Through the keyhole

Through the keyhole
Exploring an unfinished temple on Baguashan.

Despite the preponderance of abandoned buildings in Taiwan 台灣 there are very few examples of ruined temples to be found (with one notable exception). I don’t know for certain but I suspect that most temples, when abandoned, are completely demolished. An abandoned temple would probably bring bad luck to a community.

There are, however, examples of unfinished temples to be found here and there. Before the doors are installed and the gods are enshrined a temple is just another building, after all. Again, without knowing for certain, I suspect that small communities sometimes raise funds to support the construction of a new temple in stages, and there are no doubt occasions where the money runs out before construction is complete.

What you see in this photograph is the bare concrete outline of a Taiwanese temple awaiting the ornamental accoutrements that will someday distinguish it as a spiritual space. It is located on the highway that runs along the Baguashan 八卦山 ridge line on the western edge of Nántóu City 南投市.

The dry and dusty Gaoping River

Clouds of dust on the horizon

I traversed the dry and dusty Gāopíng River 高屏溪 (a portmanteau of Kaohsiung 高雄 and Pingtung 屏東, which this river divides) while riding around southern Taiwan 台灣 in the dog days of summer earlier this year. I was heading south from Měinóng 美濃, bound for no place in particular, and soon found myself crossing into Lǐgǎng 里港, where anemic river channels meandered through thick deposits of silt and gravel that had washed down from the distant mountains. Mining operations lined the wide banks and countless gravel trucks lumbered along the bridges and highways of the area, filling the air with dust and littering the roadways with debris. It was not a pleasant place for cycling or any other human activity—so I turned west on a whim, toward Dàshù 大樹, and left the dust behind.

Bitcoin now available at Family Mart in Taiwan

Family Mart in the fishing port town of Nanfang'ao.
A Family Mart in the fishing port town of Nanfang’ao.

Today I noticed this article—featuring a photo by yours truly—doing the rounds, reiterating earlier reports of Bitcoin vending machines at Family Mart in Taiwan 台灣. These vending machines make Bitcoin accessible to the masses—but they aren’t ATMs, which are prohibited in Taiwan. This means you can only buy, not sell.

So, what practical use is Bitcoin in Taiwan? Few physical stores accept Bitcoin but I still see some potential here. Taiwan is a very cash-based society—debit and credit cards are seldom used for everyday purchases and typically not accepted by small businesses. As such, I’ve met many Taiwanese who don’t own credit cards and can’t buy anything online except from domestic shops with a cash-on-delivery payment option. Bitcoin, at least, will allow these people access to goods and services that they might not otherwise be able to purchase. Beyond that, most of the interest in Bitcoin in Taiwan is likely speculative in nature. There simply aren’t too many real-world use cases yet.

Want to tap into the Bitcoin community in Taiwan? Facebook is a great place to start; check out this group and this page. There’s also this Bitcoin group on Meetup.

Yuanlin first market at dusk

Yuanlin first marketplace at dusk
Yuanlin first marketplace at dusk.

I captured this photo of Yuánlín first market 員林第一市場 in the long shadows of late afternoon earlier this year. The market buildings dates back to the Japanese colonial era, though I am not entirely certain precisely how old it is, for my ability to research in Chinese is somewhat limited. At any rate, it’s a beautiful building, but also neglected, as much of the activity has moved to the perimeter, where street food vendors do a brisk trade after dark. The dimly lit interior is still home to a handful of antiquated shops—tea wholesalers, butchers, fishmongers, vegetable grocers, and the like—but some of the shutters look like they haven’t come up in decades. As such, it makes for a fascinating building to explore, as there’s a great deal of unspoken history hidden within.

All equally in gloom

The cathedral in black and white
Inside the ruins at the base of the Thirteen Levels.

One day in May I returned to the magnificent ruins of the Thirteen Levels 十三層遺址, a long-abandoned mining complex in Jīnguāshí 金瓜石 in northern Taiwan 台灣. It was a gloomy, overcast day, and it began to drizzle as soon as my urban exploration partner and I stepped out of the car. Not wanting to waste the trip we bundled up as best we could and followed the beaten trail through the overgrowth to the base of the mountainside.

After navigating the first of the challenges to enter the site—which involve jumping over a broken staircase and scrambling up a jury-rigged ladder—we gained access to several of the bottommost buildings, including one that I have nicknamed “the cathedral” for whatever reason. This building, pictured above, has collapsed in on itself, and the interior is now scattered with rubble and debris. I have not yet found an entrance, though there are gaping holes in the back wall through which a photograph such as this one may be captured.

Unmaking history in my hometown

A window into hometown history
A window into hometown history.

