Several months ago, after researching and writing a piece about the Qingkunshen Fan-Shaped Saltern 青鯤鯓扇形鹽田 of Tainan 台南, I ventured out to Lukang 鹿港 in search of the Lukang Saltworks 鹿港鹽場, a Japanese colonial era saltern that shut down in the 1960s. Whereas there are several good resources outlining the history of southern Taiwan’s salt industry I found nothing similar for anything north of the Zhuóshuǐ River 濁水溪, the traditional dividing line between north and south Taiwan 台灣. Turning to Google Maps I browsed satellite imagery for evidence of salt evaporation ponds (here is a historic photo of one of Lukang’s salt fields to give you an idea of what I was looking for). I soon noticed a street by the name of Yánchéng Lane 鹽埕巷, literally “Salt Yard Lane”, as well as several sites with grid-like structures obscured by overgrowth. When the opportunity arose to borrow a scooter in the area I jumped at the chance to put this cartographic sleuthing to the test. Was there any chance I’d find some relic of an industry that vanished half a century ago?
Yùqú Temple 玉渠宮 is a colourful temple in the back alleys of Lukang 鹿港, one of the oldest and most traditional cities in Taiwan 台灣. Tracing its origins back to a simple shrine built in 1765, this small temple venerates Marshal Tian Du 田都元帥 (pinyin: Tiándōu Yuánshuài), the god of drama—and by extension traditional opera, theater, music, and other forms of performance art. Local gentry funded the construction of the first temple on this particular site in the twilight of Lukang’s commercial importance in 1902, during the Japanese colonial era. The temple underwent major renovations in 1967 and, in typical Taiwanese style, has been regularly improved and updated over the years.
Lukang 鹿港 is a city of many secrets and neglected places. I have been there maybe six or seven times by now and always find something new to catch my eye. A few days ago I was wandering along the alleyway with the urn wall 甕牆 just east of the main road through town when I chanced upon a bunch of abandoned homes that look to be from Japanese colonial times (the wood is a dead giveaway). The gate was open and inviting so of course I went to go take a look. About halfway up the stairs I looked to my right and captured this scene of decay, a serene moment frozen in time.
On the sixth day of my round-the-island bicycle trip I set out across the Chianan plain, a desolate expanse of countryside littered with rice paddies, fish farms, salt pans, the occasional factory or industrial plant, and small, unremarkable settlements. My destination was Bùdài 布袋, a fishing town in Chiayi 嘉義, where I planned to catch a ferry to Penghu, a group of picturesque islands in the Taiwan Strait, the following day.
My fifth day on the road was slow and contemplative. I felt no pressure to outdo the adventures of the previous day. I had no specific goal for the day, only a general feeling that I should remain in motion, though not with any sense of urgency. I packed my gear in my hotel room in Féngjiǎ Night Market 逢甲夜市 and hit the streets with a bag of dirty laundry and hunger gnawing at my insides. Despite the prevalence of student housing I did not see a laundromat as I cycled the streets adjacent to the university. Breakfast was no problem, however; I enjoyed a set meal at a curry restaurant in the market area while planning my escape from Taichung. I eventually decided to head out in the direction of Lukang 鹿港 (literally “deer harbour”), a historic port town in Changhua 彰化.