Abandoned chemistry

Peiyuan Industrial Aquaculture Factory 培源殖產工廠

Bicycle touring is one means by which I discover many abandoned places in Taiwan. Ride in just about any direction long enough, keep your eyes peeled, and you’re bound to encounter the telltale signs of decay and neglect sooner or later. Such was the case one fine morning in June 2015 when I set out to have breakfast in Fāngliáo 枋寮, a small town along the coast of central Pingtung 屏東, while en route to Héngchūn 恆春, at the southern tip of the island. I had barely been awake for half an hour when I noticed this partially overgrown ruin along the roadside.

An abandoned factory in Fangliao, Pingtung
An abandoned factory ion the outskirts of Fangliao in Pingtung County, Taiwan.
Colonizing the lattice
Nature has colonized the far corner of the building with a tangle of vines.
The overgrown entrance to the old factory
The entrance to the old factory building is completely overgrown.

Researching abandoned places online can yield rewarding clues and information—but it will almost never lead you to untapped ruins. If you’re interested in breaking new ground you’ll need to take steps to maximize the potential for serendipity. This is where cycling comes in: you can get out to places that people usually wouldn’t go and you’ll be travelling at speeds that promote discovery. Of course, you can’t be sure that nobody has gone before you, not even after scoping things out online, but the illusion is more complete when you find a place without any outside assistance.

The original entrance to the factory in Fangliao
Stepping over the foliage you will enter into this small corridor. There are bathrooms to the left and the doorway to the right will bring you to the first wide open space.
Down on the ground floor in Fangliao
Down on the ground floor at the old factory. There isn’t any sign of what this place might have been.

In the west it is common for abandoned places to fall into one of two categories: completely trashed and covered with graffiti or difficult to access and potentially unexplored (or at least well-preserved). Taiwan is unique in my experience for being home to so many poorly secured ruins that attract so little attention from vandals. There is a vibrant urban exploration community here and people are very serious about preserving the ruins in their “natural” state. I can count on one hand the number of famous ruins in Taiwan that show obvious signs of human disturbance after abandonment. Often the only way of knowing whether a place has been visited before is to post photos to the most popular group and see if anyone chimes in to say, “I’ve been there!”

A scene from a horror film in Fangliao
Deeper into the building I found this chamber of horrors. Something about the dim lighting and the arrangement of debris sent a chill down my spine.
Insulation chamber
I presume this must have once been a cold storage room?

When I first shared these photos nobody seemed to know anything about this place. That didn’t surprise me; Fangliao is rather remote from the big cities and this ruin is out in the countryside between the main settlement and Provincial Highway 1. Taiwan has such a wealth of ruins that many more obscure places like this remain overlooked.

Fangliao factory from the second floor
The main room on the ground floor from the second floor. You can see the corner of the building covered in vines off to the left.
Down to the factory floor
More exposure therapy for my fear of heights.

What I found more mysterious is the complete absence of any information about this place online. This, combined with the lack of any clear identifying features in the ruin itself, make it difficult to pinpoint exactly what this building was for. Obviously it was a factory of some kind, perhaps chemical or biomedical, but there’s no way of knowing without going back and looking for more clues. I spent hours researching business registration directories in Chinese with every variation on the street address I could imagine and found no trace of it whatsoever.

Getting higher in Fangliao
Creeping along the outside balcony.
The overgrown corner of the building
Overgrown debris.
A long shot from the back of the building
The opposite side.
Around the right side of the abandoned factory in Fangliao
Around the right side of the old factory building in Fangliao.

Google Street View, an indispensable tool for all urban explorers, provides one of the only concrete pieces of information about this place that can be found online: the building was already abandoned for quite some time in the summer of 2009. Usually I rely on calendars found within the ruins to establish a date of abandonment (a running theme on this blog by now) but didn’t notice one this time around. This place has been picked clean.

Third floor of a Fangliao abandonment
The third and fourth floor are joined together much like the first and second.
The swallows have taken over
The swallows have taken over this chamber.

One of the more interesting aspects of the rewilding of the building was the presence of so many birds—swallows, I believe—roosting in the upper floors. They’re so small and quick that I wasn’t able to catch any on film but the place is absolutely rife with them. Evidently my passage through the large chamber on the third floor was particularly disturbing as I was the victim of a torrent of high-pitched imprecations as I wandered around in search of clues.

Brown bottle box
Now we’re getting somewhere…
Broken vials in the old factory
Broken vials.
Lab supplies on the side
Lab supplies.
Lab bench in an abandoned building in Fangliao
The only room that hasn’t been plundered is the laboratory.
Abandoned chemistry
What was being made here? What was being tested?

Each and every room in the building has been stripped clean save one: a laboratory up on the fourth floor. Apart from a photogenic lab bench littered with bottled chemicals I also found a discarded fume hood and numerous supplies familiar to me from my undergraduate days scattered all over the floor. I wonder what they were making and/or testing up here? I noticed a sign elsewhere in the building for a “quality control room” (品管室) but that’s about all I have to work with.

A closer look at the abandoned chemicals in Fangliao
All the chemicals have been left behind but the fixtures have been stripped.
This office has been completely stripped
This office on the fourth floor has been completely destroyed.
Not much left to identify this place
No artifacts remain to identify what this place was.
Another bird’s eye view of the top level of the factory
Another bird’s eye view of the top two floors.

Reviewing my photos long after the exploration I am struck by the fact that this place was totally cleared out. Many factories in Taiwan are abandoned for reasons of financial insolvency or because it is no longer viable to process some natural resource such as coal or timber. Usually in these cases a lot of the original machinery and personal effects of the workers are left behind—but not here. This place has the look of a business that moved somewhere else (which would also explain my difficulty in finding anything registered at this exact address). Given the proximity to Píngnán Industrial Park 屏南工業區 it wouldn’t surprise me if they had simply relocated up the road.

Climbing to the top of the abandonment in Fangliao
Creeping around the side in search of roof access.

There is one final clue worth mentioning—and I feel it is a good one. Up on the roof you can see the faint outlines of what looks to be a logo on the highest part of the building. To me it looks like something from the periodic table of elements, but of course there is no element with the abbreviation “Py”. This combined with the presence of a laboratory and large insulated room on the ground floor is what led me to suspect that this building was owned by a chemical or biomedical company of some kind, but that’s pure speculation.

A clue on the rooftop
The final clue on the rooftop.

Years after I published this post several Taiwanese urban explorers visited and determined this building might have been a fish processing plant. Later on, in 2019, I chanced upon this post from the Fake Literary Youth 假文青, a Taiwan urbex blogging group who determined this was formerly a branch of the Péiyuán Industrial Aquaculture Company 培源殖產股份有限公司 headquartered in Tainan (hence why I wasn’t able to find any business records for this address). From “Peiyuan” we get the “Py” that appears on top of the building, and the mystery is resolved!