This summer I went out in search of old, abandoned places in my hometown, Mississauga, a typically ahistorical Canadian suburb. I figured there must be something of interest in historic Streetsville, a 19th century settlement now embedded in the sprawling webwork of strip malls and sub-developments that define the suburban landscape. After finding nothing remarkable along the main stretch I headed south along Mississauga Road and chanced upon the Leslie Log House, originally built in 1826. It was moved to its current location on the grounds of the old Pinchin Farm in 1994 and later renovated and modernized. Nowadays it is both a museum and the home of the Streetsville Historical Society.

That’s all well and good—but such buildings seldom exude the quality of age I watch for in my wanderings. And so I set out down a short trail to investigate another building not far from the log house, a crumbling ruin for which there was no sign or plaque, only a poorly maintained chain-link fence that had collapsed in on itself. This barrier indicated that this particular building had not been sanitized for human consumption. Here was the secret history I had been seeking—something genuinely old, unrestored, and neglected. Finally, a storied place that had been left to the elements!

From what little I have been able to glean from online sources the Pinchin Farm was a commercial apple orchard, the last of its kind in Mississauga, and was home to a farmhouse and a barn (the foundation of which is pictured above). Unsurprisingly, both heritage structures were demolished in late 2009 due to the advanced deterioration of the buildings. I say “unsurprisingly” because this is altogether too common in Canada—we destroy what little scraps of history we have on the off-chance someone might step on a rusty nail and sue. This creates a safe yet bland society, for danger is ameliorated at the expense of adventure and discovery.

Toronto standard time

Toronto time
A close look at the sundial on King’s College Circle in Toronto.

I visited my alma mater, the University of Toronto, one rainy afternoon in late October. Across from Convocation Hall I stopped to take a closer look at the various meteorological and timekeeping instruments that have stood along King’s College Circle for at least a century. I had no specific recollection of ever doing so despite having wandered by hundreds of time on the way to Gerstein or some such place. Strange, though it was only a few short years ago, I can hardly recall the crushing burden of school anymore. Time is the simplest thing.

The craggy peaks of Pingxi

Into the mountain crags
The view from the top of one of the Pingxi crags.

This is the stunning view from near the top of Címǔfēng 慈母峰, one of the “Pingxi crags” (as they are known in English) in Píngxī 平溪, a mountainous district about an hour outside of Taipei 台北. Xiàozǐshān 孝子山, another crag, is visible up ahead, and you can faintly make out some buildings in the small towns in the valley below.

These craggy peaks, tamed by metal stakes, rope, and stairways carved into the rock face, are dangerously steep in parts but absolutely exhilarating to climb. I had a blast getting lost in the crags on a hot subtropical afternoon in late July, 2013, not long after moving to Taiwan 台灣.

Toronto skyline from Regent Park

The downtown core from Regent Park
The downtown core from the edge of Regent Park.

I seldom post many photos from Canada so you’d be forgiven for thinking I still reside in Taiwan 台灣! But, in fact, I have been living not far Toronto for nearly three months now. In that time I haven’t been taking that many photos—not like in Asia, anyway—which has given me time to catch up. I was many months behind when I first arrived here and only this week did I manage to dispense with the very last of my photos from overseas.

Anyhow, now that I am on to processing some more recent work I thought I might skip ahead a bit and share something lovely from my hometown. I captured this simple skyline shot from a high rise on the edge of Regent Park on a pleasant mid-summer’s afternoon.

An old rice mill on Dihua street

Rice depot in Datong district
An old rice depot in Datong district.

I often find myself intrigued by traditional shops in Taiwan 台灣, the sort of businesses that most people take for granted and seldom mention or even notice. Many of these businesses are slowly disappearing due to competition from big chains and industrial operations with greater economies of scale. For example, consider the humble rice mill, a business that processes “rough” harvested rice into an edible product for wholesale distribution and consumption. My understanding is that small-scale, family-run rice mills are a dying breed, outcompeted by exurban factories owned by large corporations.

Even so, you’re still likely to find traditional rice mills in older neighbourhoods now and then. On my last walk down Díhuà street 迪化街 in Taipei 台北 I happened to notice one hidden under an awning on the northern end of the strip. I snapped a photograph and thought nothing of it until, while post-processing, curiosity got the better of me and I went to look up information about it.

Turns out the New Qingli rice mill 新慶利碾米廠 has been passed down through four generations and has been in continuous operation for something like 50 or 60 years. Apparently it is one of the only rice mills still operating in western Taipei, though I swear I’ve seen a few more in Wanhua district 萬華區. Perhaps those other places are merely wholesale dealerships and not actual rice mills? At any rate, better catch a glimpse before it’s gone—the sun is surely setting on small-scale shops like this one.