Keelung, like many cities in Taiwan 台灣, is a dark wonderland for urban exploration. You can hardly turn around without sighting yet another hulking ruin calling out to be entered. Most of these buildings are so decrepit that little remains to indicate what its purpose once was—a direct consequence of Keelung’s incessant rain and gloom. The process of decay works at a feverish pace in this grim port city, rapidly eroding evidence of human occupation in any abandonment exposed to the elements.
In May 2015 I toured the city with a good friend who shares my passion for adventure and discovery. We visited a number of ruins earlier in the day (something to speak of in future posts) before giving ourselves up to chance and happenstance by driving around with our eyes peeled for signs of disuse. This is how we found Tǒngyī Bowling Alley 統一保齡球館 (Tongyi is “United”), originally built in 1972 and closed only last year.
When we first entered the building we had no idea what we had found. Neither of us read enough Chinese to parse the sign out front, but it’s just as well, for that would have spoiled the process of puzzling things out for ourselves. My first hypothesis was that it had been a car dealership—as evidenced by the sprawling size of the place and its location at a major intersection. There were no clues to be found on the ground floor, only huge piles of debris lost in darkness and illuminated only for brief seconds as our torches swept over them1.
Upstairs things started to take shape. Here we found an office at the top of the stairway and several piles of scrap machinery, all of it completely unrecognizable at the time. While I attempted to puzzle things out and line up some shots my friend crossed the vast open expanse of the second floor. There he found a bowling ball—and we had our answer.
Does this place look like it had been abandoned only last year? I was shocked to find a calendar from 2014 in what I would assume was once a kitchen off to one side. Entropy works fast here in Keelung, though in fairness this place was stripped clean and gutted before it was finally abandoned.
For whatever reason the rooftop is the final resting place of many of the gaming machines that once occupied the old bowling alley. Someone must have hauled them up here and smashed them to bits. We also found a number of other relics up here, none of which were particularly photogenic after having been exposed to a year of rain and wind.
The view of the port from the rooftop is fantastic. It’s a great place to take some photos even if the ruins themselves don’t interest you. Watch out though, there are so many holes in the building that it is actually somewhat dangerous. Chances are everything is also wet and slippery—particularly with moss or algae growing all over the place—so by mindful of your step!
One final anecdote from this exploration: there are apartments attached to the bowling alley for some reason. My friend and I wandered in through the rooftop access door and proceeded to take a quick look around. The first door was closed so I joked that it was about time to go kicking in doors—not something I usually do, but this place was obviously uninhabited. I proceeded the next unit down the hall, its door ajar, and glimpsed an entire room full of personal effects. Just as I unslung my camera to take a look I heard a loud bang from behind me, yelling, and apologies issued in rapid-fire Chinese. I spun around and saw an old man standing in the doorway, shock and outrage written on his face. Here we were—two no-good foreigners attempting to break in!
If you read into the urban exploration literature in other nations you’ll find a common theme: many explorers are paranoid about running into squatters and homeless people when exploring the ruins. But this is Taiwan! Within seconds the old man was smiling with red betel nut-stained teeth at the absurdity of what was going on. I mean, just look at the photos I’ve shared here—would you imagine anyone living in this place? Hilariously, just as both of us were expressing genuine regret at having disturbed him, the old man launched into what you might call “the script”, the standard list of questions that most older Taiwanese people ask foreigners. “Where are you from, America?” “No, England. My friend here is from Canada.” And we all grinned like idiots. Looking back I totally should have asked to take a group photo.
One side effect of such a recent abandonment is that the place still has a social media presence on Facebook, among other places. Browse around and you can see the place in its twilight years here and here. There’s more if you go searching for the Chinese name of the place—but you probably get the idea. This was not exactly the most happening place in town these last few years. The entire building was demolished sometime after my visit and nothing remains as of January 2016.