainan has been gathering tourists’ love over these years. Meanwhile, with the boosting tourism in Tainan, people are starting to pay more attention to some of its distinguishing old houses. These houses not only retain the city’s memories, but they also bring the younger generation closer to the kind of lifestyle they desire. Now we get to the point where it isn’t hard to find out who our protagonist is, especially to those who have a certain degree of knowledge about Tainan. Yes, the old house guardian we are referring to is The Old House Inn. Instead of talking about travels and leisure, however, we are going to share with you how the Tainan people protect and preserve the city they deeply love.

A Sunny day in Tainan city.
Photo ©RMM

Left: A Sunny day in Tainan city. Photo ©RMM
Right: Every Old House Inn keeps its nostalgic beauty. Photos ©The Old House Inn

The 37-year-old Kyle Hsieh is the owner of The Old House Inn. His family takes their roots in Tainan for four generations over one hundred years. The Hsiehs sells fabric at the old Ximen Market, and Kyle Hsieh has been living in the old house since he was small until he went to study abroad. Ten years ago, because of his father's illness, Kyle came back to Taiwan from Australia. While he was studying in Melbourne, he experienced the city's blending of old and new. But what he witnessed in Taiwan as he got back was so shockingly contrasting, as houses here were demolished one by one instead. He started to ponder why Taiwan could not keep the old houses, revitalize them and put them to better use. Hence, he founded the "Old House Club" to gather other old houses enthusiasts to introduce and promote Tainan old houses.

The Old House Inn located at Bao'an Road has an iconic big tree. The tree runs through the living rooms of three storeys. It was a dying tree on the hill, but was transported to The Old House Inn to be taken care of by a tree doctor.
Photo ©RMM

Six years ago, Kyle’s father got a stroke. The Hsiehs had to move elsewhere because of the steep stairs in the old house. A number of old house enthusiasts were willing to repair the house with him. As they had no professional skills in restoring houses, they cooperated with the renowned architects from the National Cheng Kung University in their repair work. More than forty people worked together, and they eventually produced their first fruit – The Old House Inn at the old Ximen Market. Their success in restoring The Old House Inn is a turning point for the "Old House Club", as this first experiment proved to everyone that "destroy" is not the only option, as old houses can also be revitalized and reused in the second option. Kyle also remarked how the old house issue only emerged in Taiwan in these three years. If people were asked to choose between The Old House Inn and Shangri-la Hotel, they would definitely choose the latter without hesitation. With such ethos six years ago, it was indeed an arduous journey for his team to sow the first seed for the old house preservation projects at that time. Although there were numerous hurdles, Kyle’s team still jumped through them with huge effort. They strive to change the public’s preconceived ideas on old houses, using real action to prove and educate them how old houses can also be comparable to the five-star hotels.

Plants are merged into the spaces of The Old House Inn. Residents love sitting around the trees to chitchat, enjoying the sunshine and the breeze with a nice cup of tea.
Photo ©The Old House Inn

Kyle went on to share how despite its accommodative nature, The Old House Inn is never a hostel. There is a deep meaning behind the Chinese name of The Old House Inn. On the literal level, "Hsieh" is Kyle Hsieh's family name; "House" denotes home, thus The Old House Inn (Hsieh House/ Xièzhái/謝宅) refers to the home that the Hsiehs live. But to the founder, The Old House Inn goes beyond a brand, for it acts as a spur. It reminds Kyle to persist and sustain the powerful energy that enabled him to start repairing the old house six years ago. His homeland Tainan as well as his surname tag along the brand, meaning that he can never flinch. He must devote his entire life, with his surname held tight, to cultivate the land of Tainan, safeguard its old houses and bring history forward.

To be continued in Part II — Interview with Kyle Hsieh.

Left & Right: The Old House Inn is designed with meticulous care. It offers another special kind of living experience. It is deeply loved by travellers who yearn for a stylistic travel experience.
Photo ©RMM