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Postcards From Xiluo 西螺明信片

Beautiful old architecture along Yanping old street
Beautiful old architecture along Yanping Old Street in Xiluo.

Xīluó 西螺 is a small historic town on the left bank of the Zhuóshuǐ River 濁水溪 in Yúnlín 雲林. It emerged as an important center of trade in central Taiwan 台灣 during the Qing dynasty era and continued to prosper into the early 20th century under Japanese colonial rule. Disaster struck in 1935 when the devastating Hsinchu-Taichung Earthquake ripped through north-central Taiwan, reducing much of Xiluo to rubble. Colonial authorities and the local gentry worked together to rebuild, taking the opportunity to completely remodel the main commercial thoroughfares with an intriguing blend of influences from Baroque Revival, Art Deco, and Modern architecture. A short stroll down Yánpíng Old Street 延平老街 reveals that many of these unique shophouses and commercial buildings remain standing today.

Beigang Theater 北港劇場

Beigang Theater, Frontal View
Beigang Theater is still in great shape despite being repurposes and disused for the better part of three decades.

Beigang Theater 北港劇場 in Běigǎng 北港, Yúnlín 雲林, is among the finest and most well-preserved of Taiwan’s remaining Japanese colonial era theaters. Built in 1937 with investment from a local businessman by the name of Tsai Yu-Hu 蔡裕斛 (whose old house is also worth a look), this three storey theater featured a revolving stage, seating for 800 guests, and simple western-style facade with a trace of the Baroque Revival architecture popular at the time. It was not only a cinema—Taiwanese opera, glove puppet shows, musical concerts, wedding banquets, and other events were also held inside. The theater went out of business in 1988 and was converted for use as a department store and restaurant for some time thereafter. Nowadays it is apparently still in use as a pool hall and, inexplicably, a kidney dialysis center, but I saw no evidence of this when I visited in the summer of 2017.

Xiluo Bridge 西螺大橋

The North End of Xiluo Bridge
Xiluo Bridge, the gateway to Yunlin County.

Xiluo Bridge 西螺大橋 (also Hsilo or Siluo Bridge; 中文) spans the mighty Zhuóshuǐ River 濁水溪, the unofficial boundary between north and south Taiwan 台灣, and connects the counties of Changhua 彰化 and Yúnlín 雲林. Construction began in the late 1930s under Japanese colonial rule but came to a halt after the attack on Pearl Harbor as the allotted steel was needed for the war effort.

Jiuqiong Village Tobacco Barn 九芎村菸樓

An Old Tobacco Barn in Jiuqiong Village
An unexpected find in a small village in Yunlin: a red brick tobacco barn!

What little remains of the historic tobacco industry in central Taiwan 台灣 is disappearing fast. Tobacco cultivation was big business for much of the 20th century but went into sharp decline in the 1980s and essentially ended with globalization and Taiwan’s accession to the WTO. Robust preservation efforts in south and east Taiwan ensure something of this industry will remain for future generations but the situation in the former tobacco cultivation areas of Taichung 台中, Changhua 彰化, and Yúnlín 雲林 is far more ambiguous, and documentation of what cultural assets remain is sparse or nonexistent. For this reason I’ve made an effort to record tobacco barns anytime I encounter them in my travels—as I did while driving through Jiǔqiōng Village 九芎村 on the south side of Linnei in Yúnlín 雲林 earlier this summer.

Xiluo Yuandong Theater 西螺遠東戲院

Xiluo’s Abandoned Yuandong Theater
The bland, utilitarian appearance of this old theater in Xiluo is consistent with the architectural trends of the KMT authoritarian era. The metal frames mounted on the front would have once held hand-painted movie posters.

