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.
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. 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.
Pǔlǐ 埔里 was my home base for several days of road tripping and adventure around Nántóu 南投 in October 2015. Recently I decided to publish my findings and impressions from this trip despite not knowing much about what I was seeing at that time. Most of the other posts in this series document trips from one place to another but in this post I’m focusing on some of what I found within city limits, starting with some history to put everything in context.
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 indigenous 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.
In October 2015 I set out from Taichung 台中 to attend a music festival in Nántóu 南投, the landlocked county in the mountainous interior of Taiwan. Since I don’t often have an opportunity to ride a scooter I allocated some extra time for onward exploration and ended up visiting many interesting and wonderful places, many of them quite obscure. What follows is the first part of a mostly visual record of this road trip around the geographic center of Taiwan…
Longteng Broken Bridge 龍騰斷橋 is a historic roadside attraction in the hills of Sānyì 三義 in Miáolì 苗栗, Taiwan. More formally known as Yutengping Broken Bridge 魚藤坪斷橋, it was originally constructed in 1907 during the Japanese colonial era, connecting Zhúnán 竹南 and Taichung 台中 along what is now known as the Old Mountain Line 舊山線. The bridge collapsed during the devastating 1935 Hsinchu-Taichung Earthquake but the ruins were never cleared away. Further damage was done in the 921 Earthquake in 1999. Several years later it was designated a historic site by the Miaoli County government and subsequently developed for tourism along with the former Shengxing Station 勝興車站.
The former Baekje Hospital is a heritage building in Busan, the second largest city in South Korea. Built in 1922 by Choi Yong-hae, a Korean living in Japan, it is located in Choryang, Busan’s historic Chinatown. It was the first private hospital in the city but only remained in business for about a decade before the building was repurposed. Over the years the former hospital has been used as army barracks, police station, Chinese restaurant, wedding hall, and more. This was even the home of a consulate for the Republic of China (now generally known as Taiwan) at some point, probably long before diplomatic recognition ended in 1992.
Xīluó 西螺 is a small historic town in rural Yúnlín 雲林, Taiwan. Despite its diminutive size Xiluo was once home to three standalone movie theaters: the eponymous Xiluo Theater 西螺戲院, Yisheng Theater 一生戲院, and Yuandong Theater 遠東戲院 (literally “Far East Theater”), the subject of this brief report. Previously I misidentified Yisheng Theater as Yuandong, something I only realized after visiting a photo exhibition at Huashan 1914 Creative Park in 2017. After realizing my mistake I went to some lengths to locate and later visit this theater—which, in hindsight, I’ve passed on several occasions without noticing it down a small side street.
The ruins of the former Lingxiao Temple 凌霄殿 can be found in the foothills of the Central Mountain Range 中央山脈 in Pǔlǐ 埔里, Nántóu 南投. Likely named after the Chinese trumpet creeper, Campsis grandiflora (中文), it was founded in 1983 by local philanthropist Chen Chou 陳綢, famous across Taiwan for her charity work. The temple is quite remote, more than 10 kilometers down an old forestry road with no other exit, perched on the hillside at an elevation of 1,300 meters (for reference, the Puli Basin 埔里盆地 is around 500 meters above sea level).
Located on the outskirts of Zhushan, Kezikeng New Community 柯子坑新社區 is one of several public housing projects constructed in the aftermath of the 921 Earthquake that devastated central Taiwan in 1999. Despite providing much-needed relief for those who lost their homes in the disaster there were few buyers—and today the complex remains mostly empty and disused. Built with government funds, this poorly-conceived housing project has become yet another example of what Taiwanese call mosquito halls, a term popularized by artist Yao Jui-chung 姚瑞中 and a team of student researchers known as Lost Society Document. Since 2010 they have published six volumes of Mirage, a series of works identifying more than 800 disused public properties all around the country. Some of their work was translated into English—which is how I found out about this particular locale, which I briefly visited in the summer of 2017.