The Chinese Temples of Cholon

On three recent trips to Ho Chi Minh City I spent some time wandering around Cholon, a vast and historic Chinatown located about five kilometers west of the downtown core of colonial Saigon. Originally settled in the late 17th century by ethnic Chinese settlers, the Hoa people 華人, it was known by its Cantonese name, Tai-Ngon 堤岸 (literally “Embankment”, but it is also roughly homophonous with “Saigon”). Later the Vietnamese dubbed it Cholon (“Big Market”) after the forerunner of the modern-day Binh Tay Market. The Hoa people were once the majority in Cholon but many fled persecution in the aftermath of Fall/Liberation of Saigon in 1975, and again during the Sino-Vietnamese War. Nowadays the Hoa people only account for approximately 5% of the population of Ho Chi Minh City (less than half the proportion of ethnic Chinese living in Toronto, my hometown) but their presence on the streets of Cholon remains discernible, particularly in the form of the many distinctive temples of the district.

Chishang Wuzhou Theater 池上五洲戲院

Wuzhou Theater 五洲戲院 is the last remnant of cinema in Chíshàng 池上, Taitung 台東, a picturesque town located in the fertile East Rift Valley 花東縱谷 (中文) of Taiwan 台灣. Built in 1965 in the midst of the Taiwan Economic Miracle, it remained in business until 1982. After the final screening the theater was neglected for decades, falling into disrepair but remaining more or less intact until recently. More recently Chishang emerged as a tourist destination, spurning a local community development association to invest in revitalizing the theater in 2013.

Nantou Road Trip 2015: Ren’ai

My second day on the road in Nantou County in October 2015 was completely unplanned. I left Pǔlǐ 埔里 and headed deeper into the mountains simply to see what was there, not having done any advance research. From a glance at the map I had a rough idea where I’d be going—deeper into traditional aboriginal lands to the east of Puli Basin 埔里盆地. Ultimately I ended up visiting several settlements and two reservoirs in a few hours of riding around what is now known as the township of Rén'ài 仁愛.

Guobin Commercial Building 國賓商業大樓

Guobin 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 Táoyuán 桃園, 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.

Chinese Chewing Gum

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

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 Nántóu 南投 (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.

Postcards From Intramuros

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.

Tamsui CKS Temple 淡水蔣中正廟

Kuixing Temple 魁星宮 in Tamsui 淡水 is nominally dedicated to the eponymous Kuixing 魁星, god of examinations and one of the Five Wenchang 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.

Postcards From Hanoi

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.

Dinh Dong Thanh

One of the more interesting temples I stepped inside on a recent visit to the Old Quarter of Hanoi is the recently renovated Đinh Đông Thanh 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.