Broken rooftop at the abandoned bowling alley in Keelung

Tongyi Bowling Alley 統一保齡球館

Keelung 基隆, like many cities in Taiwan, 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.

Lighting up total darkness
The ground floor is shrouded in complete darkness. There are no clues as to what this place once was.

In May 2015 I toured the city with a 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 the previous year.

Steps to the office in the abandoned bowling alley
Steps to the office in the abandoned bowling alley. Note the hieroglyphics on the wall, a curious choice of decor.
A ruined office at an old bowling alley
A ruined office on the second floor of the old bowling alley.

When we first entered the building we had no idea what it was. At that time neither of us could read enough Chinese to parse the sign out front, but it’s just as well, for that would have spoiled the fun 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.

Trashed machinery at an abandoned bowling alley in Keelung
Trashed machinery at an abandoned bowling alley in Keelung.
Broken rooftop at the abandoned bowling alley in Keelung
A gaping hole in the rooftop at one end of the old bowling alley.
Watch your step at this abandoned bowling alley in Keelung
Watch your step! Another gaping hole on the second level, this time in the middle of the floor. A huge pile of debris can be seen in the murky darkness below.
A vast open expanse with a cavernous hole punched in the floor
A vast open expanse.

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 compatriot crossed the vast open expanse of the second floor. There he found a bowling ball—and we had our answer.

Blue bowling ball detail
This blue bowling ball provided the answer.
Keeping score
Keeping score by the pool tables.
Dating the bowling alley abandonment to 2014
I couldn’t believe it when I first saw the date on the calendar.
Weird bowling ball
Another weird bowling ball in the kitchen area.

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 the previous owners left.

Another hole in the rooftop
Ascending to the rooftop of the abandoned bowling alley. The corner of the massive roof is torn apart.
Bowling alley rooftop study
A closer look at the sloping rooftop that stretches across the former bowling alley.
The port from the abandoned bowling alley
A mesmerizing view of the port of Keelung with a massive gaping hole in the foreground.

For whatever reason the rooftop is the final resting place for many 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 was superb, but it was also precarious, what with the green moss and algal film growing all over the place. One misstep and we might have tumbled through one of the gaping holes in the structure.

Scrapped gaming machines in the ruins of an old bowling alley
Scrapped gaming machines on the rooftop.
Abandoned games on the rooftop of an old bowling alley
Rusty slots.
Jackpot in the ruins
Jackpot!
Giant steel giraffes at work
Giant steel giraffes at work.

One final anecdote from this exploration: there were apartments attached to the bowling alley for some reason. We wandered in through the rooftop access door and had a quick look around. I tried the first we encountered but it was locked. I proceeded down the hallway, jokingly remarking that it was about time to start kicking down doors—not something I usually do—since the place seemed obviously uninhabited. Just as I unslung my camera to inspect the disaster in the next room I heard a bang from behind me, and a great uproar. 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!

A massive hole in the rooftop of the abandoned bowling alley
Looking down into the massive hole in the rooftop.

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, and within seconds the old man was smiling broadly, his teeth stained red from betel nut juice, appreciating the absurdity of the situation. 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.” Looking back I totally should have asked to take a group photo.

Another view of the port of Keelung
One last view of the port and the bowling alley’s derelict sign out front.

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.

Former Tongyi Bowling Alley Site
The site of the former Tongyi Bowling Alley, now just an empty lot.

  1. Later on I discovered this was the site of a movie theater of the same name, Tǒngyī Theater 統一戲院. This was sold and rebranded at some point, ending its run sometime prior to 2009 as Tǒngyī Xiùtài Cineplex 統一秀泰影城 (Showtime Cinemas). We saw no evidence of any theater during our visit.