Taitung Chinese Association 台東中華會館

Taitung Chinese Association 台東中華會館
The historic Chinese Association on Zhongzheng Road in Taitung City.

It never ceases to amaze me what can be learned from keenly observing the streets of Taiwan 台灣 and following up with a little research online. I only spent one full day in Taitung City 台東市 at the tail end of a bicycle trip down south this June but managed to chance across a number of interesting sights in that time, this historic building among them.

Located at 143 Zhongzheng Road 中正路, this is the Taitung Branch 台東分社 of the Chinese Association 中華會館, originally built in 1927 while Taiwan was under Japanese rule. A plaque out front features historic information in English (shocking in this part of the country) as well as a direct translation of the name, “Taitung Chunghua Hostel”, but it was more of a clubhouse or assembly hall, not a place to secure lodging for the night. Interestingly, the proper Chinese name is the same one used by the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of America. Have a look at the photos on Wikipedia and you’ll see the same characters — as well as the Republic of China flag flying overhead at their historic headquarters in San Francisco!

Presumably the Taitung Chinese Association served a similar purpose to its contemporaries in America, namely to advocate for ethnic Chinese (中華人) living outside of China, which was in the 1920s nominally controlled by the Republic of China 中華民國 (in a twist of fate, now the rulers of modern-day Taiwan). Concurrent with the full-scale invasion of China in 1937 the Japanese authorities launched the Kōminka Movement 皇民化運動 (literally “to make people become subjects of the emperor”), a policy of cultural assimilation designed to assist the growing war effort. As such, the Chinese Association was evicted from the building and outlawed in 1938.

From 1938 until the end of the war the building was occupied by a chapter of the Xīnmín Society 新民會 (also referred to in English as the New People or People’s Rejuvenation Society), a pro-Japanese organization based in Beijing. This organization was disbanded after the Japanese defeat and the building fell into disuse after a half-hearted attempt to repurpose it for use by another civic group. Finally, after decades of neglect, it was restored to its current condition for Retrocession Day in 1986. Apparently this is the only Chinese Association building remaining in Taiwan, for what it’s worth!

So there you have it, another historical footnote previously undocumented in English, insofar as I am aware. Of course, more information is available in Chinese here, and here.

Fangliao Factory 枋寮工廠

Fangliao Factory 枋寮工廠
An abandoned factory ion the outskirts of Fangliao in Pingtung County, Taiwan.

Bicycle touring is one means by which I discover many abandoned places in Taiwan 台灣. Ride in just about any direction long enough, keep your eyes peeled, and you’re bound to encounter the telltale signs of decay and neglect sooner or later. Such was the case one fine morning in June 2015 when I set out to have breakfast in Fāngliáo 枋寮, a small town along the coast of central Pingtung 屏東, while en route to Héngchūn 恆春 further south. I had barely been awake for half an hour when I noticed this partially overgrown ruin set back from the road about twenty meters.

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Hidden in the alleyways of Monga

Hidden in the alleyways of Monga
An abandoned building in a labyrinth of alleyways in Wanhua District, Taipei.

Now and then I dust off some old photos and slip them into the regular flow of posts on my blog for reasons of nostalgia and reflection. This particular photograph would be quite unremarkable were it not for the fact that it represents one of my first forays into urban exploration in Taiwan 台灣.

Two days after landing in Taipei 台北 I was wandering through a labyrinth of alleyways in Wànhuá District 萬華區, not far from famous Longshan Temple 龍山寺, when I noticed a break in the wall. Squeezing through the gap, I stepped into a cramped space littered with garbage and debris. Turning around, I saw a building that was very modest in size, and became curious about what process of encystment has isolated this tiny place from the rest of the overcrowded city.

Months later I returned to the island for an extended period of time and my explorations began in earnest. Nowadays I am becoming something of an English language authority on urban exploration in Taiwan — but in a sense it all began right here, in this hidden place somewhere in old Monga 艋舺.

Reflective interface

Reflective interface
The side of the W Hotel in Taipei shot at night from the rooftop patio on the eleventh floor.

Mere days after arriving in Taipei 台北 for the first time a new friend brought me to Woobar at the W Hotel for the view and a drink. At some point I went for a walk around the pool (back when the staff weren’t so fussy about customers doing that sort of thing) and shot a few photos of the reflections in the glass running up the side of the main body of the hotel. This abstract architectural study resulted from messing around with the tones of the original photograph in the post-processing phase.

Ghost in the mirror

Ghost in the mirror
Just an illusion.

This self-portrait was captured in an abandoned temple in Keelung 基隆 and lightly edited in Photoshop to create the illusion of a figure at two different scales. I appear as a ghost in a mirror that probably hasn’t seen any use in quite some time — the temple itself is easily one of the most haunting sites anywhere on the island and people go to great lengths to avoid the place.

While exploring the many abandoned buildings of Taiwan 台灣 these last few years I have taken a number of similar photos in dusty, broken mirrors. Eventually I hope to gather up some of these images and publish them here on this blog. I will update this post whenever I get around to it — but I’m publishing this one in advance as it involves some post-processing that I don’t plan to expose the other images to.

The gutted shell of a temple in Tainan

The gutted shell of a temple in Tainan
An old temple undergoing reconstruction in back alley Tainan.

