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