Keelung, City of Darkness

Tranquility in the alleyways of Keelung
Tranquility in the alleyways of Keelung.

Keelung 基隆 is the darkest city in Taiwan, averaging a meagre 1,276 hours of sunshine per annum1. This is slightly more than half the sunshine experienced in the southern cities of Kaohsiung 高雄 and Héngchūn 恆春, both of which enjoy more than 2,200 hours every year. Seattle and Vancouver, two North American cities known for an unusual amount of rain and gloom, clock in at 2,170 and 1,938 hours of sunshine respectively2. Turning now to Europe, London bottoms out at 1,481, and you’d have to head north to Glasgow, with its 1,265 hours of sunlight, to find a place gloomier than Taiwan’s northernmost city.

I have visited Keelung several times by now, often on the tail end of trips to Jiǔfèn 九份, Jīnguāshí 金瓜石, and other destinations further up the coast. Subjectively speaking, I have always found Keelung to be possessed by a kind of dark energy that compliments the murky climate. Keelung is a major port—and like most port cities it also has a seedy underbelly. Nowhere else in Taiwan have I seen prostitution practiced so brazenly as in Keelung. Wander away from the hustle and bustle of Miaokou Night Market 廟口夜市 and you might find yourself accosted by streetwalkers in the sprawling red light district3. This wouldn’t be at all unusual in Thailand but such business is typically conducted behind closed doors and out of sight in Taiwan.

The downtown core is sandwiched into a tiny parcel of land between the bottom of the harbour and the base of the mountains to the south. As such, the Taiwanese predilection for constructing buildings on top of one another reaches a rather absurd zenith in Keelung, making for an unusually claustrophobic urban setting. Many of the alleyways are also covered—probably due to the incessant rain—effectively transforming them into tunnels like the one pictured above, which is home to the minuscule Fúdé Temple 福德宮, built in 1849. Without any room to grow, temple services are held in the network of passageways that extend outward into the labyrinth of night.

  1. Climate data via CWB monthly mean sunshine duration
  2. Climate data via Current Results for the United States, British Columbia, and the United Kingdom
  3. Also highly unusual for Taiwan: there’s a small street near the railway line where women are displayed in red backlit windows, sort of like a shabbier version of what you might see in Amsterdam.