Tainan 台南 is home to an extraordinary number of temples, at least 1,613 at last count, more than anywhere else in Taiwan 台灣. Take a random walk through any neighbourhood in Tainan and you’ll inevitably see many temples of all shapes and sizes, many of them squirreled away along back alleys and dead ends. They further infuse the urban landscape with a palpable sense of culture and history.

Last time I visited Tainan I went for breakfast at Harry’s, my favourite hole-in-the-wall breakfast shop. Afterwards I wandered down the alley, turned the corner, and was surprised to find this old temple in a state of ruin. I must have walked by it dozens of times while I was living there but never stepped inside to try and figure what it was all about — after all, there simply isn’t enough time in the day to check out every temple in Tainan!

I was momentarily wistful to see it go but then it hit me — this temple wasn’t being demolished, it was being rebuilt from the ground up! I thought back to all the historic plaques I’ve read that followed the “built in X, renovated in Y and Z” format, and realized that the physical structure of many “old” temples in Taiwan probably isn’t nearly as old as it seems. I have long wondered about what remains when a temple undergoes renovation — and while I am sure this isn’t the only way things are done, it wouldn’t surprise me if many Taiwanese temples are stripped down like this before being put back together again. Perhaps only the contents of the temple really matter in some instances?

Naturally I got curious and looked this place up after the fact. It has a tongue-twister of a name, Dǐngtàizǐ Shātáo Temple 頂太子沙淘宮, though you might be able to get away with calling it simply Shatao Temple. According to this article (which I barely understand; Google does an especially poor job with mythological matters) this temple was originally built in 1681 and has undergone renovations in 1954 and again in 1978. Now I suppose this history will need to be updated to include the great renovation of 2015!

More photos from the temple in its previous state can be seen here, here, and here.

Tainan’s Old West Market 西市場

Tainan's Old West Market 西市場
The northern entrance to Tainan’s West Market.

West Market 西市場 (sometimes referred to as West Gate or Xīmén Market 西門市場) in Tainan 台南 was once the largest market in southern Taiwan 台灣. The first market building on this location was erected sometime from 1905 to 1908 under Japanese colonial rule. This building was later reconstructed in 1920 after suffering typhoon damage. It remains a hub of commercial activity in this part of the city up until the present day — but its very heart has been hollowed out and mostly abandoned for the last several decades.

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On the rooftop at Taichung’s First Square 第一廣場

On the rooftop at Taichung's First Square 第一廣場
Taichung’s city skyline looking east toward the mountains.

About a month ago I made a brief stop in Taichung 台中 to gather more material for a future post in my Taiwan Urban Exploration 台灣城市探險 series. While I was there I couldn’t resist taking a quick look at First Square 第一廣場 (alternately Square One, First Plaza, or First Shopping Building), which I’ve heard some foreigners refer to as “the Filipino disco building by the train station”. Sure enough, First Square is a massive entertainment complex and commercial space much like the abandoned Qiaoyou Building 喬友大廈 in neighbouring Changhua City 彰化市 only about two or three times as large. There are at least six towering blocks arranged around the central plaza and I only conducted brief surveys of two of them. I may return someday to gather more data — but in the meantime here’s some surprising, cool, and perhaps even scary shots from the rooftop.

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Orobas album artwork

Flembaz - Orobas 1

Orobas is the first exclusive release on Techgnosis Records, a new label I am collaborating on with Ben Rama, for whom I completed several album artwork projects in the past; see The Invisible Kingdom and Live In Montreal. To capture the magic and mystery of the music I used a haunting photo of a suspension bridge in the fog that I shot in Yángmíngshān 陽明山, Taiwan 台灣, a couple of years ago. This same photo previously appeared on this very blog as Into The Unknown; follow the link for more information (and the opportunity to purchase a framed print if you’re into that sort of thing).

Flembaz - Orobas 2

After experimenting with more conventional typesetting I opted to try something a little different with a vertical approach on the front cover. Type is set in Gota, Nexa, and Hero, all free from FontFabric.

Interested in hearing this release? Download it for free!

The famous teahouses of Jiufen at sunset

The famous teahouses of Jiufen at sunset
The teahouses of Jiufen in the golden light of late afternoon.

The tiny mountain town of Jiǔfèn 九份 is one of Taiwan’s most iconic attractions. It prospered under Japanese colonial rule but slipped into steep decline after the closure of the nearby gold mine in the 1970s. In 1989 it was featured in A City of Sadness, the first Taiwanese film to openly address 228 Incident, which prompted a modest reversal in fortunes as it became a local tourist destination. The trickle of visitors became a flood in the 2000s with the release of Studio Ghibli’s beloved Spirited Away, an animated film featuring a supernatural town inspired by Jiufen’s unique history and appearance.

It was this Miyazaki connection that first prompted me to visit Jiufen in 2013 — and I must have returned at least a half dozen other times. There is always something new to see while exploring Jiufen’s twisted labyrinth of crooked streets, stairways, and tunnels, but it certainly helps to beat the crowds by visiting on a weekday.

I captured this photography at sunset a couple of months ago from the top floor of a restaurant opposite the famous teahouse pictured at lower right. In the background is Jilong Mountain, a great place to go hiking. It was nice to get away from the crowds for a few minutes — and surprisingly the restaurant I shot this from was all but empty at the time.

For much more about Jiufen check out this news story and English language blog postings here, here, and here.