Postcards From Zhushan 竹山明信片

Zhushan’s Shuhuang Clinic 庶煌診所

Zhushan 竹山 (literally “Bamboo Mountain”) is a historic yet obscure township in southwestern Nantou 南投 mainly known for cultivating tea and bamboo. The town itself is one of the oldest in central Taiwan but it hardly feels that way. Many of Zhushan’s most historic structures were destroyed or damaged beyond repair in the devastating 921 Earthquake that struck in 1999, which is why its “old street” is lined with modern buildings. Most travellers pass through Zhushan on the way to attractions deeper into the rugged interior of Taiwan without sparing it a second glance—but I stopped for a closer look in the summer of 2017 while on an impromptu road trip. After staying the night in a sleazy love motel never meant for sleep (there was no way to switch off the lights) I wandered around in the morning haze, capturing traces of Zhushan’s history as it disappears into memory.

Zhulin Chen Old House 竹林陳家古厝

An abandoned farmhouse in Shalu

Last February I went on a productive day trip around Taichung 台中 without any particular destination in mind. After visiting an abandoned anti-airborne fortification on Dadushan and the eerie Wansheng Zizhu Monastery I breezed through Shalu 沙鹿 on the way to Wuqi Old Street 梧棲老街. While making a pitstop at a 7-Eleven on the side of the highway I noticed what looked like an old Qing dynasty building building obscured by some foliage and went to take a quick peek. Traditional courtyard homes, or sanheyuan 三合院, are an ubiquitous feature of rural Taiwan and yet another thing I regularly document wherever I go—and this one is unusually striking with its red brick archway.

Postcards From Changhua City 2 彰化市明信片二號

Inside the courtyard at the famous Changhua Confucius Temple

Not long after moving to the administrative capital of Changhua 彰化 in 2014 I published a collection of photographs entitled Postcards from Changhua City. All of the photos in that post were shot in my first few months of residency but I ended up staying for half a year. In that time I gathered more than enough material for a sequel while making my daily rounds. So here it is: more photos from my time in Changhua City 彰化市, a historic town in central Taiwan. As before, additional information and links are included in the caption for each photo, where available.

Huangxi Academy 磺溪書院

Intriguing architecture at Huangxi Academy

Built in 1887, Huangxi Academy 磺溪書院 is one of dozens of Qing dynasty era schools of classical studies in Taiwan. Located in Dadu 大肚, a small town in southwestern Taichung 台中, it provides a window into a time when scholarship was more closely interwoven with spirituality. Apart from classrooms and areas for quiet study the academy also has an altar to the Five Wenchang 五文昌: Kui Xing 魁星, Zhu Xi 朱熹, Guan Yu 關羽, Lu Dongbin 呂洞賓, and, of course, Wenchang 文昌 himself. Collectively these Taoist gods represent classical Chinese culture and several are commonly venerated by students prior to writing exams. Structurally the academy follows a plan similar to a traditional Taiwanese courtyard home or sanheyuan with the addition of a large gatehouse and pavilion.

Southern Taiwan Ride 2015: Fangliao to Manzhou

Pebble beach vista in Fangshan

Last summer I embarked upon a weeklong bicycle tour in the deep south of Taiwan. I began in Tainan 台南, cycled through Kaohsiung 高雄 to Pingtung City 屏東市, spent a day hanging out, and then continued on to Fangliao 枋寮, where the coastal plain narrows to a thin wedge between the mountains and the sea. There is only one road leading south from here—which meant I covered a lot of ground I had already seen while riding all around Taiwan in 2013. I didn’t mind repeating that beautiful stretch of coastline and, actually, I was looking forward to checking out some places I had breezed by on that first big tour, particularly in Fangshan 枋山 and Hengchun 恆春.

Daodong Academy 道東書院

Silly tiger at Daodong Academy

Daodong Academy 道東書院 is one of many Qing dynasty era academies scattered across central and southern Taiwan. Located in Hemei 和美 in Changhua 彰化, it was built in 1857, the 7th year of the Xianfeng Emperor 咸豐帝 (清咸豐七年), and operated as a private school devoted to classic Chinese literature, philosophy, and ethics, among other subjects. Commonly known to locals as Wenci 文祠 or Wenmiao 文廟, or “temple of literature”, the academy also venerates Song dynasty scholar Zhu Xi 朱熹 and Kui Xing 奎星, the god of examinations.

Yifang Old House 義芳居古厝

Yifang Old House 義芳居古厝

Yifang Old House 義芳居古厝 is a traditional courtyard home, or sanheyuan 三合院, in the scenic foothills of southeastern Da’an District 大安區, Taipei 台北. It was built in 1876 during the Qing dynasty era by a wealthy branch of the Chen 陳 family. At that time it was far from the commercial centers of Monga and Dadaocheng, both near the other side of Taipei Basin, on an almost lawless frontier. Nowadays this old house is a stone’s throw away from some of the busiest streets in the city as it is located immediately behind the National Taiwan University 國立臺灣大學 campus, better known as Taida 台大.

Tainan Fahua Monastery 台南法華寺

An oblique view of Fahua Temple, Tainan

Last year I briefly visited the historic Fahua Monastery 法華寺 in Tainan 台南. Like many of my explorations of temples in Taiwan this one wasn’t planned in advance. I noticed the monastery from the roadside while riding through the back streets south of the train station and stopped to check it out on a whim. As it turns out, Fahua Monastery has quite a long and distinguished history—going all the way back to 1684—and the interior is unusually minimalistic and serene compared to most other temples I have visited here in Taiwan.

Taipei’s Xiaonanmen 臺北府城小南門

Xiaonanmen on winter solstice

Today is winter solstice, the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, and it is a record-breaking 30°C in Taipei 台北. In Chinese culture it is customary to consume tangyuan 湯圓 (glutinous rice balls typically immersed in hot, sweet soup) on winter solstice, better known to locals as Dongzhi 冬至, a time when families gather together and celebrate growing one year older. Since I have no family here I will be lining up at 36 Yuanzi Shop 三六圓仔店 for a bowl sometime later on—though I might just skip this particular ritual if the line-up is too crazy. Two years ago I was informed, contrary to expectations, that you won’t actually age without eating tangyuan on dongzhi. If I miss it this year I suppose I won’t mind.