Postcards From Yuanlin 員林明信片

The Golden Empire Building

Yuanlin 員林 is a modest settlement of approximately 125,000 residents located on the Changhua Plain 彰化平原 in eastern Changhua 彰化, Taiwan. It was formerly the most populous urban township in the nation, but Yuanlin was upgraded to a county-controlled city in 2015, second only to the administrative capital, Changhua City 彰化市. Considerable work has been done in recent years to improve the urban environment of Yuanlin, and it feels like one of the few places between Taichung 台中 and Tainan 台南 that isn’t falling into disrepair and emptying out. That being said, urban decay remains widespread in Yuanlin, and there are many interesting ruins worth exploring before they disappear. For students of city planning and development this compact city also has quite a lot to offer—and in this post I aim to introduce some of its more intriguing features, mainly drawing upon photographs from 2013 to 2015, when I was spending significant amounts of time in the area.

An Abandoned House and Community Garden in Hsinchu

An abandoned house on the edge of urban Hsinchu

Last weekend I visited Hsinchu City 新竹市 and rented a scooter to visit some of the more distant areas from the central train station. Along the way my attention was drawn to this traditional home on the margins of the north side of town. Hsinchu, like most other cities in Taiwan, is gradually replacing its agricultural frontier with modern subdevelopments, but this home has somehow escaped the wave of demolition that obviously swept through most of the rest of the area. The man in the picture had little to say before returning to his garden. Apparently the abandoned house beyond is a hundred years old—but anything more about its history will remain a mystery for now.

Fanjiang Ancestral Hall 范姜祖堂

A closer look at Fanjiang Ancestral Hall 范姜祖堂

I chanced upon Fanjiang Ancestral Hall 范姜祖堂 while out for a bicycle ride around Taoyuan 桃園 in late October 2015. That morning I set out from my place in Zhongli 中壢 to see more of the countryside and eventually pay a visit to Fugang Old Street 富岡老街 in western Yangmei 楊梅. Along the way I made a brief diversion into Xinwu 新屋 to see whatever might be found there—and this cluster of historic Hakka homes were my reward.

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.

Shuidui Settlement 水碓聚落

Still here after all these years

Taichung 台中 is undergoing a massive transformation as vast tracts of rural-industrial sprawl are cleared to make way for new developments around the high-speed rail station 高鐵台中站 and the future Taichung Metro system, particularly in Beitun 北屯, Nantun 南屯, and Wuri 烏日. Google’s satellite maps are out of sync with the streets, many of which are so new that they appear only as ghostly lines coursing through the former rice paddies. With large parts of the urban periphery slated for wholesale demolition and renewal many grassroots organizations have formed to preserve cultural assets found in these doomed territories—as was the case with the Shuinan Tobacco Barn 水湳菸樓. Today I chanced upon another example: Shuidui Juluo 水碓聚落, a rare 17th century Hakka settlement in Nantun with an ambiguous future.

Southern Taiwan Ride 2015: Tainan to Pingtung City

A pink sanheyuan in Alian District

Bicycle touring is one of the best ways to experience Taiwan. I don’t have an opportunity to go touring as much as I’d like but managed to find some time last year, in June of 2015, to embark upon a multi-day bicycle trip around southern Taiwan. My intention was to cover some of the same territory that I had rushed through on my first bicycle trip down south in 2013. I ended up racing a typhoon from Kenting to Taitung City 台東市 that year—so the chance to explore the backroads of Pingtung 屏東 at a more relaxed pace really appealed to me. I started my journey in Tainan 台南, my favourite city in Taiwan, and cycled through Kaohsiung 高雄 to Pingtung City 屏東市, putting about 70 kilometers behind me. Gathered here are some photos from the first day of this trip, continued here.

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.

Postcards From Meinong 美濃明信片

An old style sanheyuan on the outskirts of Meinong

I briefly visited Meinong 美濃 in July of 2014 while cycling around southern Taiwan. I hadn’t done any planning prior to arrival and knew nothing of what I was getting myself into nor what sights I should have made an effort to see. I was navigating almost exclusively by instinct, riding in whatever direction seemed interesting, simply to see what was there. Gathered here are several of my photos from a few uninformed hours in this bucolic rural township in Kaohsiung 高雄.

Khoo Tsu-song Old House 許梓桑古厝

A closer look at the empty nameplate at Qingyu Hall

Khoo Tsu-song Old House 許梓桑古厝 is a scenic historic site atop a modest hill near Miaokou Night Market 廟口夜市 in Keelung 基隆. Built in 1931 while Taiwan was under Japanese rule, it is structured somewhat like a traditional Taiwanese three-sided courtyard home with some Western influences and building materials. Formally named Qingyu Hall 慶餘堂, it was the residence of Khoo Tsu-song (1874–1945), an important figure in local politics and civic affairs during the Japanese colonial era. His name is rendered here in romanized Taiwanese Hokkien, in keeping with the conventions adopted by the Keelung cultural bureau.

Exploring the Badlands of Southern Taiwan

Sundown in the badlands

The badlands of Taiwan are one of the nation’s most captivating and unusual landscapes. There are several scattered around the island but the most extensive badlands can be found along the hilly borderlands of Tainan 台南 and Kaohsiung 高雄. Known locally to Taiwanese as Yueshijie 月世界, literally “moon world”, these landscapes are composed of weathered mudstone outcrops that erode too quickly for plants to grow.