Builder of Taitung's mysterious ramshackle 'Moving Castle' dies at age 89

Enigmatic veteran who spent a lifetime building a house from discarded materials has died inside his creation

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Builder of the "moving castle" walking in front of his creation.

Builder of the "moving castle" walking in front of his creation. (By Central News Agency)

Taipei (Taiwan News) -- They say a man's home is his castle, and in this case a mysterious old man, who had become a local legend for spending decades constructing his curious citadel, lived his last hours in his handcrafted fortress of solitude.

Located at No. 1 Chung Cheng Road in the Taitung City Waterfront Park, stands a strange structure that locals say an elderly man, known only by his surname of Lee, has spent at least 30 years building up and patching using abandoned materials that he's scavenged, such as wood, bricks, and glass. The four-story patchwork of assorted waste materials has been dubbed by locals as "Taitung's Moving Castle" after the anime film "Howl's Moving Castle" directed by Hayao Miyasaki and the novel by the same name written by British author Diana Wynne Jones. It is also known as the "White Hovel" for its pure white exterior. 

moving castle

As to how and why he built the house, the definitive answer remains unknown as he was hearing impaired and inarticulate in his later years. What is known is that the house consists of four floors, with Lee dwelling primarily on the second floor, while he grew vegetables on the third floor. 

In recent years, the enormous shanty shack had drawn attention from tourists, as well as an architect named Juan Wei-ming (阮偉明), who began to research the elderly gentleman's background. Juan told CNA Lee had fled with the Kuomintang army to Taiwan after the Chinese Civil War, later serving in the military in Tainan, before eventually retiring.  

Juan said the man, who raised six children, was left to guard the house. One of Lee's neighbors, Chen Chia-hsin (陳嘉信), said the structure was originally a military checkpoint. Another neighbor said Lee had been building the house his entire life. 

moving castle

In early July last year, the home had been severely damaged by Typhoon Nepartak.

Recently, neighbors had noticed Lee had stopped making his usual rounds in the neighborhood. Veterans affairs personnel notified his children of his disappearance, and once they arrived at the scene Saturday morning, they discovered his remains in the basement of the building.