Cide Temple 慈德宮 (also romanized as Tzude Temple) is an unusual manifestation of Taiwanese folk religion situated on a hillside overlooking the historic town of Caotun 草屯 in northwestern Nantou 南投, Taiwan. Constructed in 1984, it was inspired by the recurring dreams of a local fruit farmer, Zhang Wenqi 張文杞, and funded by generous donations from the community. The main hall of the temple takes the form of a bottle gourd (hulu 葫蘆) laying on its side, and the entrance is covered by a conical bamboo farmer’s hat (douli 斗笠). These features give the temple its peculiar shape, but they were not chosen at random; the design is inspired by ancient Chinese mythology, albeit with an idiosyncratic twist.
Sanqing Sanyuan Temple 三清三元宮 is an unusual attraction in Fuxing 福興, immediately to the south of Lukang 鹿港 in Changhua 彰化, Taiwan. It was constructed over the course of nearly two decades by Huang Chi-Chun 黃奇春, a former soldier who moved here in the late 1970s. This otherwise modest structure is adorned with thousands of seashells, pieces of coral, and other oceanic oddments—which is why it is more commonly known as the Changhua Shell Temple 彰化貝殼廟.
Tuberculosis remains the deadliest communicable disease in Taiwan, claiming approximately 600 lives per year, but great strides have been made in reducing its toll throughout the 20th century. Nearly 5% of the population were afflicted by the disease in the late 1940s—and with an annual mortality rate of 3 in 1,000, it was also among the leading causes of death of any kind in post-war Taiwan. The disease was especially prevalent among the Taiwanese Indigenous people of the remote mountainous interior, who simply couldn’t afford to see a doctor or purchase medicine (even if there were a clinic anywhere nearby).
Christian missionary organizations went to great lengths to expand access to medical services in the late 1950s, founding numerous clinics and sanatoriums in Indigenous territory all across Taiwan. In 1957 this particular tuberculosis sanatorium was constructed next to a secluded lake on the outskirts of Puli 埔里, Nantou 南投, to provide free treatment and relief for people of the mountains. The next several decades saw great advances in healthcare in Taiwan and the sanatorium closed in 1980, its purpose fulfilled. It reopened as a Presbyterian retreat center and campground in the late 1980s and was ultimately abandoned to the elements sometime in recent years.
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.
Beigang Theater 北港劇場 in Beigang 北港, Yunlin 雲林, is among the finest and most well-preserved of Taiwan’s remaining Japanese colonial era theaters. Built in 1937 with investment from a local businessman by the name of Tsai Yu-Hu 蔡裕斛 (whose old house is also worth a look), this three storey theater featured a revolving stage, seating for 800 guests, and simple western-style facade with a trace of the Baroque Revival architecture popular at the time. It was not only a cinema—Taiwanese opera, glove puppet shows, musical concerts, wedding banquets, and other events were also held inside. The theater went out of business in 1988 and was converted for use as a department store and restaurant for some time thereafter. Nowadays it is apparently still in use as a pool hall and, inexplicably, a kidney dialysis center, but I saw no evidence of this when I visited in the summer of 2017.
South Yuanlin Station 南員林站 is an abandoned Japanese colonial era railway station located not far from the newly reopened Yuanlin Station 員林車站 in the heart of Yuanlin 員林, a mid-sized city in central Changhua 彰化. It opened in 1933 as a small stop on the now-derelict Yuanlin Line 員林線 of the Taiwan Sugar Railways 臺灣糖業鐵路, which ran due west across the Changhua Plain 彰化平原 for approximately 9 kilometers to the Xihu Sugar Factory 溪湖糖廠 in Xihu 溪湖. Apart from facilitating the transport of sugarcane and other cargo this old wooden station also provided passenger service until it was abolished sometime around 1976.
Fenyuan Town Hall 芬園庄役場 is another example of neglected Japanese colonial era architecture in Taiwan. Built in 1935, this modest building was the administrative center of the village of Fenyuan 芬園, located on the eastern edge of Changhua 彰化 back when it was part of Taichu Prefecture 臺中州. It survived the war and remained in use until 1994 when a newer town hall was built down the street. Art Deco flourishes and the rust-colored emblem over the entrance give Fenyuan’s old town hall a distinctive look. Nowadays it is derelict—but it seems likely that it will be restored and opened to the public some day.
During a recent visit to Xizhou 溪州, a small rural township in southern Changhua 彰化, I made a brief stop to check out the historic Chenggong Hostel 成功旅社. I had no idea what to expect, having learned of its existence while browsing Google Maps in search of points of interest, and was pleasantly surprised by what I found there. It is privately owned and operated but they’ve gone to great lengths to preserve the building, transforming it into a tourist attraction and community space. The ground floor is home to a shop showcasing local products and a dual-purpose agricultural library and event space. Upstairs is something of a museum, lightly furnished with rickety beds and tatami mats. The floorboards creak and there is a mustiness about the place that makes it feel genuinely old. It wasn’t difficult to imagine what it might have been like half a century ago in the midst of the sugar boom.
Despite living in Changhua City 彰化市 for half a year I never paid much attention to the clothing store across the street from the historic Confucius Temple 彰化孔子廟. At that time my Chinese abilities were rudimentary and I wasn’t really aware of what kinds of buildings to watch for while navigating the variegated urban landscapes of Taiwan. Only after encountering Datong Theater 大同戲院 in Taitung City 台東市 did I become fascinated by the rise and fall of Taiwanese cinema. Since then I have mapped the locations of more than a hundred vintage theaters and documented many of their fates. Most end up abandoned or destroyed—but Yingong Theater 銀宮戲院 earned a new lease on life after it was purchased by NET, a Taiwanese fashion retailer.
The southwestern coastal region of Taiwan is salt country. From Budai 布袋 in Chiayi 嘉義 down through Beimen 北門, Jiangjun 將軍, and Qigu 七股 in Tainan 台南, an incredible expanse of manmade salt evaporation ponds sprawl across a completely flat and almost featureless landscape, much of it reclaimed from the briny lagoons that line the coast. Salt has been produced here for more than three centuries by channeling seawater into artificial enclosures and letting the strong tropical sun do the rest. Taiwan’s accession to the WTO in 2002 doomed the industry and all remaining salterns (or salt fields, if you like) were decommissioned that same year. This led to the abandonment of the unique Qingkunshen Fan-Shaped Saltern 青鯤鯓扇形鹽田, now a surreal reminder of the history of salt production in southern Taiwan.