Skip To Content

Postcards From Xiluo 西螺明信片

Beautiful old architecture along Yanping old street
Beautiful old architecture along Yanping Old Street in Xiluo.

Xīluó 西螺 is a small historic town on the left bank of the Zhuóshuǐ River 濁水溪 in Yúnlín 雲林. It emerged as an important center of trade in central Taiwan 台灣 during the Qing dynasty era and continued to prosper into the early 20th century under Japanese colonial rule. Disaster struck in 1935 when the devastating Hsinchu-Taichung Earthquake ripped through north-central Taiwan, reducing much of Xiluo to rubble. Colonial authorities and the local gentry worked together to rebuild, taking the opportunity to completely remodel the main commercial thoroughfares with an intriguing blend of influences from Baroque Revival, Art Deco, and Modern architecture. A short stroll down Yánpíng Old Street 延平老街 reveals that many of these unique shophouses and commercial buildings remain standing today.

Beigang Theater 北港劇場

Beigang Theater, Frontal View
Beigang Theater is still in great shape despite being repurposes and disused for the better part of three decades.

Beigang Theater 北港劇場 in Běigǎng 北港, Yúnlín 雲林, is among the finest and most well-preserved of Taiwan’s remaining Japanese colonial era theaters. Built in 1937 with investment from a local businessman by the name of Tsai Yu-Hu 蔡裕斛 (whose old house is also worth a look), this three storey theater featured a revolving stage, seating for 800 guests, and simple western-style facade with a trace of the Baroque Revival architecture popular at the time. It was not only a cinema—Taiwanese opera, glove puppet shows, musical concerts, wedding banquets, and other events were also held inside. The theater went out of business in 1988 and was converted for use as a department store and restaurant for some time thereafter. Nowadays it is apparently still in use as a pool hall and, inexplicably, a kidney dialysis center, but I saw no evidence of this when I visited in the summer of 2017.

People’s Park in the Sky

A foggy People’s Park In The Sky
A palace in the sky, shrouded in mist.

People’s Park In The Sky is a peculiar attraction located about 60 kilometers south of Manila in Tagaytay, a popular leisure destination in the province of Cavite in the Philippines. Perched on top of Mount Sungay at an elevation of 709 meters, the highest point on the northern rim of the immense Taal Caldera, it was originally planned to be a palace suitable for state visits during the kleptocratic reign of Ferdinand Marcos. Construction began in 1979 with a drastic leveling of the mountaintop, which previously reached 759 meters, but ground to a halt with increasing civic unrest and the cancellation of Ronald Reagan’s state visit in 1983. Following the People Power Revolution of 1986 the unfinished mansion was transformed into a public park and monument to the greed, corruption, and excess of the Marcos era.

Xiluo Bridge 西螺大橋

The North End of Xiluo Bridge
Xiluo Bridge, the gateway to Yunlin County.

Xiluo Bridge 西螺大橋 (also Hsilo or Siluo Bridge; 中文) spans the mighty Zhuóshuǐ River 濁水溪, the unofficial boundary between north and south Taiwan 台灣, and connects the counties of Changhua 彰化 and Yúnlín 雲林. Construction began in the late 1930s under Japanese colonial rule but came to a halt after the attack on Pearl Harbor as the allotted steel was needed for the war effort.

Jiuqiong Village Tobacco Barn 九芎村菸樓

An Old Tobacco Barn in Jiuqiong Village
An unexpected find in a small village in Yunlin: a red brick tobacco barn!

What little remains of the historic tobacco industry in central Taiwan 台灣 is disappearing fast. Tobacco cultivation was big business for much of the 20th century but went into sharp decline in the 1980s and essentially ended with globalization and Taiwan’s accession to the WTO. Robust preservation efforts in south and east Taiwan ensure something of this industry will remain for future generations but the situation in the former tobacco cultivation areas of Taichung 台中, Changhua 彰化, and Yúnlín 雲林 is far more ambiguous, and documentation of what cultural assets remain is sparse or nonexistent. For this reason I’ve made an effort to record tobacco barns anytime I encounter them in my travels—as I did while driving through Jiǔqiōng Village 九芎村 on the south side of Linnei in Yúnlín 雲林 earlier this summer.

