South Taiwan Ride 2015: Pingtung City to Fangliao

Tudigong statue on the outskirts of Pingtung City
A Tudigong 土地公 statue on the outskirts of Pingtung City 屏東市.

After spending a day riding around Pingtung City I was ready to hit the road again. With no specific destination in mind—only an intention to head in the direction of Héngchūn 恆春, far to the south—I checked out of the vintage homestay I lodged at the previous night, stopped at Eske Place Coffee House for a delicious and healthy vegetarian breakfast, changed into cycling wear, and exited the city to the east. I knew almost nothing about where I was headed or what I might see on the third day of my south Taiwan ride in 2015. I only had one stop planned in advance: a hospital in Cháozhōu 潮州 rumoured to be . I didn’t know it at the time but I would spend almost the entire day riding through the historic Hakka belt of Pingtung 屏東.

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Chaozhou Jiukuaicuo Catholic Church 潮州九塊厝天主堂

Rusty cross over an abandoned Catholic church in Pingtung
A rusty cross over an abandoned Catholic church on the plains of Pingtung 屏東.

While I was out riding in southern Taiwan last year I chanced upon an abandoned church by the roadside in a small village outside of Cháozhōu 潮州, Pingtung 屏東. I only spent about ten minutes there and didn’t shoot many photos but have since realized that the story to tell is interesting enough to devote a full post to it. The formal name of this place is Jiǔkuàicuò Catholic Church 九塊厝天主堂, though this is commonly prefixed with Cháozhōu 潮州 to distinguish it from the many other villages with the same name in Taiwan 台灣. Details are scant but I should be able to provide a broad overview of how this church came to be here—and why it was left to the elements.

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Outside an abandoned hospital in rural Pingtung

The back side of Dashun Hospital 大順醫院
Around back at an abandoned hospital in rural Pingtung.

Dàshùn General Hospital 大順綜合醫院 is a hulking ruin on the outskirts of Cháozhōu 潮州 in Taiwan 台灣. Abandoned almost a decade ago, it was not in business for very long before it closed due to corruption and mismanagement. There appears to be an ugly coda as well, for it was later the subject of an investment scam (see also: PTT).

Acting on a tip by a fellow expat living in Kaohsiung 高雄 I went to scope it out while riding around southern Taiwan in June 2015. There were dogs chained up out front so I rode around back, crossed a drainage channel, and looked for a way in, but the place was locked up tight, presumably so it can be auctioned off some day. For now it remains a mystery—but perhaps I’ll have another opportunity to check it out. Typhoons have a knack for opening up buildings in Taiwan 台灣.

South Taiwan Ride 2015: Pingtung City

Moody skies over a market area in Pingtung City
Moody skies over a market in downtown Pingtung City.

One of the pleasures of bicycle touring in Taiwan is the freedom to change plans on impulse. On my second day of a trip down south in June 2015, having previously cycled across Kaohsiung from Tainan, I opted to hang out and see more of Pingtung City 屏東市. A dire weather forecast calling for bouts of torrential rain had already introduced some uncertainty but I was also curious about this city of 200,000, about which almost nothing is written in English. Finding an interesting place to stay sealed the deal—and so I checked out of a grimy hotel near the train station after breakfast, moved my stuff to the new place, and spent the day exploring the administrative center of Pingtung 屏東, the southernmost division of Taiwan 台灣.

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Moonrise over Tamsui

Moonrise over Tamsui
Moonrise over the skeletal outline of an abandoned home in Tamsui.

Yesterday I ventured out to Tamsui 淡水 to have a closer look at this historic town in northern Taiwan 台灣. After a full day of tromping around forts, old streets, abandoned buildings, and temples I stopped in front of Qīngshuǐ Temple 清水巖 to watch the moon rise over the skeletal outlines of a gutted home now filled with poured concrete.

Tamsui is more known for its sunsets but I have a habit of doing things differently. This shot is entirely handheld and, as such, the details are a little washed out and grainy, but it still looks nice at web resolutions. Moody and serene.

South Taiwan Ride 2015: Tainan to Pingtung City

Tainan country roads
Riding through the countryside in southern Tainan 台南. This looks remarkably like the area near where I grew up.

