Herb Alley 青草巷

Herb Alley 青草巷

Herb Alley (青草巷, pinyin: Qīngcǎo Xiàng) is a minor attraction immediately adjacent to the famous Lóngshān Temple (龍山寺) in Monga, the most historic part of Wanhua, Taipei. Hundreds of years ago, long before western medicine came to Taiwan, it was common for people to visit the temple, pray to the relevant gods, and receive herbal prescriptions for whatever ailed them. Vendors setup shop outside the temple gates to help fill these prescriptions. Decades ago the prescriptions themselves were outlawed (and rightfully so) but the tradition of selling herbs next to the temple continues, albeit in a more orderly fashion out of actual shops along Xīchāng Street Lane 224 西昌街224巷.

Taipei 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. In Chinese culture it is customary to consume tāngyuán (湯圓, glutinous rice balls typically immersed in hot, sweet soup) on winter solstice, better known to locals as Dōngzhì (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 Yuánzǐ 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.

Changhua Roundhouse 彰化扇形車庫

Changhua Roundhouse vista

One of the most extraordinary attractions in Taiwan is the historic Changhua Roundhouse 彰化扇形車庫, originally built in 1922 during Japanese colonial rule and still in operation today. Although information is hard to come by it seems that it might be the only roundhouse still operating in Asia—and certainly one of the oldest still in regular use anywhere in the world. Every other roundhouse I researched for this article has been abandoned, demolished, repurposed, or converted into a museum—and those rare few that are still operational have been mighty hard to date. As such, the Changhua Roundhouse is a dream to visit for a railway enthusiast like myself, particularly since the ambiance hasn’t been ruined by the sort of tacky treatment you’ll often find at Taiwanese tourist attractions. After signing in with the guard at the gate I had free run of the place—and as you can see from some of the following photos, nobody minded me getting shockingly close to moving trains as the mechanics went about their daily routines.

Khoo Tsu-song Old House 許梓桑古厝

A closer look at the empty nameplate at Qingyu Hall

Khóo Tsú-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. 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 Qìngyú Hall 慶餘堂, it was the residence of Khóo Tsú-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.

Taitung Chinese Association 台東中華會館

The historic Taitung Chinese Association 中華會館

The historic Chinese Association on Zhongzheng Road in Taitung City.

It never ceases to amaze me what can be learned from keenly observing the streets of Taiwan and following up with a little research online. I only spent one full day in Taitung City at the tail end of a bicycle trip down south this June but managed to chance across a number of interesting sights in that time, this historic building among them.

Located at 143 Zhongzheng Road 中正路, this is the Taitung Branch 台東分社 of the Chinese Association 中華會館, originally built in 1927 while Taiwan was under Japanese rule. A plaque out front features historic information in English (shocking in this part of the country) as well as a direct translation of the name, “Taitung Chunghua Hostel”, but it was more of a clubhouse or assembly hall, not a place to secure lodging for the night. Interestingly, the proper Chinese name is the same one used by the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of America. Have a look at the photos…

Tainan West Market 台南西市場

Old Ximen Market in Tainan

West Market 西市場 is a historical site in downtown Tainan dating back to the earliest years of the Japanese colonial era. The first market building at this location was constructed in 1905, back when it fronted onto the milkfish farms of the Táijiāng Lagoon 台江內海. It suffered extensive damage when a catastrophic typhoon struck Tainan in August 1911. An expanded L-shaped structure was built in 1912, making it the largest market in southern Taiwan, but this was damaged by another typhoon in 1920, leading to another round of reconstruction, the results of which are still standing today. The old marketplace remains a hub of commercial activity in this part of the city—but many of its stalls were neglected or abandoned by the mid-2010s, when many of the photos in this article were captured. Presently the old market enjoys heritage status—and an extensive restoration effort was completed in 2020, transforming it into a bright and airy space.

Ogon Shrine 黄金神社

Ōgon Shrine foundation

The Ōgon Shrine 黄金神社 (also known as the Gold Temple) is an abandoned Shinto shrine in the mountains above Jīnguāshí 金瓜石, an old gold mining town in Ruifang, Taiwan. Built in 1933 by the Nippon Mining Company while Taiwan was under Japanese rule, it was mostly destroyed in the post-war era by vandals. Even so, it’s in better shape than almost every other Shinto shrine in Taiwan apart from the Taoyuan Martyrs’ Shrine 桃園忠烈祠 and Kagi Shrine 嘉義神社 in Chiayi City. The incoming KMT government went to great lengths to expunge the island of Japanese influences.

The Great Southern Gate of Tainan 臺灣府城大南門

Nanmen, Tainan’s great southern gate

Nanmen, Tainan’s great southern gate.

Dànánmén 大南門, also known as Níngnánmén 寧南門, is one of two great gates remaining in Tainan, the most historic city in Taiwan. Built in 1725, it has been renovated several times but maintains its classical charm. Nowadays it can be found in a gorgeous park just south of the Confucius Temple on Nánmén Road 大南路. The gate itself is surrounded by a secondary fortification, a barbican or wèngchéng 瓮城, which provides additional defensive capabilities. As usual, Tainan City Guide has an excellent write-up about this historic landmark.…

Changhua City Red Hair Well 彰化市紅毛井

Red Hair Well, Changhua City

The Red Hair Well 紅毛井 (pinyin: Hóngmáojǐng) in Changhua City is another curious footnote. Located behind the Changhua Arts Museum at the foot of Baguashan, this well supposedly dates back to the mid-1600s, in the midst of the Dutch colonial era. The Dutch sunk this well to provide for soldiers and missionaries passing through the area but never actually controlled this land. The name derives from âng-mo, which is literally “red hair” in Hokkien or Taiwanese, an obvious visual contrast to the black hair of Chinese people.