Qiaoyou Building 喬友大廈

I have been living next to the magnificent ruins of the Qiáoyǒu Building 喬友大廈 in Changhua City 彰化市 for the last several months. Not a day goes by where I’m not walking or riding by this hulking derelict, looking up and wondering about what I might find inside. I had some general idea, of course, as I already recognized the building for what it was: one of many shopping and entertainment complexes built in central Taiwan 台灣 during the economic boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s1. Most of these former showcase properties have been abandoned in the decades since, usually due to some combination of mismanagement, declining fortunes, and fire damage.

Qiaoyou is not completely abandoned—a seedy gaming parlour and gambling den by the name of Golden Horse Entertainment World 金馬歡樂世界 (pinyin: Jīnmǎ Huānlè Shìjiè) continues to operate on the ground floor. This is not at all unusual for abandoned high-rises like this, particularly given the excellent location next to the central train station. Qiaoyou’s sister building, the derelict Golden Empire 黃金帝國 in nearby Yuánlín 員林, also has a number of businesses operating out of the ground floor.

The rusting signs on the on the side of the building facing the train station provide some clues to what we will find inside. In the photograph above the sign on top is for a Hong Kong-style restaurant. The other four are for two KTVs, one by the name of Plaza Golden Age 金時代廣場 (the somewhat awkward English translation of which can be seen on the yellow sun around back) on 3F. The other one on 7F is less legible; my best guess is Ghost Horse 鬼馬. Both are described as all-you-can-eat buffets (píngjià 平價, which I would assume means “flat rate”, and zìzhùshì 自助式, which is definitely “buffet”). To the left you can see empty frames hanging off the side of the building with floors marked. Usually these would be filled with the names of the businesses on each floor (a pattern you can see on this not-yet-abandoned entertainment complex in Chiayi City 嘉義市).

Having completed a cursory inspection of the outside of the building it is time to take you inside. I warn you that gaining access to this building isn’t simple and straight-forward, particularly not with increased media attention in recent years. I strongly discourage readers from visiting this building and attempting to reach the higher levels as the staff of the gaming parlour on the ground floor aren’t likely to appreciate random strangers skulking about.

Usually when I explore buildings with multiple floors my game plan is to go straight to the top and work my way down. This reduces the chance of discovery and allows for a more systemic exploration as I descend. The rest of this write-up will go from top to bottom, from the rooftop down to the lowest accessible level.

One of the main features of any entertainment complex in Taiwan is the KTV. For those who don’t know, the “K” in KTV stands for karaoke—the rest I’m sure you know. Essentially you and some friends rent a room with karaoke equipment and have your own party. Usually you can order food and drink from the establishment—and sometimes women too, as was the case with a lot (or all) of the KTVs in this building. According to the only written account I’ve been able to find (in Chinese, of course; alternate link) many of these establishments were sīchāngliáo 私娼寮, which I would assume means brothel2.

Conveniently enough for anyone procuring the services of a KTV hostess there was a hotel on two of the top floors. Most of the rooms have been picked clean but there were one or two showing somewhat more recent signs of occupancy. The most amusing of these is a room full of smut and other unmentionables (and I should warn you—there are saucy photos below, but nothing too scandalous). Most curious is the fact that almost every mattress bears scorch marks.

Behind the counter at the hotel I found an office filled with debris, mostly receipts, business cards, and brochures. One of these revealed the English name of the place: Friendship Hotel. A calendar on the wall provided another important clue, dating the abandonment to 1999. Black soot on the ceiling over an empty shrine testify to years of burnt offerings. Lighting incense and praying to one god or another is common practice in Taiwanese businesses.

Several levels below the Friendship Hotel I wandered onto a floor that must have once housed an office for the entire building. Most of these rooms had been totally cleared out but there was a fair amount of garbage strewn about, none of it particularly interesting. One dark room contained row upon row of empty shelves—a server room, perhaps, or a place to store records? Eventually I got around to cracking open a door at the very back of the office where I was surprised to see bundles of ghost money all around. To my left was a series of cubbyholes with black wires running down the wall like the tentacles of a squid. At first I wasn’t sure what to make of it and then I realized—this must have been the control room, the building’s panopticon, from which the security guards kept watch. The guards were not alone in their omniscience. Turning to my right I noticed another shrine on the wall—only this one wasn’t empty.

It is fairly unusual to find an abandoned god in Taiwan3. Most people are far too superstitious about these ubiquitous idols to forget about them and leave them behind. Usually they are moved elsewhere or perhaps destroyed in some kind of cleansing ritual. To neglect a god is to invite incredible misfortune upon the area. It might explain a few things about the building’s fortunes if nobody has made an offering in more than a decade!