Xīluó 西螺 is justifiably famous for its eponymous Japanese colonial era theater, located close to the architectural wonders of Yánpíng Old Street 延平老街, but this small town on the south bank of the sluggish Zhuóshuǐ River 濁水溪 was once home to two more theaters. Almost no mention of these other theaters can be found except in this news report about a local painter—but while browsing around satellite view on Google Maps I managed to locate what is almost certainly Yuǎndōng Theater 遠東戲院 (literally “Far East Theater”). A few months ago I seized an opportunity to revisit the lovely town of Xīluó 西螺 and dropped in to take a closer look.

Taiping Old Street 太平老街

Hen 1/2, Taiping Old Street, Douliu
Baroque revival architecture on the streets of Douliu, the capital of Yunlin.

Taiping Old Street 太平老街 is an unusually long stretch of Japanese colonial era shophouses in central Dǒuliù 斗六, the administrative seat of Yúnlín 雲林, Taiwan 台灣. Located not far from the train station, this old street is remarkable for its length (600 meters long), consistent architectural style (almost entirely Baroque Revival), and relatively good state of preservation. Despite this, it is not a huge attraction, which is just as well if you’re not a big fan of mass tourism in Taiwan 台灣.

Douliumen Building 斗六門大樓

Gateway to Douliu 斗六門大樓
An abandoned entertainment complex not far from Douliu Station.

While living down in Changhua City 彰化市 last winter I made occasional forays up and down the TRA Western Line 西部幹線 to check out several places that aren’t often written about in English. One such place is Dǒuliù 斗六, the administrative seat of Yúnlín 雲林, which hardly earns more than a passing mention in the English language blogosphere. It was a worthwhile trip too—apart from the famous Tàipíng Old Street 太平老街 (to be blogged about at a future date) and the surprisingly large and lively Douliu Night Market 斗六夜市 I also chanced upon another hulking ruin to add to my growing collection: the Dòuliùmén Building 斗六門大樓, an archaic name for the area that dates back to the 17th century.

Douliumen Found Negatives

A window into someone else’s life
A window into someone else’s life.

Several months ago I explored yet another abandoned entertainment complex in central Taiwan 台灣, this time in Dǒuliù 斗六, the administrative seat of Yúnlín 雲林. Check out the full exploration here; this post contains only the results of post-processing some photographic negatives I found on a moldy mattress in an apartment on one of the higher floors. The results are not so interesting this time around but I still enjoy the process of discovery and the aesthetic of decaying, water-damaged negatives like these.

Douliu Night Market 斗六夜市

A first look at Douliu Renwen Park Night Market
The entrance to Douliu’s Renwen Park Night Market.

A couple of months ago I randomly took the train to Dǒuliù 斗六, the capital of Yúnlín 雲林, the least developed county on the western plains of Taiwan 台灣. Douliu is regularly the subject of jokes in Taiwan (when people aren’t trashing Taoyuan, that is) so I was pleasantly surprised by what I found there: an old street lined with Japanese colonial buildings, several old Japanese era dormitories and historical landmarks, the quirky Hungry Ghost covered market, the temple of fried chicken, and an abandoned entertainment complex to explore (all things I’ll try to post about at some point). Even more surprising was the size of the Saturday night Renwen Park Night Market 人文公園夜市 located in the southwest corner of town. I have become something of a night market connoisseur since living in central and southern Taiwan and wouldn’t hesitate to declare this night market one of the biggest and best on the island.

Postcards From Beigang 北港明信片

Beigang tourist bridge 北港觀光大橋
Entering town from the south by way of Beigang Tourist Bridge 北港觀光大橋.

Běigǎng 北港 is a historic town on the riverside border between Yúnlín 雲林 and Chiayi 嘉義 in southern Taiwan 台灣. I made a brief, unplanned stopover in Beigang while riding north to Changhua 彰化 in the summer of 2014. I was only vaguely aware of Beigang’s existence, having at some point read something about Cháotiān Temple 朝天宫, one of Taiwan’s most famous Mazu 媽祖 temples, but I had a hunch that there might be more to see—and I was right! If you enjoy visiting traditional towns with a lot of history then Beigang should definitely be on your list.