Natural and artificial forms

Natural and artificial forms
Gnarled roots cling to a crumbling wall at Huashan 1914 Creative Park in Taipei.

I captured these banyan trees wrapped around a crumbling wall in Huashan 1914 Creative Park, one of the biggest and most popular civic attractions in Taipei 台北. Although it has recently been described as a fake cultural park, I happen to think it is one of the more interesting sights to check out in the middle of town. There are always all sorts of events going on throughout the park and it is home to a number of cool, artsy businesses, particularly VVG Thinking, which I call “hipster heaven” (a subject for another post). Here I am mainly interested in sharing the æsthetics of conjoined natural and artificial forms. Beautiful, isn’t it?

For more general blogging about Huashan try here and here. If you’re more interested in banyan roots check out my own posts about Anping Tree House 安平樹屋 and Minxiong Ghost House 民雄鬼屋.

Yutian Automotive Factory 羽田汽車工廠

Yutian Automotive Factory 羽田汽車工廠
On the factory floor at the old automotive plant in Dacun Township.

The massive ruins of the Yǔtián Automotive Factory 羽田汽車工廠 are located on the Dayeh University campus in Dàcūn 大村, Changhua 彰化. There are four main buildings, each approximately 360 meters in length and 90 meters across for an estimated total of 32,500 square meters apiece. Outside of the Changhua Coastal Industrial Park 彰化濱海工業區 in Lukang 鹿港 (which opened in 1995) these buildings are probably the largest in the county — and the entire complex is readily visible from space.

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On the dark streets of Keelung

On the dark streets of Keelung
Homeless on the streets of Keelung.

The gloomy weather, mountainous topography, and bustling container port make Keelung 基隆 the darkest city in Taiwan 台灣. Nowhere else on the island will you see such open displays of vice and iniquity, nor will you find such a dense concentration of allegedly haunted ruins. Moreover, the urban landscape is a contorted mess of concrete and tile buildings, pedestrian overpasses, underground passages, and covered alleyways. It has the mark of a place where the planners set down a grid and let people do whatever they wanted within each square. Much like Kowloon 九龍, it is a city to be explored at multiple levels — to get the most out of it you have to try every stairway leading up or down, walk down every cramped lane, and step through every open doorway.

About a month ago I returned to this darkest of cities to gather more material for future blogging projects. At the tail end of this expedition I was wandering by the courtyard of an old temple in the heart of downtown when I saw this old homeless man. Usually I am loathe to disturb anyone and make them the subject of a photograph — it feels somehow exploitative to me — but after seeing the camera slung around my neck he gestured in my direction, inviting me to capture the moment.

It is somewhat unusual to see homeless people on the streets of Taiwan. Late at night it isn’t uncommon to see old people collecting trash with makeshift carts but seldom do I ever see anyone sleeping out in the open. There are enough abandoned buildings around that most homeless people can find shelter if they want it. I wonder what his story is and why he chose the streets.

We are blindest to precisely whatever might be most illuminating

Lying here, during all this time after my own small fall, it has become my conviction that things mean pretty much what we want them to mean. We’ll pluck significance from the least consequential happenstance if it suits us and happily ignore the most flagrantly obvious symmetry between separate aspects of our lives if it threatens some cherished prejudice or cosily comforting belief; we are blindest to precisely whatever might be most illuminating.

Datong Bingo Plaza negatives

Datong Bingo Plaza negatives
A window into someone else’s life.

Several months ago I explored yet another abandoned entertainment complex in central Taiwan 台灣, this time in Dǒuliù 斗六, the administrative seat of Yúnlín 雲林. I found it by testing out a pet theory of mine, namely that there’s probably one of these buildings near the train station in every sizable settlement on the western plains. Sure enough, after about five minutes of poking around the cramped streets south of the station I came upon an oddly shaped and obviously abandoned building with a sign out front that reads Datong Bingo Plaza 大統賓果廣場.

I am planning to post the full exploration later on — but for now I’d like to share the results of post-processing some photographic negatives I found on a moldy mattress in an apartment on one of the higher floors. The results are not so interesting this time around but I still enjoy the process of discovery and the æsthetic of decaying, water-damaged negatives like these.