The view from the shattered windows of the Qiaoyou Building is fantastic. It is still one of the tallest buildings in the city (and probably in the top five). As I continued my descent I stopped to take note of many of the different sights I had seen up close during my winter residency in the city: the Big Buddha of Baguashan, Changhua Station 彰化車站, the amazing fan-shaped roundhouse, the abandoned railway workers village, and even my apartment (which was on the same block). I had been saving this exploration for the end of my tenancy as I did not want to get caught. Living next door, that’d be awkward4.

Down on the ninth things begin to get even weirder. The entire floor is completely gutted down to raw concrete and there are no clues to suggest what might have been there apart from eyes and candles painted on several support columns. If this were anywhere else it would be safe to assume that this art had been painted long after the abandonment—but this is Taiwan, where graffiti is exceedingly rare in the ruins. Previously I found a piece of paper on one of the KTV levels marked “TARIFF” that identifies the eighth and ninth floors as “MTV/billiards” (in English too). I suppose the art must have spiced up a crusty pool hall decades ago?

Descending to the seventh floor one will encounter the burnt-out ruins of one of the KTVs advertised on the outside of the building. This place is a complete disaster zone, one that I wouldn’t advise exploring without proper equipment (and mind your step, there’s at least one hole in the floor to watch out for). The entire floor is open to the elements but still stinks to high heaven after however many years of exposure.

My research for this piece turned up a report of the fire, which took place in May of 2005, six years after the upper floors of the Qiaoyou Building were abandoned. The blaze raged for nearly three hours before it was extinguished and 60 people were evacuated from the businesses on the ground floor. The report goes on to describe that the fire department swept the entire building after receiving a tip that the fire had been an act of arson. A man was found hiding in the machine room at the top of the building and was detained by the police. Some reports I have translated suggest he had a history of mental illness, not a surprising claim given that he allegedly set fire to the place and then climbed up, not down! I wonder if he also set smaller fires in the hotel? And was he the mysterious occupant of the lair of smut?

Down another level I found the empty shell of a former department store. Not much remains of it so I haven’t much to share. These levels are dimly lit, vacant spaces with strange artwork on the walls, and it is hard to imagine human activity ever taking place in them. There is a system of broken escalators connecting these floors and a lot of rusted junk laying about on the sixth but little more to catch the eye, particularly not with the lighting being what it was the day I went.

According to the sign on the outside of the building the third floor contains yet another KTV. The entrance is barred from one stairwell but open in the other. Inside the entire level is completely in the dark with no natural light seeping in through dusty windows. I brought out a torch, jumped up a short flight of transparent plastic stairs, and illuminated a scene that all will recognize: the neglected remains of an abandoned nightclub.

There are no doubts in my mind about what sort of club this was. A hallway leads around the back of the bar to a series of small rooms, one of which still features a shower stall. Regular nightclubs don’t have showers.

I was delighted to find a room full of video cassettes on the third floor. I’ve explored plenty of abandoned KTVs but never have I found more than a few tapes here and there. I suppose they are valuable enough that nobody leaves them behind? This room is absolutely packed with them—and there’s more porn strewn about, just in case anyone wasn’t clear about the seediness of the establishment. At any rate, I’m not entirely clear how the tapes room fits into the strip club hypothesis, but if I’ve learned anything from the electric flower cars of Tainan 台南, singing and stripping are not mutually exclusive activities in Taiwan.

The rest of the floors were locked tight. According to my notes from the paper directory the first and second floors contain “departments” (which I take to mean more retail space) and there’s also a food court on B1. Perhaps someone more enterprising than I can find out what other secrets these levels might hold.

The barrier to entry seems to have left this building largely untouched by urban explorers. I noticed two additional sets of tracks in the thick layers of dust on the third floor—and various personal effects that may have been left by the alleged arsonist—and little more. There’s no information about this place in English, which isn’t at all unusual, but also no more than a single post (and associated Flickr gallery) in Chinese, which suggests it hasn’t seen many visitors over the years.

It is remarkable to consider how far the Qiaoyou Building has fallen over the years. Decades ago this building must have been a gleaming symbol of newfound hope and prosperity. Declining fortunes drove many of the businesses into the shadows as time wore on until finally the entire building was excised from everyday society. Nowadays this imposing ruin looms over the urban landscape of this middling Taiwanese city, another reminder of a lost age.

  1. Three more: the Qiānyuè Department Store 千越百貨 in Taichung 台中, the Golden Empire Building 黃金帝國 in Yuánlín 員林, and the Datong Bingo Plaza 大統賓果廣場 in Dǒuliù 斗六. Chinatown 台南中國城 in Tainan 台南 is another example of an aging relic from this time. 
  2. Google Translate tends to draw a blank whenever it encounters anything vulgar in Chinese so I’m just guessing here. 
  3. I’m told this is a god of wealth by the name of Wǔcáishén Zhàogōngmíng 武財神趙公明 or Xuántán Zhēnjūn. There’s also a chance it might be the land god; it’s hard to tell the difference a lot of the time. 
  4. Here I should thank a certain Englishman for provoking that first midnight scouting mission.