Cats revive Taiwanese mining town
A surfeit of cats is giving a second life to a decayed Taiwanese coal-mining town that last prospered in the 1970s.
Visitors' raves on local blogs have helped draw dozens of cat lovers to fondle, frolic and photograph the 100 or so resident felines in Houtong, one of several industrial communities in decline since Taiwan's railroads electrified and oil grew as a power source.
Most towns have never recovered, but this tiny community of 200 is fast reinventing itself as a cat lover's paradise.
"It was more fun than I imagined," said 31-year-old administrative assistant Yu Li-hsin, who visited from Taipei. "The cats were clean and totally unafraid of people. I'll definitely return."
On a recent weekday afternoon, dozens of white, black, gray and calico-coloured cats wandered freely amid Houtong's craggy byways, while visitors memorialised the scene with mobile phone cameras and tickled the creatures silly with feather-tipped sticks.
The cats' reaction seemed to range from indifference to reluctant engagement.
Locals are delighted with the tourist influx, seeing it as an antidote to Houtong's stark decline etched in dozens of abandoned structures and acres of unkempt overgrowth.
Indonesian-born Sumarni, 35, who married a local man six years ago, says she is grateful to the tourists for relieving the town's isolation.
"My 3-year-old daughter gets to play with some children of her age when visitors bring their kids here," she said. "There is really not any playmate of her age in the community."
Sumarni has also benefited financially from the tourist influx, piggybacking it to set up a profitable food stall next to her modest home.