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Tsai Ing-wen’s childhood home

Tsai Ing-wen's childhood home
Tsai Ing-wen’s childhood home in the village of Fenggang.

One of the more unexpected finds on my recent bicycle tour through the deep south of Taiwan 台灣 was the childhood home of Tsai Ing-wen 蔡英文 (pinyin: Cài Yīngwén), current chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party and presidential contender in the upcoming 2016 general election. I was vaguely aware that she was born in Fāngshān 枋山 in Pingtung 屏東, the southernmost county in the nation, but hadn’t known any more than that prior to taking a short detour through the old fishing village of Fēnggǎng 楓港, founded in 1765 according to Chinese language Wikipedia. Imagine my surprise when I saw a small sign on the main road through town that directed me to “chairman Tsai Ing-wen historic home” 蔡英文主席古厝!

When I arrived the courtyard was initially littered with trash. Several locals noticed my arrival and one quickly went to fetch a broom and clean up. I made what little conversation I could manage, not even knowing if my Mandarin was understood, and we all laughed about the absurdity of some random white guy on a bike riding over and taking an active interest in such an obscure place.

Anyhow, there you have it: the childhood home of the woman who might be the next president of Taiwan. And if that’s the case they’re going to have to get a new sign!

A false tunnel on the coastal plains of Pingtung

A false tunnel on the coastal plains of Pingtung
A railway tunnel on the coastal plains of Pingtung.

Here is yet another roadside curiosity in the deep south of Taiwan 台灣: a false tunnel on the coastal plains of Fāngshān 枋山, Pingtung 屏東. It doesn’t cut through any mountainside nor is it built to withstand landslides. It’s just an 1,180 meter tunnel that trains pass through for no discernible reason. I first read about this on Michael Turton’s blog and later saw it on my first round-the-island bicycle tour. More recently, which is to say just a few days ago, I took a spin through the southern loop once again, and spent a little extra time examining this concrete oddity in an attempt to divine its purpose.

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A Japanese anti-aircraft fortification in rural Pingtung

A Japanese anti-aircraft fortification in rural Pingtung
A Japanese era anti-aircraft turret in Xinpi.

While riding through Xīnpí 新埤, an otherwise ordinary expanse of rural Pingtung 屏東, I was surprised to see a sign indicating that there was a “fort” somewhere in the area. I cut loose from the main road I was following and went to go investigate. After following a bend in the river just outside a small settlement I found it: a Japanese anti-aircraft fortification dating back to the late 1930s or early 1940s.

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An old house on the outskirts of Chaozhou

An old house on the outskirts of Chaozhou
Liu House in rural Chaozhou.

I noticed this old-fashioned western style house on the outskirts of Cháozhōu 潮州 in Pingtung 屏東 while cycling through the deep south of Taiwan 台灣. In a sea of ugly metal shacks and bland concrete apartment blocks it’s a rare pleasure to encounter a building like this one.

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Ten thousand years a river

Ten thousand years a river
Down by the Wannian (Ten Thousand Year) River in eastern Pingtung City.

I’m on the move again. A few days ago I packed up all my stuff, shipped my bike down south, and made my way down to Tainan 台南 to embark upon a short bicycle tour of the deep south of Taiwan 台灣. My first stop: Pingtung City 屏東市, administrative seat of the southernmost division of the country, and a blank spot on my map.

I knew nothing of this city when I arrived. For whatever reason I haven’t come across any articles detailing its history, attractions, or much of anything else. People visiting Pingtung 屏東 go south to Héngchūn 恆春 or into the mountains but I was curious — and also in dire need of a rest after my first day of riding in the tropical sun — so I stuck around to look for famous food, night markets, old temples, Japanese era storefronts, ruined skyscrapers, and weird public art. I found most of these things and will post my findings in due time.

At any rate, I wanted to leave a small postcard from my time here just as I’m leaving. Yesterday I captured this scene from a bridge over the Wànnián River 萬年溪 at sundown. Earlier in the day I was caught in a torrential downpour for half an hour. Darkly beautiful storm clouds roiled on the horizon for the remainder of the day, threatening rain without following through. More than most other Taiwanese cities Pingtung City 屏東市 feels like a flat, sprawling, almost North American style suburb.