In October 2015 I set out from Taichung 台中 to attend a music festival in Nantou, the landlocked county in the mountainous interior of Taiwan 台灣. Since I don’t often have an opportunity to ride a scooter I allocated some extra time for onward exploration and ended up visiting many interesting and wonderful places, many of them quite obscure. What follows is the first part of a mostly visual record of this road trip around the geographic center of Taiwan…
Lóngténg Broken Bridge 龍騰斷橋 is a historic roadside attraction in the hills of Sānyì 三義 in Miaoli, Taiwan 台灣. More formally known as Yúténgpíng Broken Bridge 魚藤坪斷橋, it was originally constructed in 1907 during the Japanese colonial era, connecting Zhúnán 竹南 and Taichung 台中 along what is now known as the Old Mountain Line 舊山線. The bridge collapsed during the devastating 1935 Hsinchu-Taichung Earthquake but the ruins were never cleared away. Further damage was done in the 921 Earthquake in 1999. Several years later it was designated a historic site by the Miaoli County government and subsequently developed for tourism along with the former Shèngxìng Station 勝興車站.
The former Baekje Hospital is a heritage building in Busan, the second largest city in South Korea. Built in 1922 by Choi Yong-hae, a Korean living in Japan, it is located in Choryang, Busan’s historic Chinatown. It was the first private hospital in the city but only remained in business for about a decade before the building was repurposed. Over the years the former hospital has been used as army barracks, police station, Chinese restaurant, wedding hall, and more. This was even the home of a consulate for the Republic of China (now generally known as Taiwan 台灣) at some point, probably long before diplomatic recognition ended in 1992.
Xīluó 西螺 is a small historic town in rural Yúnlín 雲林, Taiwan 台灣. Despite its diminutive size Xiluo was once home to three standalone movie theaters: the eponymous Xiluo Theater 西螺戲院, Yisheng Theater 一生戲院, and Yuǎndōng Theater 遠東戲院 (literally “Far East Theater”), the subject of this brief report. Previously I misidentified Yisheng Theater as Yuandong, something I only realized after visiting a photo exhibition at Huashan 1914 Creative Park in 2017. After realizing my mistake I went to some lengths to locate and later visit this theater—which, in hindsight, I’ve passed on several occasions without noticing it down a small side street.
The ruins of the former Língxiāo Temple 凌霄殿 can be found in the foothills of the Central Mountain Range 中央山脈 in Pǔlǐ 埔里, Nantou. Likely named after the Chinese trumpet creeper, Campsis grandiflora (中文), it was founded in 1983 by local philanthropist Chen Chou 陳綢, famous across Taiwan for her charity work. The temple is quite remote, more than 10 kilometers down an old forestry road with no other exit, perched on the hillside at an elevation of 1,300 meters (for reference, the Puli Basin 埔里盆地 is around 500 meters above sea level).
Located on the outskirts of Zhushan, Kēzikēng New Community 柯子坑新社區 is one of several public housing projects constructed in the aftermath of the 921 Earthquake that devastated central Taiwan 台灣 in 1999. Despite providing much-needed relief for those who lost their homes in the disaster there were few buyers—and today the complex remains mostly empty and disused. Built with government funds, this poorly-conceived housing project has become yet another example of what Taiwanese call mosquito halls, a term popularized by artist Yao Jui-chung 姚瑞中 and a team of student researchers known as Lost Society Document. Since 2010 they have published six volumes of Mirage, a series of works identifying more than 800 disused public properties all around the country. Some of their work was translated into English—which is how I found out about this particular locale, which I briefly visited in the summer of 2017.
Guóbīn Commercial Building 國賓商業大樓 is an ugly ruin in the heart of Zhōnglì 中壢, a city of around half a million people in Taoyuan, Taiwan 台灣. Built at the dawn of the booming 1980s, it was home to a variety of entertainment businesses over the years, and appears to have been mostly abandoned sometime around the turn of the millennium. Much to my surprise I’ve not found much about this place online. Either I have been searching for all the wrong keywords or there isn’t any overlap with the era of online journalism and whatever newsworthy calamities may have befallen this derelict commercial building. Without any sources to draw upon I can only make some educated guesses about what I captured during a brief visit in the early days of 2017.
What remains of Xīnxīng Theater 新興戲院 can be found just east of the train station in Dalin, a modest town of approximately 30,000 just north of Chiayi City 嘉義市 in Taiwan 台灣. Despite its relatively small size Dalin once supported five movie theaters, providing entertainment for sugar factory workers and the many soldiers stationed at nearby military bases. Xinxing Theater (not to be confused with the one in Xinpu) originally opened as Rénshān Theater 仁山戲院 in 1954 and remained in business until 1992. Eventually the theater was renovated and subdivided into a billiards hall and KTV (also known as a karaoke box) before it was finally abandoned sometime around 2013. Nowadays there is talk of buying the property and transforming it into a creative market but its ultimate fate remains unknown.
The corpses of a thousand factories lay strewn across the plains of central and south Taiwan 台灣, stark reminders of an extraordinary period of economic growth in the latter half of the 20th century. Those located in more rural areas are readily forgotten and may remain derelict for years to come—but the more prosperous districts are busily excising these unsightly engines of economic growth from their urban landscapes. Progress is inconsistent, however, and it isn’t at all unusual to chance upon the hulking ruins of inner city factories that have yet to disappear. One such factory is the Yìchéng Cannery 義成罐頭工廠, an impressive complex hemmed in on all sides by residences in a network of winding alleyways not far from the new train station in Yuánlín 員林, the second-largest city in Changhua 彰化. No doubt this ugly eyesore will be demolished sometime in the near future—but in the meantime it has become a shadow world for local youth and curious outsiders such as myself.
Èrshuǐ 二水 is a rural township located in the southeastern corner of Changhua 彰化, bordering Yúnlín 雲林 and Nantou. Ershui Station 二水車站, constructed in 1935, is the primary point of transfer between the Main Line 縱貫線 of the Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA) and the Jiji Line 集集線, a tourist railway leading into the interior. Ershui, which literally means “two water”, is named after the Bābǎo Canal 八堡圳, an extensive system of artificial waterways still responsible for irrigating much of the Changhua Plain 彰化平原 three centuries after it was devised. During the Japanese colonial era this small town prospered as a center of woodworking while farmers in the countryside cultivated bananas, grapes, guava, and tobacco, among other crops. Nowadays it is mainly known as a sleepy stopover on the way to parts beyond—but a closer look will reveal several points of interest for anyone curious about Taiwanese history, architecture, and vintage style.