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.
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?
Ershui Assembly Hall 二水公會堂 is located in Èrshuǐ 二水, a small town at the very southern edge of Changhua 彰化, on the border with both Yúnlín 雲林 (to the south) and Nantou (to the east). It is one of dozens of similar assembly halls built all around Taiwan 台灣 to accommodate large public gatherings during the Japanese colonial era. This particular example was built in 1930 and is one of three remaining in Changhua 彰化. The other two—in Changhua City 彰化市 and Lukang 鹿港—are both fully restored, designated historic properties, and open to the public, but the Ershui Assembly Hall, the smallest of the three, has been derelict for years. From what I’ve read in this excellent post the landlord and local government have been locked in a long-running legal dispute, complicating any efforts at preservation.
Intramuros (literally “within the walls”) is the former center of Spanish colonial power and the Catholic Church in the Philippines. Located in the heart of old Manila, this fortified district has a long and complicated history stretching back more than four centuries, but little of what remains is original and untouched. Intramuros was heavily damaged during the Japanese invasion in 1941 and almost completely destroyed in the Battle of Manila in 1945. Almost everything seen in my photos was reconstructed beginning in the 1950s and continuing to the present day.
Kuíxīng Temple 魁星宮 in Tamsui 淡水 is nominally dedicated to the eponymous Kuíxīng 魁星, god of examinations and one of the Five Wénchāng 五文昌, a group of deities representative of classical Chinese culture. He typically takes the form of a man balanced on one foot with a writing brush in one hand, his body twisted in a pose suggestive of the strokes of Chinese calligraphy. But you didn’t come here to read about Kuixing—this temple is notable for being one of only a handful of sites in Taiwan 台灣 venerating Chiang Kai-shek 蔣中正, president of the Republic of China until his death in 1975, as a god.
Gathered here are around forty of my better photographs from a five day stay in Hanoi, Vietnam, in November 2016. All of these images were captured while idly wandering around the famous Old Quarter and its environs. I was not particularly adventurous on this trip but I still managed to find plenty to feast my eyes upon—and the food and coffee certainly lived up to expectations! I also found it interesting to apply some of my growing knowledge of East Asian culture gleaned from these years of living in Taiwan 台灣. Each photo is annotated with onward links to more information should anything pique your interest.
One of the more interesting temples I stepped inside on a recent visit to the Old Quarter of Hanoi is the recently renovated Đình Đông Thành 亭東城 (loosely: “East City Pavilion”). Having explored many temples in Taiwan over the years I was familiar with some of what I found there—but much of it was completely foreign to me. Looking up information after the fact hasn’t been educational; there are no English language resources about this temple and I haven’t got the same knack for finding information in Vietnamese as I have with Chinese language resources about Taiwan 台灣. So, if you’ll pardon my lack of local expertise, I’m going to share a few photos from this obscure temple and attempt to puzzle through some of what caught my eye.
I chanced upon Fanjiang Ancestral Hall 范姜祖堂 while out for a bicycle ride around Taoyuan in late October 2015. That morning I set out from my place in Zhōnglì 中壢 to see more of the countryside and eventually pay a visit to Fugang Old Street 富岡老街 in western Yángméi 楊梅. Along the way I made a brief diversion into Xīnwū 新屋 to see whatever might be found there—and this cluster of historic Hakka homes were my reward.
Héngwén Temple 衡文宮 is located on the south side of Yuánlín 員林, a mid-sized city in Changhua 彰化, Taiwan 台灣. Completed in 1976, this temple is mainly notable for its 72 foot-tall statue of Xuán Wǔ 玄武, literally “Dark Warrior”, alternately known as Xuán Dì 玄帝 (“Dark Deity”) or Xuántiān Shàngdì 玄天上帝 (“Dark Heavenly Deity”) among many other names. The statue itself is a hollow structure containing several additional floors filled with murals depicting the origins of Xuan Wu as well as various small shrines. A similarly oversized statue of Xuan Wu can be seen on the famous Lotus Pond 蓮池潭 in Zuǒyíng 左營, Kaohsiung 高雄, and there’s probably several more scattered around Taiwan 台灣, but this one is apparently the largest of its kind. Such claims are often difficult to verify as pretty much any temple with a big statue is likely to say the same thing.
Mǎnzhōu 滿州 in southeastern Pingtung 屏東 is home to the most remote and unspoiled stretch of coastal Taiwan 台灣. The highway system that rings the island is broken at only two points, this being one of them. A rugged trail connects the tiny settlement of Nánrén Village 南仁村 to Jiālèshuǐ 佳樂水 by way of Chūfēngbí 出風鼻, a rocky headland that loosely translates to “Windy Nose”. A little north of the village one will find another headland with a similar theme: Yùbí 鬱鼻 (“Melancholic Nose”), which forms the southern extent of Bāyáowān 八瑤灣, or Padriyiur Bay, where 54 shipwrecked Ryūkyūan sailors were massacred in 1871 in an event now known as the Mudan Incident. Here, while exploring the area on a bicycle tour in 2015, I found these prayer flags, or jīngfān 經幡, fluttering in the assertive winds coming off the vast Pacific Ocean. This is somewhat unusual in that prayer flags are more of a Tibetan custom than a Taiwanese one—but they certainly add something to the already gorgeous landscape. Is this an informal memorial to all those who perished as a result of what happened here more than a century ago? I have no answers.