Chinese Chewing Gum

Chinese Chewing Gum
A betel nut stand in front of the train station in Shuili.

Recently I stopped in Shuǐlǐ 水里 while on my way to Pǔlǐ 埔里 by scooter. There, while waiting out a rainstorm on the main street in front of the historic train station, I noticed an unusual betel nut booth with a fetching green sign. “Chinese chewing gum” is a curious phrase, not one I recall noticing before, and it is also peculiar to see an exclusively English sign out here in the mountainous heart of the nation. Searching around, I chanced upon a short documentary describing betel nut as Taiwan chewing gum, which still sounds somewhat odd. What sort of gum gets you high and stains your teeth red?

Xiluo Yuandong Theater 西螺遠東戲院

Xiluo’s Abandoned Yuandong Theater
The bland, utilitarian appearance of this old theater in Xiluo is consistent with the architectural trends of the KMT authoritarian era. The metal frames mounted on the front would have once held hand-painted movie posters.

Xīluó 西螺 is justifiably famous for its eponymous Japanese colonial era theater, located close to the architectural wonders of Yánpíng Old Street 延平老街, but this small town on the south bank of the sluggish Zhuóshuǐ River 濁水溪 was once home to two more theaters. Almost no mention of these other theaters can be found except in this news report about a local painter—but while browsing around satellite view on Google Maps I managed to locate what is almost certainly Yuǎndōng Theater 遠東戲院 (literally “Far East Theater”). A few months ago I seized an opportunity to revisit the lovely town of Xīluó 西螺 and dropped in to take a closer look.

Shuangxikou Brick Kiln 雙溪口磚窯

A Brick Kiln on the Horizon
The brick kiln’s chimney still towers over the rice paddies of this part of rural Chiayi.

Recently I wrote about the Liùjiǎo Brick Kiln 六腳磚窯, an obscure abandonment in rural Chiayi 嘉義, Taiwan 台灣. While attempting to find out more about that kiln I found a reference to a second abandoned kiln in the area, the Shuāngxīkǒu Brick Kiln 雙溪口磚窯, informally named after the closest village in neighboring Puzi. Weeks after visiting the first kiln I returned to scope out the second and—insofar as I can tell—only other remaining brick kiln in this expanse of the Chianan Plain 嘉南平原. It was a hazy, grey day out there so these photos aren’t nearly as nice as those of the other kiln, but in the interest of adding a little something to the historic record I’m sharing them here anyway.

Xinying Chenggong Theater 新營成功戲院

Concealed Entrance to an Old Theater in Xinying
These metal frames would have once held movie posters. The faint outline of the theater’s most recent name can still be seen if you look closely.

Despite its relative obscurity Xinying is the largest settlement along the railway line between metropolitan Tainan City 台南市 and Chiayi City 嘉義市. It is the former capital of Tainan County prior to amalgamation in 2010 and remains the second administrative seat of Tainan 台南 alongside Ānpíng 安平. Located on the broad and fertile Chianan Plain 嘉南平原, it was also an important transportation hub for the sugar industry, and what remains of the Japanese colonial era sugar factory can still be found on the south side of town. These facts—the size of the town, its former importance, and the presence of a sugar factory—suggest that Xinying was almost certainly home to several standalone movie theaters in its heyday. After doing some research online I established that this was indeed the case—and in February 2017 I swung through to investigate rumours of several old theaters. One of these turned out to be a rather unusual example of a ruined KMT authoritarian era cinema by the name of Chénggōng Theater 成功戲院.

Liujiao Brick Kiln 六腳磚窯

The Crumbling Ruins of a Brick Kiln in Liujiao
The crumbling ruins of an old brick kiln in rural Chiayi County.

Liùjiǎo Brick Kiln 六腳磚窯 was an unexpected discovery while riding from Běigǎng 北港 to Puzi earlier this summer. The chimney is plainly visible from the roadside and the crumbling bulk of the kiln can be discerned in a gap between the row of houses out front. Stopping to take a closer look I went around (and through) the old kiln to document what remains. Liujiao is a rather obscure part of rural Chiayi 嘉義 so I’ve not found any mention of this place online apart from this brief post. Whereas several kilns in various other parts of Taiwan 台灣 are being preserved this obscure ruin is almost certainly never going to be the object of a conservation effort.