Nearly every middling city in Taiwan is home to an iconic showpiece like the Golden Empire 黃金帝國 building in Yuánlín 員林, a towering ruin that was once the bustling heart of the town’s nightlife. In its heyday the Golden Empire featured 14 levels of entertainment and commerce: movie theaters, gaming parlours, cram schools (bǔxíbān 補習班), a dance hall, a skating rink, an indoor playground, and—of course—many restaurants and extravagant karaoke bars.
There is little doubt that this former symbol of prosperity was built during the boom times of the Taiwan Miracle, a period of rapid industrialization and economic growth that propelled Taiwan into the ranks of developed nations in the 1970s and 1980s. By the late 1990s the Golden Empire was beginning to deteriorate. A fire swept through part of the building and it was later damaged in the 921 Earthquake. Many businesses closed down and seedy brothels moved in. Before long the higher levels of the building were shuttered altogether, leaving only a few shops on the main floor and a motley collection of snack food vendors underneath the concrete overhang at street level.
Every time I stepped out of the train station the Golden Empire loomed overhead, beckoning me inside. I have looked all over for a way to to the higher levels but haven’t found anything yet. Access is limited to the parking lot in the basement and the few remaining shops on the main floor—everything else is locked solid.
In all my searching I haven’t been able to locate any photos from within the Golden Empire building but I’m sure they’re out there. For a comparable exploration, take a look at these photos from Golden Horse Entertainment World 金馬歡樂世界 in neighbouring Changhua City 彰化市. (Translation note: Jenna at Lao Ren Cha pointed out that “golden horse” also means “pegasus” but here I’ve used the English translation from the building itself.)