My second day of riding Huadong Valley 花東縱谷 was not everything I hoped it would be. I didn’t manage a proper night’s rest due to a malfunctioning air condition and woke up feeling weak and dehydrated. With temperatures hitting 35°C on the road, and with fewer convenience store stops along the way, it turned out to be the most difficult day of riding on this particular trip back in May 2018. I originally planned to detour into the mountains to visit the village of Tongmen 銅門 and cruise around Carp Lake 鯉魚潭 on my way south. Instead I elected to head straight down Provincial Highway 9 through Ji’an 吉安 and Shoufeng 壽豐 into Fenglin 鳳林 to make up for lost time. Although I didn’t see nearly as much as planned I am glad to have an excuse to return to this part of Taiwan.
In the summer of 2017 I embarked upon a series of road trips around central and southern Taiwan. I began in Taichung 台中 and ended up riding as far south as Kaohsiung 高雄 over the course of several months. It was not one continuous journey; I would head south, ride for several days, stash the scooter at a train station, and return to my residence in Taipei 台北 before doing it all over again. There wasn’t a lot of planning involved, nor were these trips entirely random. Usually I had some idea of what to see and where to go, but there were also many serendipitous discoveries along the way. Ultimately I gathered material for more than 50 posts, many of which have already been published. This introductory post gathers an assortment of photos from the first segment of the trip from Taichung to Nantou 南投, with particular emphasis on the districts of Taiping 太平, Puli 埔里, and Shuili 水里.
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.
Only traces remain of the tobacco cultivation and manufacturing industry in Taichung 台中, Taiwan. For the better part of a century tobacco was cultivated across wide swathes of the Taichung Basin 台中盆地, cured on location, sold at regional marketplaces, and shipped to factories for further processing into cigarettes and other tobacco products. Taiwan’s accession to the WTO in 2002 marked the end of domestic tobacco production but the industry was already in steep decline, a consequence of globalization and the end of the government monopoly system in preceding decades. Several buildings related to Taichung’s tobacco industry have earned heritage status in recent years—but this decaying tobacco barn hidden down an laneway in Taiping 太平, a suburban district on the eastern side of the burgeoning metropolis, is not among them.
What little remains of the historic tobacco industry in central Taiwan is disappearing fast. Tobacco cultivation was big business for much of the 20th century but went into sharp decline in the 1980s and essentially ended with globalization and Taiwan’s accession to the WTO. Robust preservation efforts in southern and eastern Taiwan ensure something of this industry will remain for future generations but the situation in the former tobacco cultivation areas of Taichung 台中, Changhua 彰化, and Yunlin 雲林 is far more ambiguous, and documentation of what cultural assets remain is sparse or nonexistent. For this reason I’ve made an effort to record tobacco barns anytime I encounter them in my travels—as I did while driving through Jiuqiong Village 九芎村 on the south side of Linnei 林內 in Yunlin 雲林 earlier this summer.
Liancun Tobacco Barn 鎌村菸樓 is a historic building on the agrarian outskirts of Fengyuan 豐原, Taichung 台中, and one of the last of its kind. Back in the tobacco industry heyday of the 1950s there were more than 100 tobacco barns in this small agricultural community. Almost all the others have been torn down or fallen into grave disrepair over the years but this one remains in surprisingly good condition, a testament to the upkeep of the owners, who still live inside. I haven’t had any luck sourcing credible historic information about this place—it isn’t an officially designated heritage property nor a tourist attraction—but I’d hazard a guess that it is at least 70 years old. I would have asked the old lady in the courtyard but she didn’t seem all that interested in having a chat—though she warmly granted permission to shoot these photographs when asked.
Shuinan Tobacco Barn 水湳菸樓 is a historic Japanese colonial era building located in Beitun 北屯, Taichung 台中. It is an “Osaka-style” tobacco barn (named after Osaka Castle) much like these more famous examples from Meinong 美濃. Nobody seems to know for sure when it was built, though this article claims it is a century old. Without better information I would say the 1930s are a safe bet—that’s when industrial-scale tobacco cultivation was spreading all over central and south Taiwan—but it might be older than that.
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.