Ruimao Theater 瑞茂戲院 is an old wooden theater hidden in the winding laneways of Guogou 過溝, a small fishing and farming village in remote coastal Chiayi 嘉義, Taiwan. Nobody seems to know exactly when this theater was established, although there is general agreement it likely dates back to the early post-war era. Remarkably, it was one of two theaters in this settlement, and one of maybe a dozen along this stretch of coast in the 1970s, when salt production and oyster farming buoyed the local economy. As with most other theaters of its vintage, this one closed sometime in the 1980s.
Zicheng Theater 自成大戲院 is a derelict cinema located in Baozhong, a rural township on the coastal plains of Yunlin 雲林, Taiwan. After opening in 1966 this theater drew enormous crowds from the surrounding districts, particularly in its early years of operation, when it was customary for movie stars to appear on stage to promote new films. Business began to decline with the closure of the nearby sugar factory and the widespread adoption of home television in the late 1970s, ultimately leading to the final screening sometime around 1985. Since then the theater has remained idle, slowly decaying with the passage of years, its fading fortunes mirroring those of the surrounding settlement.
This entry documents my final day of riding on a bicycle trip down the Huadong Valley in 2018. I began with a short yet eventful spin around Taitung City 台東市, the administrative capital of Taitung 台東, and headed southwest across the alluvial plains before curving back to catch a train bound for Taipei 台北 in the afternoon. I already introduced the history, geography, and culture of Taitung City in this post from a previous visit in 2015, so I’ll focus on specific sites I visited on this particular trip.
My fifth day of riding the Huadong Valley in 2018 began in Guanshan 關山 and ended in Taitung City 台東市, approximately 45 kilometers further south. Although there were several uphill segments this was one of the least demanding rides of the entire trip, partly because I had a good night’s rest, but also due to some cloud cover moderating the influence of the tropical sun. After rising I cycled over to Little Star Breakfast shop 小星星早餐店 to try their fluffy handmade danbing 蛋餅 (a crepe-like egg roll with various fillings). Feeling recharged, I set out to catalog more of eastern Taiwan’s historical relics and natural wonders.
Shigang Rice Barn 石岡穀倉, formally known as the Shigang Farmers’ Association Rice Milling Barn 石岡農會碾米穀倉, is one of the best preserved Japanese colonial era rice barns in Taiwan. Constructed with locally-sourced timber in 1941, it was designed to be earthquake-resistant, benefitting from hard lessons learned from the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and the 1935 Hsinchu-Taichung Earthquake. It was in use for many decades before modernization of rice milling made it obsolete, presumably sometime in the 1980s or 1990s, leaving the building derelict and threatened with demolition.
Jincheng Theater 金城戲院 is located in Mailiao 麥寮, a rural township in northwestern Yunlin 雲林, Taiwan. This theater is something of a cypher; it was reputedly built in 1965, but may have only opened in 1968, and business records record only one transaction in 1975. It probably closed in the late 1980s or very early 1990s, a casualty of changing consumer habits and population outflow to larger urban centers. Beyond that, not much is known about this hulking monster of a theater, which may have accommodated something like 800 patrons at its peak.
Jianxin Theater 建新大戲院 is located in Yuanshulin 員樹林, a suburban area on the western outskirts of Daxi 大溪 in Taoyuan 桃園, Taiwan. Business records indicate an inception date of 1977, but not much is known about this theater apart from that. The last recorded transaction in 2000 sets an upper bound on when it was operating, but likely went out of business in the early 1990s, when most of the rest of Taiwan’s cinema industry collapsed. It now enjoys a second life as a parking garage for the nearby factories and residences.
Day four of riding through the Huadong Valley of eastern Taiwan in 2018 began in Yuli 玉里, the midpoint of this bicycle trip from Hualien City 花蓮市 to Taitung City 台東市. From the weather report I knew I’d have another challenging ride ahead—yet again the mercury was due to exceed 35 degrees. Luckily I was in no great rush, as I had allocated an entire week for a trip that experienced riders could easily manage in two days. I made good use of that extra time, making numerous stops and detours to document some of the many historic and cultural sites along the way, many of them quite obscure. I ended the day in Guanshan 關山, slightly more than 40 kilometers down the valley.
Shigang Dam 石岡水壩 is a barrage dam on the lower reaches of the Dajia River 大甲溪 in Shigang 石岡, Taichung 台中, Taiwan. It was constructed between 1974 and 1977, not long after the completion of the Techi Dam 德基水壩, a far more ambitious hydroelectric project further upstream. Intended mainly for flood control and irrigation purposes, it was heavily damaged in the devastating 921 Earthquake of 1999 and later repaired. Despite its diminished capacity, Shigang Dam continues to serve an important function in regional water distribution across Taichung.
Yuli Shinto Shrine 玉里神社 is a Japanese colonial era historic site in Yuli 玉里, the largest town in the middle of the Huadong Valley 花東縱谷 of eastern Taiwan. Formally known as Yuli Shrine 玉里社 (Tamasato-sha in the original Japanese), it was constructed in 1928, the third year of the Showa era. The vast majority of Taiwan’s several hundred Shinto shrines were destroyed in the decades following the Japanese withdrawal—but enough of this shrine remained to justify its official designation as a cultural asset in 2008. Since then some effort has been undertaken to restore the site, which occupies a hilltop at the western edge of town, and it now ranks among the most well-preserved in the remote eastern part of the country.