Fùgāng Old Street 富岡老街 is an obscure anachronism in the western part of Taoyuan 桃園, Taiwan 台灣. It extends from a railway station that opened during the Japanese colonial era in 1929 through the heart of this small Hakka town. The coming of the railroad brought prosperity to the area and several ornate shophouses were built around the station in a mishmash of architectural styles common at the time. Nowadays it is just another street in rural Taiwan, albeit one with a little more history than most, possibly because it is too unimportant a place for modernization to have swept away these vestiges of the past.
I was wandering the streets of Monga 艋舺 not far from Wanhua Station 萬華車站 when I noticed this row of vintage scooters parked along a sidewalk. They reminded me of droids from Star Wars, particularly the one on the far right (and not only because the new film is in theaters soon). It isn’t uncommon to see such old scooters kicking around Taiwan 台灣 but seldom can you find so many in one place. I suppose this must be a used scooter dealership?
One of the most unique attractions in Taiwan 台灣 is the historic Changhua Roundhouse 彰化扇形車庫, originally built in 1922 during Japanese colonial rule and still in operation today. Although information is hard to come by it seems that it might be the only roundhouse still operating in Asia—and certainly one of the oldest still in regular use anywhere in the world. Every other roundhouse I researched for this article has been abandoned, demolished, repurposed, or converted into a museum, and those rare few that are still operational have been mighty hard to date. As such, the Changhua Roundhouse is a dream to visit for a railway enthusiast like myself, particularly since the ambiance hasn’t been ruined by the sort of tacky treatment you’ll often find at Taiwanese tourist attractions. After signing in with the guard at the gate I had free run of the place—and as you can see from some of the following photos, nobody minded me getting dangerously close to moving trains as the mechanics went about their daily routines.
Taichung 台中 is home to an unusual social experiment: the Honest Store 誠實商店 in the Fēngshù Community 楓樹社區 (literally “Maple Community”) of Nantun 南屯, Taiwan 台灣. According to roundTAIWANround (through which I discovered the place) it was once a general store of the traditional variety that you’ll still find scattered around the countryside and in older neighbourhoods. Such shops have been fading into history for years, unable to compete with the modern chains that have become symbols of Taiwan’s culture of convenience. The shop would have shut down had the owner not experimented with a new model: locally-sourced goods, financial transparency, and no paid staff, relying on the honesty of its patrons to stay in business.
Last week I went out with a friend to explore rural Hsinchu 新竹. After checking out a cable car tower in Guanxi 關西 we slipped over the township line to Hengshan 橫山 to make a brief pitstop at Héxìng Station 合興車站, the only wooden train station on the newly reopened Nèiwān Line 內灣線. Inside the station house we discovered this wall of vintage clocks, obviously somewhat contrived but every bit as photogenic as intended. Although this station (and the rest of the railway line) was built in the 1950s, after the Japanese colonial period, many of these mechanical wind-up clocks bear Japanese names like Gifutokei, Aichi, and, of course, Seiko.
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 中国, 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!
Yùměi Hall 玉美堂, also known as known as Hóng Family Mansion 洪氏洋樓, is located in Jiālǎo Village 茄荖村, a small settlement on the eastern edge of Fenyuan 芬園 in Changhua 彰化, Taiwan 台灣. Built in the late 1920s when the village was administered as part of Caotun 草屯 in Nantou 南投, it is one of only a handful of “Western-style” country manors built in central Taiwan during the Japanese colonial period (see my post about Jùkuíjū 聚奎居 for another great example).
A month ago I embarked upon a day trip to Zuoying 左營 to check out the famous temples and pagodas of Lotus Pond 蓮池潭, one of the main tourist attractions of greater Kaohsiung 高雄. Afterwards I wandered over to have a look at the old city of Zuoying 左營舊城, originally built in 1722 by the ruling Qing Dynasty in response to the many uprisings that regularly plagued Taiwan Prefecture.
Not much remains of the original Qing dynasty era defensive fortifications of Tainan 台南. The Japanese tore almost everything down in a bid to modernize the city in the early 20th century. Xiǎoxīmén 小西門, the small western gate, is one of three inner gates that remain. It was originally located near the traffic circle at the intersection of Xīmén Road 小西路 and Fǔqián Road 府前路 but was moved the opposite side of the city in 1970 to accommodate a road widening project. Nowadays it can be found amongst the ruins of Tainan’s old city walls next to what remains of Xiaodongmen (little eastern gate) on the main NCKU campus in East Tainan 台南市東區.
Xinhua Old Street 新化老街 is one of the finest old streets in all Taiwan 台灣. Located in Xinhua 新化, Tainan 台南, the street is lined baroque revival and art deco buildings from the Japanese colonial era. Most of the buildings on the western side of the street date back to the 1920s whereas the eastern side features a more modernist style from the late 1930s.