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Synapticism

An experiential journal of synchronicity and connection

Yuánlín 員林 is a fairly typical city in central Taiwan 台灣. There are few, if any, reasons for tourists to visit, but the city has pretty much everything you need to live and work apart from the kind of international culture and nightlife you'll only really find in Taipei 台北. There are good cafes (here and here) and restaurants, late night breakfast shops and night markets, interesting temples, old markets and abandoned buildings to explore, and that sort of thing. There's nothing really out of the ordinary, but it's still a pretty good place if you like mid-sized cities in Taiwan and want access to modern conveniences without things being too overcrowded or hectic. For what it's worth I happen to like Yuanlin a lot!

Yuanlin Hospital 員林醫院

Yuanlin Hospital in deep afternoon
Deep afternoon at an infamous abandoned hospital in Yuanlin, Taiwan.

Despite having spent a lot of time in Yuánlín 員林, a mid-sized city in central Changhua 彰化, Taiwan 台灣, I have only recently begun to explore some of its more famous ruins. Among these is Yuanlin Hospital 員林醫院, formally the Changhua County Yuanlin Hospital 彰化縣立員林醫院, originally built in 1963 and operational until the the turn of the millennium. Nowadays it is one of the more notorious abandoned places in central Taiwan, where it is regularly featured in news reports, particularly around Ghost Month 鬼月. Taiwanese media engage in an annual outpouring of overly sensationalized stories about haunted places—and hospitals, as liminal spaces of birth and death, often appear in such reports, complicating research into the real story of what went on.

South Yuanlin Station 南員林站

An old wooden railway station in back alley Yuanlin
An old wooden railway station in back alley Yuanlin. The sign reads “yield before the main road” (ràng qián yǒu gàndào 讓前有幹道).

South Yuanlin Station 南員林站 is an abandoned Japanese colonial era railway station located not far from the newly reopened Yuanlin Station 員林車站 in the heart of Yuánlín 員林, a mid-sized city in central Changhua 彰化. It opened in 1933 as a small stop on the now-derelict Yuanlin Line 員林線 of the Taiwan Sugar Railways 臺灣糖業鐵路, which formerly ran west for about 9 kilometers across the Changhua Plain 彰化平原 to the Xihu Sugar Factory 溪湖糖廠 in Xihu. Apart from facilitating the transport of sugarcane and other cargo this old wooden station also provided passenger service until it was abolished sometime around 1975.

Hengwen Temple 衡文宮

The gigantic statue on top of Hengwen temple, Yuanlin
The gigantic statue of Xuan Wu, the Dark Warrior, on top of Hengwen Temple in Yuanlin.

Héngwén Temple 衡文宮 is located on the south side of Yuánlín 員林, a mid-sized city in Changhua 彰化, Taiwan 台灣. Completed in 1976, this temple is mainly notable for its 72 foot-tall statue of Xuán Wǔ 玄武, literally “Dark Warrior”, alternately known as Xuán Dì 玄帝 (“Dark Deity”) or Xuántiān Shàngdì 玄天上帝 (“Dark Heavenly Deity”) among many other names. The statue itself is a hollow structure containing several additional floors filled with murals depicting the origins of Xuan Wu as well as various small shrines. A similarly oversized statue of Xuan Wu can be seen on the famous Lotus Pond 蓮池潭 in Zuǒyíng 左營, Kaohsiung 高雄, and there’s probably several more scattered around Taiwan 台灣, but this one is apparently the largest of its kind. Such claims are often difficult to verify as pretty much any temple with a big statue is likely to say the same thing.

A Rusty Gate in Yuanlin

Rusty gate in the back alleys of Yuanlin
A rusty gate in the back alleys of Yuanlin.

Yesterday I returned to Yuánlín 員林, the city where I really started blogging about Taiwan 台灣, for a lazy day of exploration and discovery. I was interested in revisited places I thought I knew something about to see how the years have sharpened my ability to observe and document the urban landscape. I’ll have more to post about this trip at a later date—but for now I’d like to add another photograph to my growing collection of abandoned doors. This particular example of the genre was collected just off Wànnián Road 萬年路 (“Ten Thousand Year Road”, a recurring pattern in Taiwanese place names) in a half-abandoned complex of what looks to be late Japanese colonial era or early KMT authoritarian era factory worker dormitories. There is a huge abandoned factory on the opposite side of the main road that might explain things. I wonder what it produced? A cursory search reveals nothing.

Roadside Entertainment in Rural Changhua

Changhua roadside nightlife
An electric flower car in rural Changhua County.

One of the advantages of getting out of the western expat bubble in Taipei 台北 is that you’ll see a different side of Taiwan 台灣, one that is less sanitized for international consumption. Living down south in Tainan 台南 and later Changhua 彰化 introduced me to customs I never see up north, among them a local version of the roadside medicine show.

Don’t Drink and Drive, Taiwan Style

Politaxi
Half taxi cab, half police car, all politaxi.

This is the so-called Politaxi-Car 酒駕防禦展示車, a peculiar statement against drunk driving introduced by the Taiwan Beverage Alcohol Forum in 2012. I suppose the idea here is that you have to choose between taking a taxi or a police car after drinking alcohol? The message seems somewhat muddled to me but it certainly attracts attention wherever it is displayed. As far as I know the car rotates around various parts Changhua 彰化 (and perhaps the rest of Taiwan 台灣) but I happened to catch it one day in front of the new train station in Yuánlín 員林.

Future Sound of Yuanlin

Future sound of Yuanlin
The steady march of progress in central Changhua, Taiwan.

I briefly switched on my new television to see if it was working and a political advertisement heralding the new train station in Yuánlín 員林 flashed before my eyes. The timing—immediately before the last election—was no coincidence. Incumbents all over Taiwan 台灣 had been rushing their keystone projects to completion, not that it helped them much.

At any rate, something about the lo-fi grittiness of the image I produced with my smartphone really appeals to me on some level. It reminds me of times long ago—but still alive wherever I am, for I remain an avid collector of rare, old music, and regularly dive deep into the archives. Here I am, lost in the concrete jungles of Asia, perhaps the only human being in my vicinity who continues to celebrate these arcane wavelengths. Hopefully I needn’t explain the sly reference I was making in the title!

Interstellar Indifference

Interstellar poster at a theater in Yuanlin
Cruddy photo of the poster inside the dimly lit theater in Yuanlin.

I went to the cinema in Yuánlín 員林 last night to watch Interstellar. Although I absolutely love science fiction I tend to avoid blockbuster science fiction films. Too many of them look pretty but lack substance, playing fast and loose with the science out of sheer laziness rather than any real need to advance the plot. Sadly, this particular film is guilty on all counts. I don’t think anyone expects perfectly sound science out of Hollywood—bad science to advance a good story is perfectly acceptable when it’s handled right—but Interstellar pushed the limits of credulity too many times for my suspension of disbelief to survive the three hour runtime intact. At least it looked cool. And I’m still glad I went to go see it. I get out so rarely these days.

Tracing the Sugar Rails of Yuanlin

Memories of Kyoto in Yuanlin
Memories of Kyoto 京都 in Yuánlín 員林? Not sure what the idea is here.

One day while riding around the west side of Yuánlín 員林 I came across an old railway line that had been converted into a shabby, disused park of some sort, looking oddly inspired by Fushimi Inari Taisha. Later on I did a bit of internet sleuthing and found out that the park follows the path of the old sugar railway that leads south and then west to a sugar factory in nearby Xihu, something that I was not previously aware of. Now I’ll have to go check that out as well!