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.
The shophouse is an architectural form that spread all around Southeast Asia with the Chinese diaspora of the 19th century. Although shophouses are mostly known from Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong 香港, Taiwan also has a rich heritage of 19th and 20th century shophouses, known locally as jiēwū 街屋, many of them clustered along the Old Streets 老街 of the nation.
Postcards From Ershui 二水明信片
Ershui 二水 is a rural township located in the southeastern corner of Changhua 彰化, bordering Yunlin 雲林 and Nantou 南投. Ershui Station 二水車站, constructed in 1935, is the primary point of transfer between the Main Line 縱貫線 of the Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA) and the Jiji Line 集集線, a tourist railway leading into the interior. Ershui, which literally means “two water”, is named after the Babao Canal 八堡圳, an extensive system of artificial waterways still responsible for irrigating much of the Changhua Plain 彰化平原 three centuries after it was devised. During the Japanese colonial era this small town prospered as a center of woodworking while farmers in the countryside cultivated bananas, grapes, guava, and tobacco, among other crops. Nowadays it is mainly known as a sleepy stopover on the way to parts beyond—but a closer look will reveal several points of interest for anyone curious about Taiwanese history, architecture, and vintage style.
Postcards From Xiluo 西螺明信片
Xiluo 西螺 is a small historic town on the south bank of the Zhuoshui River 濁水溪 in Yunlin 雲林. It emerged as an important center of trade in central Taiwan during the Qing dynasty era and continued to prosper into the early 20th century under Japanese colonial rule. Disaster struck in 1935 when the devastating Hsinchu-Taichung Earthquake ripped through north-central Taiwan, reducing much of Xiluo to rubble. Colonial authorities and the local gentry worked together to rebuild, taking the opportunity to completely remodel the main commercial thoroughfares with an intriguing blend of influences from Baroque Revival, Art Deco, and Modernist architecture. A short stroll down Yanping Old Street 延平老街 reveals that many of these unique shophouses and commercial buildings remain standing today.
Quan’an Hall 全安堂
Quan’an Hall 全安堂 is a century-old building on Taiwan Boulevard 臺灣大道 not far from the old train station in Taichung 台中. Built in 1909 with red brick, reinforced concrete, and a Neo-Baroque style commonly attributed to Japanese architect Tatsuno Kingo 辰野金吾 (中文), it was a pharmacy for many decades, and more recently a bakery. A few years ago it was rebranded as the Taiwan Sun Cake Museum 台灣太陽餅博物館, which now operates a gift store on the ground floor and, beneath the exposed wooden beams of the restored rooftop on the second level, a cafe, event space, and interactive museum.
Postcards From Changhua City 2 彰化市明信片二號
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.
Postcards From Pingtung City 屏東市明信片
One of the pleasures of bicycle touring in Taiwan is the freedom to change plans on impulse. On my second day of a trip down south in June 2015, having previously cycled across Kaohsiung from Tainan, I opted to hang out and see more of Pingtung City 屏東市. A dire weather forecast calling for bouts of torrential rain had already introduced some uncertainty, but I was also curious about this city of 200,000, about which almost nothing is written in English. Finding an interesting place to stay sealed the deal—and so I checked out of a grimy hotel near the train station after breakfast, moved my stuff to the new place, and spent the day exploring the administrative center of Pingtung 屏東, the southernmost division of Taiwan.
Futai Street Mansion 撫臺街洋樓
In front of the historic Futai Street Mansion in central Taipei.
Futai Street Mansion 撫臺街洋樓 is a Japanese colonial era commercial building dating back to 1910. Located immediately to the south of Beimen 北門, recently the site of a major urban renewal project, it has been witness to more than a century of history here in the administrative heart of Taiwan. For more information I recommend reading this great article in Taiwan Today, this Taipei Times feature, and this post by Aris Teon. The mansion also has an official Facebook page if you’re interested in whatever events they might be hosting.…
Taiping Old Street 太平老街
Taiping Old Street 太平老街 is an unusually long stretch of Japanese colonial era shophouses in central Douliu 斗六, the administrative seat of Yunlin 雲林, Taiwan. Located not far from the train station, this old street is remarkable for its length (600 meters long), consistent architectural style (almost entirely local variations on Baroque Revival), and relatively good state of preservation. Despite this, it is not a huge attraction, which is just as well if you’re not a big fan of mass tourism in Taiwan.
Fugang Old Street 富岡老街
Fugang Old Street 富岡老街 is an obscure anachronism in the western part of Taoyuan 桃園, Taiwan. It extends from a railway station that opened during the Japanese colonial era in 1929 through the heart of this small Hakka town. The coming of the railroad brought prosperity to the area and several ornate shophouses were built around the station in a mishmash of architectural styles common at the time. Nowadays it is just another street in rural Taiwan, albeit one with a little more history than most, possibly because it is too unimportant a place for modernization to have swept away these vestiges of the past.
Xinhua Old Street 新化老街
Xinhua Old Street 新化老街 is one of the finest old streets in all Taiwan. Located in Xinhua 新化, Tainan 台南, the street is lined baroque revival and art deco buildings from the Japanese colonial era. Most of the buildings on the western side of the street date back to the 1920s whereas the eastern side features a more modernist style from the late 1930s.