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Yúnlín 雲林, literally "cloud forest", is a mostly flat, rural county on the western plains of Taiwan 台灣. It is widely considered to be the least developed part of western Taiwan and is seldom referenced in the English language blogosphere. I have now passed through on several occasions and was pleasantly surprised by both Xīluó 西螺 and Běigǎng 北港, two historic towns with a lot of culture that haven't yet turned into terrible tourist traps. Dǒuliù 斗六 is the largest city and administrative center of the county and is also home to a lot of history.

Xiluo Yuandong Theater 西螺遠東戲院

In front of Xiluo’s abandoned Yuandong Theater, located down a small alleyway.

Xīluó 西螺 is a small historic town in rural Yúnlín 雲林, Taiwan 台灣. Despite its diminutive size Xiluo was once home to three standalone movie theaters: the eponymous Xiluo Theater 西螺戲院, Yisheng Theater 一生戲院, and Yuǎndōng Theater 遠東戲院 (literally “Far East Theater”), the subject of this brief report. Previously I misidentified Yisheng Theater as Yuandong, something I only realized after visiting a photo exhibition at Huashan 1914 Creative Park in 2017. After realizing my mistake I went to some lengths to locate and later visit this theater—which, in hindsight, I’ve passed on several occasions without noticing it down a small side street.

Nanyun Gas Station 南雲加油站

An abandoned gas station on the hazy borderlands of Yunlin and Nantou in Taiwan.

Nányún Gas Station 南雲加油站 is one of hundreds of abandoned gas stations found all around Taiwan 台灣. Located on a section of Provincial Highway 3 in Yúnlín 雲林 known as Línshān Highway 林山公路 (for it connects Línnèi 林內 with Zhushan in neighboring Nantou), it was affiliated with CPC Corporation 台灣中油 (中文), a state-owned enterprise that controls or supplies 80% of gas stations in the nation, and was probably abandoned more than a decade ago.

Yixin Vocational High School 益新工商職業學校

A mundane example of Taiwanese institutional architecture of the 1990s.

Yìxīn Vocational High School 益新工商職業學校 is a relatively obscure but not entirely unknown ruin in central Taiwan 台灣. Located along the main road running through Línnèi 林內, Yúnlín 雲林, it seems to have been abandoned in the aftermath of the devastating 921 Earthquake, nearly two decades ago. Many schools were destroyed in the quake and scores more were condemned (most famously an entire university campus in Dongshi) but whether this particular school suffered the same fate isn’t certain.

Postcards From Xiluo 西螺明信片

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 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

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 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 Línnèi 林內 in Yúnlín 雲林 earlier this summer.

Xiluo Yisheng Theater 西螺一生戲院

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 Yīshēng Theater 一生戲院 (literally “Lifetime Theater”).

Taiping Old Street 太平老街

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 Found Negatives

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.