One of the last of the many vintage theaters of Tainan 台南 seems to have finally closed its doors. Founded in 1964, the notorious Xīnjiànguó Theater 新建國戲院 was originally named for its location on Jianguo Road 建國路, which is now Mínquán Road 民權路. It is not uncommon for old theaters in Taiwan 台灣 to resort to showing pornography in the twilight of their decline but this particular theater appears to have specialized in more carnal forms of entertainment for much of its history. Perhaps this is why this theater remained in business until very recently—long after most of the nation’s hundreds of other standalone theaters shut down in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The obscure Lìzé Theater 利澤戲院 is located in the village of Lìzéjiǎn 利澤簡 in Wujie, a rural township just east of Luodong 羅東 in Yilan, Taiwan 台灣. Built in 1964, it once served as a cinema and playhouse, hosting a variety of films and live theater performances for the local populace before slipping into decline in the 1980s, a little earlier than most other theaters I’ve visited around the nation. Afterwards the theater was converted for use as a clothing factory but this also went out of business. Nowadays the building is more disused than abandoned, as descendants of the original owner are still making use of the structure for storage and other purposes. In a stroke of good luck I happened to visit while the door was open—and after communicating my interest in the history of old theaters in Taiwan I was invited in for a brief chat and look around. Each theater has its own story to tell—but in this case I was particularly interested in learning why a theater was built in such a small and seemingly unimportant village.
Taiwan 台灣 is riddled with failed construction projects, monuments to avarice, incompetence, and bureaucracy. Building defects, mismanagement, and land ownership disputes are common causes, but legal battles, limited funding for costly demolitions, and a lack of political often ensure such projects remain a blight on the urban landscape of the nation. One such project can be found along Wànshòu Road 萬壽路 at the western margins of the Taipei Basin 台北盆地 not far from Huilong Station 迴龍站, terminus of the orange line of the Taipei MRT in Xinzhuang, Xinbei. Technically this abandonment is located within Guishan, for the district boundary sweeps down from the hills and loops around a mostly industrial area sprawling along a small valley leading the rest of the way to the flatlands of the basin. Given that this road is one of the main arteries connecting Taoyuan with Taipei 台北 these twin 17-storey towers, typically identified as the Wanshou Road Residential Ruins 萬壽路廢棄社區, are regularly the subject of inquiries on PTT and other parts of the Taiwanese internet.
This week I am visiting Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, on another visa run from Taiwan 台灣. Six months ago I visited Hanoi and enjoyed my time there—check out this photo gallery for a comprehensive overview—so I’m hoping to repeat the experience in the emerging megacity further south.
My first walkabout brought me to District 5 in search of Cholon (Vietnamese: Chợ Lớn), HCMC’s historic Chinatown, which was originally a settlement separate from colonial Saigon. Cholon literally means “big market” so I made a point of visiting Binh Tay Market (Vietnamese: Chợ Bình Tây), which is just over the border in District 6. Along the way I noticed many temporary markets setup along the roadway—so it was no great surprise to discover the famous market closed for what I would assume is renovation.
Ershui Assembly Hall 二水公會堂 is located in Ershui 二水, a small town at the very southern edge of Changhua 彰化, on the border with both Yunlin 雲林 (to the south) and Nantou (to the east). It is one of dozens of similar assembly halls built all around Taiwan 台灣 to accommodate large public gatherings during the Japanese colonial era. This particular example was built in 1930 and is one of three remaining in Changhua 彰化. The other two—in Changhua City 彰化市 and Lukang 鹿港—are both fully restored, designated historic properties, and open to the public, but the Ershui Assembly Hall, the smallest of the three, has been derelict for years. From what I’ve read in this excellent post the landlord and local government have been locked in a long-running legal dispute, complicating any efforts at preservation.
Yesterday I breezed through the small town of Ershui 二水 in southern Changhua 彰化 to scope out some historic sites on my list. One of these sites, the old Ershui Public Hall 二水公會堂, is located next to a wide expanse of unkempt meadowland, evidently a breeding ground for Taiwan’s only geometrid moth. There were hundreds of brightly-colored, iridescent moths flitting around the overgrown ruins—and many more locked in an embrace on whatever flat surfaces could be found. After coming home last night it didn’t take long to puzzle out the name of this species of moth: Milionia basalis pryeri, a subspecies of Milionia basalis only found in Taiwan 台灣 and southwestern Japan, particularly Okinawa. There appears to be no English common name but in Chinese it is generally known as chéngdàizhīchǐ’é 橙帶枝尺蛾; roughly “orange-banded moth”.
Yesterday while breezing through Taichung 台中 I snapped this photograph of the Míngzhì Building 朙志樓, a rundown residential complex for teachers at the school of the same name. At the time I was perplexed by the first character—an ancient variant of the standard Míng 明 (“bright”) commonly seen in place names around Taiwan 台灣—and it turns out I’m not the only one! A quick search revealed an entire Taiwanese news segment on the character, in no small part because of the colloquial usage of the character Jiǒng 囧, commonly used to signify embarrassment (for what I hope are obvious reasons), not unlike saying “oops” in English. From what I gather most Taiwanese would see this and think it were some kind of prank!
Apart from the novelty of the unusual character I was also charmed by the use of spiral motifs in the architecture of the building. This obviously dates back to the KMT authoritarian era. Maybe next time I’ll take a closer look…
The Linkou Lightning Building 林口閃電大樓 is an infamous ruin not far from the newly-opened Taoyuan Airport MRT line in Linkou 林口, recently named the fastest-growing district in Xinbei. It is also known as the Linkou Strange House 林口怪怪屋 and occasionally appears in Taiwanese media alongside the Longtan Strange House and other examples of the genre. While I wish there were a good story to go along with these photos it sounds as if it is simply a failed construction project where nobody wants to cover the cost of demolition.
Recently I added yet another theater to my growing catalogue of old school cinemas in Taiwan 台灣: the derelict Dōng’ān Grand Theater 東安大戲院 in East Tainan 台南市東區. This theater opened in 1969 and closed its doors not long after the turn of the millennium, another victim of changing consumer habits. I wasn’t able to find a way inside this theater so this post only features a handful of exterior shots and some links I chanced upon after conducting preliminary research.
Today I went to investigate reports of an abandoned building on the edge of Xīméndīng 西門町, a busy commercial district in central Taipei 台北. It is fairly well-known due to its central location but I could find no easy means of entry for the very same reasons. From this television news report it sounds as if this was originally the Zhōngwài Department Store Company 中外百貨公司 and later the Yángyáng Department Store 洋洋百貨. While it isn’t surprising to find such ruins around much of Taiwan 台灣 it is somewhat unusual to see in such a prosperous area. The building is for rent, as I understand it, and much of the aforementioned report seems concerned with the outrageous price tag for such a decaying monstrosity.