The corpses of a thousand factories lay strewn across the plains of central and south Taiwan 台灣, stark reminders of an extraordinary period of economic growth in the latter half of the 20th century. Those located in more rural areas are readily forgotten and may remain derelict for years to come—but the more prosperous districts are busily excising these unsightly engines of economic growth from their urban landscapes. Progress is inconsistent, however, and it isn’t at all unusual to chance upon the hulking ruins of inner city factories that have yet to disappear. One such factory is the Yìchéng Cannery 義成罐頭工廠, an impressive complex hemmed in on all sides by residences in a network of winding alleyways not far from the new train station in Yuánlín 員林, the second-largest city in Changhua 彰化. No doubt this ugly eyesore will be demolished sometime in the near future—but in the meantime it has become a shadow world for local youth and curious outsiders such as myself.
Despite having spent a lot of time in Yuánlín 員林, a mid-sized city in central Changhua 彰化, Taiwan 台灣, I have only recently begun to explore some of its more famous ruins. Among these is Yuanlin Hospital 員林醫院, formally the Changhua County Yuanlin Hospital 彰化縣立員林醫院, originally built in 1963 and operational until the the turn of the millennium. Nowadays it is one of the more notorious abandoned places in central Taiwan, where it is regularly featured in news reports, particularly around Ghost Month 鬼月. Taiwanese media engage in an annual outpouring of overly sensationalized stories about haunted places—and hospitals, as liminal spaces of birth and death, often appear in such reports, complicating research into the real story of what went on.
South Yuanlin Station 南員林站 is an abandoned Japanese colonial era railway station located not far from the newly reopened Yuanlin Station 員林車站 in the heart of Yuánlín 員林, a mid-sized city in central Changhua 彰化. It opened in 1933 as a small stop on the now-derelict Yuanlin Line 員林線 of the Taiwan Sugar Railways 臺灣糖業鐵路, which formerly ran west for about 9 kilometers across the Changhua Plain 彰化平原 to the Xihu Sugar Factory 溪湖糖廠 in Xihu. Apart from facilitating the transport of sugarcane and other cargo this old wooden station also provided passenger service until it was abolished sometime around 1975.
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.
Yesterday I returned to Yuánlín 員林, the city where I really started blogging about Taiwan 台灣, for a lazy day of exploration and discovery. I was interested in revisited places I thought I knew something about to see how the years have sharpened my ability to observe and document the urban landscape. I’ll have more to post about this trip at a later date—but for now I’d like to add another photograph to my growing collection of abandoned doors. This particular example of the genre was collected just off Wànnián Road 萬年路 (“Ten Thousand Year Road”, a recurring pattern in Taiwanese place names) in a half-abandoned complex of what looks to be late Japanese colonial era or early KMT authoritarian era dormitories. Such homes were often used by factory workers—and indeed, there is a huge abandoned factory just across the street. Perhaps they are related?
One of the advantages of getting out of the western expat bubble in Taipei 台北 is that you’ll see a different side of Taiwan 台灣, one that is less sanitized for international consumption. Living down south in Tainan 台南 and later Changhua 彰化 introduced me to customs I never see up north, among them a local version of the roadside medicine show.
This is the so-called Politaxi-Car 酒駕防禦展示車, a peculiar statement against drunk driving introduced by the Taiwan Beverage Alcohol Forum in 2012. I suppose the idea here is that you have to choose between taking a taxi or a police car after drinking alcohol? The message seems somewhat muddled to me but it certainly attracts attention wherever it is displayed. As far as I know the car rotates around various parts Changhua 彰化 (and perhaps the rest of Taiwan 台灣) but I happened to catch it one day in front of the new train station in Yuánlín 員林.
Businesses in Taiwan 台灣 close but their signs often remain, littering the urban landscape with small reminders of what once was. This particular sign hangs over a parking lot next to a grocery store on the eastern side of Yuánlín 員林 in Changhua 彰化. It marks the entrance to an old, abandoned KTV by the name of Hǎoláiwù 好萊塢, better known as Hollywood.
I briefly switched on my new television to see if it was working and a political advertisement heralding the new train station in Yuánlín 員林 flashed before my eyes. The timing—immediately before the last election—was no coincidence. Incumbents all over Taiwan 台灣 had been rushing their keystone projects to completion, not that it helped them much.
At any rate, something about the lo-fi grittiness of the image I produced with my smartphone really appeals to me on some level. It reminds me of times long ago—but still alive wherever I am, for I remain an avid collector of rare, old music, and regularly dive deep into the archives. Here I am, lost in the concrete jungles of Asia, perhaps the only human being in my vicinity who continues to celebrate these arcane wavelengths. Hopefully I needn’t explain the sly reference I was making in the title!
One day while riding around the west side of Yuánlín 員林 I came across an old railway line that had been converted into a shabby, disused park of some sort, looking oddly inspired by Fushimi Inari Taisha. Later on I did a bit of internet sleuthing and found out that the park follows the path of the old sugar railway that leads south and then west to a sugar factory in nearby Xihu, something that I was not previously aware of. Now I’ll have to go check that out as well!