Bicycle touring is one of the best ways to experience Taiwan 台灣. I don’t have an opportunity to go touring as much as I’d like but managed to find some time last year, in June of 2015, to embark upon a multi-day bicycle trip around southern Taiwan 台灣. My intention was to cover some of the same territory that I had rushed through on my first bicycle trip down south in 2013. I ended up racing a typhoon from Kenting 墾丁 to Taitung City 台東市 that year—so the chance to explore the backroads of Pingtung 屏東 at a more relaxed pace really appealed to me. I started my journey in Tainan 台南, my favourite city in Taiwan 台灣, and cycled through Kaohsiung 高雄 to Pingtung City 屏東市, putting about 70 kilometers behind me. Gathered here are some photos from the first day of this trip, continued here.

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On the edge of Agongdian Reservoir 阿公店水庫

Agongdian Reservoir 阿公店水庫
The control tower near the north end of the levee at Agongdian Reservoir, Kaohsiung 高雄.

Agongdian Reservoir 阿公店水庫 (occasionally romanized in the old Wade–Giles style as Akungtien Reservoir; literally “Grandpa’s Shop”) is located amid the low hills of central Kaohsiung 高雄 in southern Taiwan 台灣. Construction began in the but was not completed until 1953, largely because of the high amount of silt in the waterways flowing into it. Even now considerable effort must be undertaken to dredge the reservoir every season.

Nowadays it is ringed by a 10 kilometer trail that invites joggers and cyclists out to the hinterland to enjoy a break from the concrete jungle. There is even an automated Kaohsiung City Public Bike rental kiosk at the southern end of the reservoir—but I brought my own. Actually, I was only passing through when I took this picture of the diminutive control tower in June 2015, cycling from Tainan 台南 to Pingtung 屏東.

For an exhaustive look at the history and engineering of the reservoir check out this post (in English). More Chinese language content can be found here, here, here, and here.

Taiwanese road safety dummies

A warning dummy in rural Changhua
A warning dummy hard at work on the streets of rural Changhua 彰化.

Road safety dummies are a distinctive feature of the streets of Taiwan 台灣. In Chinese they are generally known as engineering dummies 工程用假人 (pinyin: gōngchéngyòng jiǎrén), warning dummies 警示假人 (jǐngshì jiǎrén), or, more formally, electric flag-bearers 電動旗手 (diàndòng qíshǒu). According to law these robotic figures must be setup at all roadside construction sites to provide some measure of protection for workers as well as warn passing motorists and pedestrians of potential hazards. When hooked up to a car battery their stubby arms pump up and down, waving flags and other objects to direct traffic. Construction companies typically decorate these dummies with safety vests and hardhats, though it is not common for workers to express some creativity and personalize their dummies. Some of them even have individual names and histories! The rest of this post features photographs of some of the many road safety dummies I have encountered over the years.

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Three stars on the rooftop of a temple in Kaohsiung

The rooftop at Qinghe Temple 清和宮 in Alian
The Three Stars on the rooftop of Alian’s Qinghe Temple.

Pictured here is the rooftop of Qīnghé Temple 清和宮 in central Ālián 阿蓮, Kaohsiung 高雄, which supposedly dates back to 1665, though a major reconstruction took place in 1982. I shot this photograph while riding back from the badlands of southern Taiwan years ago but only recently learned the meaning of these ubiquitous figurines. These are the Three Stars 三星 of Chinese folk religion, commonly known by their combined name Fúlùshòu 福祿壽, and they appear here in the traditional right-to-left orientation. Fú 福, holding a child on the right, is the avatar of Jupiter and the personification of good fortune. 祿星, commonly depicted as a mandarin, represents imperial rank or status, and appears in the night sky as the star Mizar in the Big Dipper. Finally, Shòu 壽 is the god of longevity, easily recognized by his high, domed forehead, friendly demeanor, elderly appearance, and (in this case) gnarled walking stick. Also known as the Old Man of the South Pole, his is the southern star, Canopus. Together these deities represent the culturally Chinese conception of the good life: prosperous, high-ranking, and long-lived. Once you go looking for them you’ll find them all over the place in Taiwan 台灣.

Jiahe New Village 嘉禾新村

Outside the gateway to Jiahe New Village 嘉禾新村
Immediately outside the main gate to Jiahe New Village.

Jiahe New Village 嘉禾新村 is one of more than 800 military dependents’ villages (Chinese: juàncūn 眷村) built in Taiwan 台灣 in the late 1940s and 1950s to provide provisional housing for KMT soldiers and their families fleeing from the Chinese Civil War. Around two million people crossed the Taiwan Strait from China 中国 from 1945 to 1949, bolstering an existing population of approximately seven million. More than 600,000 of these Chinese immigrants ended up in military villages like this one in Zhōngzhèng District 中正區, Taipei 台北, which was forcibly abandoned only a couple of years ago as part of a wave of urban renewal projects sweeping the nation.

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