Harbour City 海灣新城

Harbour City 海灣新城 is an imposing ruin sprawling along the coastline not far from Cape Fugui 富貴角 at the northernmost tip of Taiwan 台灣. I first noticed it on my round-the-island bicycle tour last year but did not stop to explore, having already spent much of my daylight riding time poking around the UFO houses of Wànlǐ 萬里.

More recently I set out on a two-day urban exploration road trip with a friend from the Netherlands. Late in the afternoon on the first day we were thrown out of an abandoned amusement park in nearby Jīnshān 金山. Not having anything better to do with the remaining hour or so of daylight, I suggested we make our way up the coast to Shímén 石門 to investigate the ruin I had seen the previous year.

A quick glance from the highway would suggest that Harbour City has been abandoned for a long time. Many of the windows are blown out and parts of the building have collapsed. One end is even charred from a fire and surrounded by tin metal sheeting. It is clearly a ruin.

And yet… appearances are deceiving! Harbour City isn’t actually abandoned—people live and work here. I have no idea whether they are paying rent or not, though I imagine the businesses do. Apart from residences—mostly on the first and second floor—there is a bakery, a hotel and cafe, and a fishing bait and tackle shop. This place truly gives meaning to the saying: “is it abandoned… or just crappy?”

Now for a quick history lesson gleaned from machine translation (there is otherwise no information in English that I can find). Harbour City was built in 1971. It was the first building on the north coast with elevator access and the tallest of its kind. At its peak it was home to something like 200 to 300 residents, though I would imagine many of the units were treated like a holiday home by the newly rich. Not much is said about why the building was mostly abandoned. My guess is simply that things fall apart.

Today I would estimate that fewer than 30 people call this place home, though it is hard to be sure. I never would have guessed some of the units on the second floor were occupied if there weren’t lights on inside when we visited. People still take the time to beautify their homes with plants on the balcony. It’s really amazing.

The fact that people still live here is most inconvenient for would-be urban explorers since we’re generally a respectful lot and have no interest in disturbing people in their homes. When buildings are truly abandoned nobody bothers to secure stairwells and so on making it much more of an adventure. Despite nosing around a bit in the uninhabited parts we found no way up to the second floor with what remained of the day. Locked doors and barking dogs made sure of that.

We wandered into a few of the ground floor homes that had been left to the elements but there was little to see inside—just a whole lot of trash. And mosquitos. Lots of mosquitos.

With no obvious way to the upper floors we contented ourselves with a walk around the perimeter. Apart from bizarre lawn ornaments and quaint little gardens we were surprised to find the work of a famous Taiwanese street artist inside the flooded basement.

Why would people choose to live in a ruin? My guess is that some of the residents have lived here for so long that they don’t know anything else. I would also guess at least a few others are squatters—though I can’t be sure. Most interesting are those residents who have converted their home into a place of business—especially the hotel. Who would stay in such a place? It doesn’t sound cheap either, if the prices in this article are at all accurate. USD$70 and up to stay in a ruin for a night? Really?

The bait and tackle shop was bustling at least, and no wonder—many people come up to the north coast to fish. The shop itself is an extension of the main body of the building built from junk and scrap wood. Perhaps the owner lives in the unit behind the shop—or maybe it is just for storage.

At any rate, the man working in the fishing shop was the only person we saw who smiled at us. The handful of other people we saw watering plants on their balconies and such issued us nothing more than stony glares, quite unusual for Taiwan. I was left thinking of Delicatessen, a film about the eccentric residents of a crumbling post-apocalyptic apartment block who were similarly cagey with outsiders. (I’m not entirely serious, of course—I would imagine the remaining residents of Harbour City are actually quite nice.)

While the forces of entropy wear away at the building outside one resident has seen fit to install designer furnishings inside their unit. With a big bay window and something resembling a front lawn I suppose this might actually be a nice place to live—by Taiwanese standards. But can you imagine going to sleep at night aware of the crumbling monstrosity looming overhead?

I leave you with three photos captured at sundown on what was supposed to be the last day of my round-the-island bicycle tour in the fall of 2013.

More information is available in Chinese here and here.