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An experiential journal of synchronicity and connection

Yuanlin 員林

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 First Market at Dusk

Yuanlin first marketplace at dusk
Dusk gathers over the old marketplace in the heart of Yuanlin.

I captured this photo of Yuánlín First Market 員林第一市場 in the long shadows of late afternoon earlier this year. The market buildings dates back to the Japanese colonial era, though I am not entirely certain precisely how old it is, for my ability to research in Chinese is somewhat limited at present. At any rate, it’s a beautiful building, but also neglected, as much of the activity has moved to the perimeter, where street food vendors do a brisk trade after dark. The dimly lit interior is still home to a handful of antiquated shops—tea wholesalers, butchers, fishmongers, vegetable grocers, and the like—but some of the shutters look like they haven’t come up in decades. As such, it makes for a fascinating building to explore, as there’s a great deal of unspoken history hidden within.

Dreams of Empire

The golden empire building
The ruins of the golden empire building in Yuanlin, Taiwan.

Nearly every middling city in Taiwan 台灣 is home to an iconic showpiece like the Golden Empire 黃金帝國 building in Yuánlín 員林, a towering ruin that was once the bustling heart of the town’s nightlife. In its heyday the Golden Empire featured 14 levels of entertainment and commerce: movie theaters, gaming parlours, cram schools (bǔxíbān 補習班), a dance hall, a skating rink, an indoor playground, and—of course—many restaurants and extravagant karaoke bars.

Taifeng Night Market Potato Ball Vendor

Potato ball truck at Taifeng night market in Yuanlin
Potato ball truck at Taifeng Night Market in Yuanlin.

Recently I have been slightly more serious about documenting some of the small night markets I have visited in Changhua 彰化, a somewhat unremarkable county in middle Taiwan 台灣. Nobody has written about any of these places in English—at least not to my knowledge—and so I went to the trouble of translating a Changhua night market schedule for my own benefit—and the benefit of the handful of English-speaking travellers who might pass this way.

At any rate, tonight I dropped in on Táifèng 台鳳 night market in Yuánlín 員林 to take some proper photos. It is a very normal night market with little to recommend—though it is an interesting sight when trains rumble by meters away from the booths at the back. Just as I left I stopped to pick up some fried potato balls—not the healthiest of snacks but certainly very tasty—and was struck by the sight of this wizened old man plying the trade.

Changhua Night Markets 彰化夜市

Beidou’s Thursday night market
Beidou’s Thursday night market.

Changhua 彰化 isn’t exactly known for its night markets, but since I’ve been spending some of my time there I’ve done the work to translate what little information is available and share what I’ve experienced first-hand after having been out to about a dozen night markets in the area. This post (in Chinese), dating back to 2009, is the most widely cited reference that I have been able to dredge up. So far it hasn’t led me astray but there are no guarantees any of these markets are still around (or even cool and interesting).

The Canals of Changhua County

The derelict canals of Changhua county
The derelict canals of Changhua County.

I spent about a week in Changhua 彰化 while transitioning from my last place in Jǐngměi 景美 to my current place in Tainan City 台南市. Most days I went riding through the Changhua countryside, commuting to various cafes in Yuánlín 員林. Along the way I regularly passed many irrigation and drainage canals, most of which appeared to have fallen into disuse. The channels are often filled with tepid water, sediment, and weeds, and yet the countryside is still covered with rice paddies. Have modern irrigation systems supplanted these old canals?

A Puppet Show For The Gods

A random roadside puppet show in rural Changhua County.

Bùdàixì 布袋戲 (a form of traditional puppetry) is a common sight all around Taiwan 台灣. These puppet shows are typically staged in front of temples in the late afternoon regardless of whether there are any mortals looking on. Dialogue, often in Taiwanese (not Mandarin Chinese), is amplified over a rudimentary sound system. The puppet show outfits I have seen are typically one-man operations working out of a modified blue delivery truck, somewhat like the more elaborate electric flower cars.

The Games We Played

The games we played
A derelict gaming machine at the Golden Empire building in Yuanlin.

Immediately across from the train station in Yuánlín 員林 one will notice a massive building looming overhead. This is the Golden Empire Building, once the showpiece of Yuanlin’s burgeoning downtown core, home to KTVs, gaming parlours, and—if rumours are true—even an indoor swimming pool.

While the upper floors are all abandoned the subterranean parkade is still in use. I have tried without success (so far—I’m not done yet) to gain access to the rest of the building through the basement levels. Sometimes outer doors are sealed and locked but inner stairwells are left unguarded. No such luck here, though.

In my explorations I discovered many old gaming machines in forgotten corners of the parking garage, evidently dragged down there for storage. This is one such relic, an echo of a bygone era in middle Taiwan 台灣. I wonder how much amusement it brought to its patrons—and how much it divested them of their hard-won earnings.

Incandescent Nights

Working by incandescent light at Vicino Cafe in Yuanlin.

When in Yuánlín 員林 I often find myself working on the ground floor at Vicino Coffee 右舍咖啡, my favourite cafe in the central Taiwan 台灣. After the sun goes down the staff turn on a number of lights including an oversized incandescent orb dangling from a curious contrivance on the end of a countertop. One evening I leaned over and snapped this close-up photo with my phone that I share here to capture the spirit of many caffeinated nights slinging code in the heart of Changhua 彰化.