In search of salt on the outskirts of Lukang

A mysterious brick building on the outskirts of Lukang
A mysterious brick building on the outskirts of Lukang.

Several months ago, after researching and writing a piece about the Qingkunshen Fan-Shaped Saltern 青鯤鯓扇形鹽田 of Tainan 台南, I ventured out to Lukang 鹿港 in search of the Lukang Saltworks 鹿港鹽場, a saltern that shut down in the 1960s. Whereas there are several good resources outlining the history of I found nothing similar for anything north of the Zhuóshuǐ River 濁水溪, the traditional dividing line between north and south Taiwan 台灣. Turning to Google Maps I browsed satellite imagery for evidence of salt evaporation ponds (here is a historic photo of one of Lukang’s salt fields to give you an idea of what I was looking for). I soon noticed a street by the name of Yánchéng Lane 鹽埕巷, literally “Salt Yard Lane”, as well as several sites with grid-like structures obscured by overgrowth. When the opportunity arose to borrow a scooter in the area I jumped at the chance to put this cartographic sleuthing to the test. Was there any chance I’d find some relic of an industry that vanished half a century ago?

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Hengwen Temple 衡文宮

The gigantic statue on top of Hengwen temple, Yuanlin
The gigantic statue of Xuanwu, the Dark Warrior, on top of Hengwen Temple in Yuanlin.

Héngwén Temple 衡文宮 is located on the south side of Yuánlín 員林, a mid-sized city in Changhua 彰化, Taiwan 台灣. Completed in 1976, this temple is mainly notable for its 72 foot-tall statue of Xuánwǔ 玄武, literally “Dark Warrior”, alternately known as Xuándì 玄帝 (“Dark Deity”) or Xuántiān Shàngdì 玄天上帝 (“Dark Heaven Deity”, sometimes prefixed with Běijí 北極, “North Pole”) among many other names. The statue itself is a hollow structure containing several additional floors filled with murals depicting the origins of Xuanwu as well as various small shrines. A similarly oversized statue of Xuanwu can be seen on the famous Lotus Pond 蓮池潭 in Zuǒyíng 左營, Kaohsiung 高雄, and there’s probably several more scattered around Taiwan 台灣, but this one is the largest of its kind that I am aware of.

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A rusty gate in Yuanlin

Rusty gate in the back alleys of Yuanlin
A rusty gate in the back alleys of Yuanlin.

Yesterday I returned to Yuánlín 員林, the city where I really started blogging about Taiwan 台灣, for a lazy day of exploration and discovery. I was interested in revisited places I thought I knew something about to see how the years have sharpened my ability to observe and document the urban landscape. I’ll have more to post about this trip at a later date—but for now I’d like to add another photograph to my growing collection of . This particular example of the genre was collected just off Wànnián Road 萬年路 (“Ten Thousand Year Road”, a recurring pattern in Taiwanese place names) in a half-abandoned complex of what looks to be late or early factory worker dormitories. There is a huge abandoned factory on the opposite side of the main road that might explain things. I wonder what it produced? A cursory search reveals nothing.

Outside the Zhongying Recreational Building 中英育樂大樓

Outside the Zhongying Recreational Building in Taichung
Outside the distinctive Zhongying Recreational Building in Taichung.

Zhōngyīng Recreational Building 中英育樂大樓 is one of many distinctive and iconic ruins in the urban blight surrounding Taichung Station 臺中車站 in central Taichung 台中. It was once a bustling commercial center but it fell into disrepair in the 1990s around the time that a series of fires left a total of seven people dead. With its fortunes in steep decline the building became a haven for the homeless—which is why the upper levels and basement have been sealed off.

Nowadays what residents remain are unusually suspicious of outsiders and, as a result, I haven’t made much progress in gaining access to most of the building the two times I’ve visited. The parts that can be seen are peculiar, to say the least: a concrete path corkscrews up from ground level to the third floor, allowing anyone to drive a scooter directly to their doorstep much like you would in a parking garage.

I will return to document more of what can be seen of this building but for now here’s a photo of the distinctive exterior fronting onto the main street. It is a wonder that this building hasn’t already been condemned and torn down but here is it more than two decades after disaster struck.

Traces of an army maintenance depot

A trace of martial history in Xinyi District
A distinctive logo on the gateway to a former army logistics maintenance depot near Taipei 101.

