Guóbīn 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 Taoyuan, 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.
Last October, while living in Zhongli, I ventured out into the countryside for a random bicycle ride on Halloween. Like most of my rides I didn’t have a route planned or anything, only a general intention of checking out the obscure Fugang Old Street 富岡老街 about 15 kilometers west of the city. Along the way I followed my intuition (with a little help from Google Maps) and captured photographs of anything interesting and unusual I came across. Featured here are more than two dozens pictures from this ride through parts of Zhōnglì 中壢, Xīnwū 新屋, Yángméi 楊梅, and Pingzhen in western Taoyuan.
I resided in Zhōnglì 中壢, Taoyuan, for two months at the very end of 2015 for reasons outlined in my first dispatch. In short: I wanted to try out living in another city in Taiwan 台灣 and had a few good friends in the area, one of whom is fellow Canadian blogger Josh Ellis. In my time in Zhongli I captured numerous scenes from everyday life in this burgeoning conurbation of half a million. This post is meant to convey a sense of what it was like to live there for a while—just as I previously did for my time in Wenshan District, Taipei 台北. It is not meant to be a comprehensive guide or a review; think of this as a loose collection of snapshots and impressions of a middling Taiwanese city not commonly documented in English.
In the last year or so I have found and explored numerous abandoned movie theaters in Taiwan 台灣. It all started when I stumbled upon Datong Theater 大同戲院 down in Taitung City 台東市 last June. Since then I have learned much more about the Taiwanese cinema industry: how many theaters are likely to be found in a city of a given size, where they are likely to be found, when they were likely to have been abandoned, and so on. Not long after moving to Zhōnglì 中壢 a few months ago I put this growing awareness to the test by cycling around town one morning, finding several theaters new to me within close proximity to one another. One of these, Xīnmíng Theater 新明戲院, is the subject of this post. Public records indicate it was in operation from around 1980 to 1997. It is not the most impressive theater I have explored—but I aim to be thorough in blogging about the many abandonments of Taiwan so here it is!
Zhōngyuán Theater 中源大戲院 is a second-run theater located in the heart of Zhongyuan Night Market 中原夜市 in Zhōnglì 中壢, Taiwan 台灣. Zhongyuan Theater is ideally located next to the university of the same name amidst a huge population of budget-conscious students—which may explain why it remains in business unlike hundreds of other old theaters that have fallen into ruin in recent years, victims of changing consumer habits and strong competition from more modern multiplexes. Zhongyuan is also one of the very last theaters in the nation where you will find hand-painted movie posters hanging outside, a nostalgic practice more widely associated with Chin Men Theater 全美戲院 down in Tainan 台南.
In my first dispatch from Zhōnglì 中壢 I shared a photograph of the Cáishén Building 財神大樓, a rundown entertainment complex next to the train station that I meant to explore at some point. Not long after posting that I got around to checking it out—and much to my surprise, despite the incredibly rundown exterior most of the building is still occupied by hotels, daytime dance clubs, mobile phone booths, and other businesses serving the many Southeast Asian migrant workers of Taoyuan. There is, however, one part of the building that seemed obviously abandoned from street level; the skeletal outline of some kind of UFO-like structure on the rooftop demanded further investigation.
I was out for a late night snack at Yǒngchuān Beef Noodle 永川牛肉面, a famous shop located on the ground floor of an abandoned movie theater in Zhōnglì 中壢, when I noticed this faded photograph posted on a board out front. It is customary for politicians and celebrities to visit popular shops and have their photo taken (or sometimes sign walls or menu boards), so I have begun inspecting these boards for familiar faces. Wouldn’t you know it, but that’s Eric Chu 朱立倫, absentee mayor of Xinbei and presumptive KMT presidential candidate, pictured with the boss of the shop. Something about the decrepit state of the photograph brought me great amusement as I sat down for a hot and spicy bowl of dumpling soup.
Sogo1 is one of the more recognizable department store chains in northern Taiwan 台灣. There are less than ten locations nationwide—and one of them is right here in Zhōnglì 中壢, where it acts as an anchor for modern high-rises and other new developments at the north end of town. It hasn’t always been in this part of town, however.
Move deeper into the city and you’ll find a massive building with an empty facade, traces of the old Sogo signboard still visible. The old Sogo was located in a much seedier part of town—in fact, it’s pretty much right in the middle of one of Zhongli’s main red light districts. Cross the street and you will find a strip of shady KTVs and massage parlours—as well as a historic abandoned movie theater, the subject of a future post.
I noticed this jumble of textures in an alleyway on the eastern side of Zhōnglì 中壢 sometime last week. The scene is completely mundane: a corrugated metal enclosure with a patina of cracked and weathered paint has been added onto someone’s home. Access is provided by an old door installed for precisely this purpose, though it is now deep umber with rust and might not actually open anymore. Taken out of context these otherwise ordinary objects have the potential to become something else entirely, maybe even an accidental form of art.
Last week I moved from Taipei 台北 to Zhōnglì 中壢, a mid-sized city of approximately half a million1 about 45 minutes down the Western Line 西部幹線 in the heart of Taoyuan. I have been all around the island but haven’t explored much of what you might call the “middle north”, the strongly Hakka-influenced area stretching from the rugged borders of Xinbei south to Taichung 台中 that includes Taoyuan, Hsinchu 新竹, and Miaoli. Perhaps by staying here awhile I will find opportunities to explore more of this part of Taiwan 台灣 and fill in some blank spots on my personal map.