Men in Black (and White)

Things you do not want to know about your vacation spot: That it is on an island (a 2-hour boat ride away from ANYWHERE else) which also happens to have a prison that houses some of Taiwan’s most dangerous criminals and gangsters.

To me, it sounds like it is one blackout away from being the setting of a Agatha Christie novel…. or maybe even a Stephen King one.

But the isolation of Green Island (綠島) is precisely what makes it perfect for penal colonies and as a place of exile. Traces of past prisons can be seen throughout the island, most notably Green Island “Lodge” in Oasis Village which was once used to hold political prisoners during the martial law period (White Terror) (白色恐怖事件) under Chiang Kai Shek.

Today, Green Island Lodge has been reopened as a museum that showcases the inhumane conditions the prisoners live in. They were often detained for an unspecified amount of time without trial (some were in the prisons for more than 30 years) and forced to do manual labor for long hours building roads and irrigating farmlands to develop the rest of Green Island to what it is today.

Wax figures in a mock up of a jail cell sans the smell… I swear. Jo screamed when she walked into the first cell

There are video interviews in the museum with the prisoners about their time on Kasho-to (火燒島) (literally “Fire Burn Island”), and it is heartbreaking hearing stories about how some of them were not able to watch their children grow up and about family members lying to them about the deaths of fathers and mothers just so that they would not lose their will to live.

In the museum, there were also poetry, sheet music and other creative pursuits the prisoners did to pass the time

The museum is DEFINITELY worth a visit, even though most of the displays and videos are in Mandarin.

On a lighter note, the modern residents of Lu Dao thoroughly embrace the island’s reputation as a gathering ground for prisoners and baddies.

Who’s the baddest of them all??

Prison themed restaurants and souvenir stalls can be seen throughout the island, and there are numerous tongue-in-cheek pokes at the tourists who willingly pay (good) money to be “imprisoned” on the island.

A typical restaurant on Lu Dao

Jo had waaaay too much fun at the souvenir stores

Ok… I had a bit of fun too…

Maybe I had a bit too much fun also…

It’s part of the Taiwanese charm to not take some things too seriously that we love so much.

Lunch as prison food. For the benefit of those that cannot read Chinese, you have to trust me, the menu is pretty witty to someone who can decipher the puns