Xìnyì District 信義區 is now one of the most expensive and upscale parts of Taiwan 台灣 but it hasn’t always been that way. Decades ago it was an undesirable area on the edge of the city with a significant military-industrial presence, traces of which still remain if you know where to look. The open expanse of parks and parking lots around the intersection of Xìn’ān Street 信安街 and Wúxìng Street 吳興街 immediately to the west of Taipei Medical University 臺北醫學大學 is one such trace.

Pictured here is a gateway to the former Republic of China Army 中華民國陸軍 maintenance depot (Chinese: Bǎoyǎngchǎng 保養廠) that once occupied this land. It closed down sometime in the 1990s when operations moved out of the city to Táoyuán 桃園. The plant’s immense warehouses and factory buildings were left to the elements while the city dithered over various plans to redevelop the land. As time wore on security grew lax and adventurous types—urban explorers, graffiti artists, paintball enthusiasts, and thrill-seeking university students—soon moved in. Evidently this post about exploring the ruins of the depot became so notorious that it prompted a television news segment—and not long thereafter the remaining buildings were knocked down. Nowadays there isn’t much left of the maintenance depot apart from the outer walls and these doors emblazoned with the distinctive insignia of the former plant.

A lantern trio in Hsinchu County

Deep into Hsinchu County
Three oblong lanterns in a temple in Xinpu.

Apart from ghost buildings and abandoned theaters I also visited a number of temples while wandering around Xinpu 新埔 last week. I found these three lanterns hanging inside Guǎnghé Temple 廣和宮 and was struck by the stylish and confident brushstrokes for Hsinchu County 新竹縣 (pinyin: Xīnzhú Xiàn). Whether these lanterns were painted by hand or produced in a factory is unclear to my inexpert eyes; only in some small aspects do the characters appear to differ. Whatever the case, I was charmed by this display of hometown pride in small town Hsinchu 新竹.

Xinxing Theater 新興戲院

Xinxing Theater 新興戲院
Outside an abandoned movie theater in the small town of Xinpu.

Recently I visited Xinpu 新埔, a small town in the hills of Hsinchu 新竹, Taiwan 台灣, alongside fellow photographer and blogger Josh Ellis. I was curious to confirm reports of a historic theater along the former Entertainment Street 娛樂街 but the location in my notes was occupied by a construction site. Forging on, we continued down the road and were soon rewarded by the sight of something that I wasn’t expecting: Xīnxīng Theater 新興戲院. In hindsight it wouldn’t be an “entertainment street” without more than one cinema, would it?

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Spaces in between

Ghostly imprint in the in between
The ghostly imprint of a vanished building in Xinpu, Taiwan.

All angles aligned to create this sublime scene in the gaps of Xinpu 新埔, a small historic town in Hsinchu 新竹, Taiwan 台灣. This ghost building straddled the midpoint of the property line dividing the town in two. To the left are buildings facing north and front onto Chenggong Road 成功路, the traditional old street; to the right are those buildings that face south toward Zhongzheng Road 中正路, the main commercial thoroughfare running through modern Xinpu. From the position of the lower set of postholes—only slightly more than a meter from ground level—I would infer that a small storage shed once stood here, far back from the main road, but that’s only a guess. A quick scan of Google Street View’s history feature reveals that the now-demolished buildings fronting onto the street housed a pharmacy and general store so this hypothesis is at least plausible.

Taichung Shark Cemetery 台中鯊魚墳場

A shark cemetery in Taichung
Discarded sharks in a field near Donghai University in Taichung.

Taichung Shark Cemetery 台中鯊魚墳場 (pinyin: Shāyú Fénchǎng) is an unlikely roadside attraction near Donghai University 東海大學 in Xītún 西屯, Taichung 台中. There is no great mystery here—a nearby restaurant and banquet hall by the name of Tong Hai Fish Village 東海漁村 dumped a bunch of junk in this farmer’s field sometime prior to 2009 and since then it has become a popular place for young Taiwanese to visit and take photos. Just have a look at the unofficial Facebook page or the relevant Instagram hashtag and location feeds for plenty of examples.

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In the act of decay

In the act of decay
A rusty door in the back alleys of Zhongshan District. Taipei.

I found this rusty doorway around the back of an old red brick home somewhere around Zhongshan Station 中山站. Despite being in the middle of Taipei 台北 it is not an area I am familiar with but I am doing my best to remedy this oversight. When I pass through I do my best to wander down new roads and explore alleyways I don’t recognize. Sometimes I capture an intriguing scene like the one you see here. This is a mass-produced door I have seen elsewhere—but the exact pattern of decay is unique.