A Door in the Forest

A Door in the Forest

Recently I went riding up Jiannan Street 劍南街, a scenic mountain road connecting Zhongshan District 中山區 and Shilin District 士林區. Along the way I noticed many bunkers and sentry posts, remnants of a time when this entire mountainside was under military control and strictly off-limits to civilians. One bunker in particular struck me as particularly pleasing, for it was little more than a door in the forest, a dark promise surrounded by a vivid shade of green. For reference, this place is located on the eastern flank of the modest Wenjianshan 文間山, and for more about the area you can consult Chinese language blogs here and here.

Gateway to the East

An abandoned installation at the easternmost tip of Taiwan

Recently I returned to Cape Santiago 三貂角, the easternmost tip of the island of Taiwan, once again by way of the Old Caoling Tunnel 舊草嶺隧道. The far eastern shoreline is smothered in broken concrete and derelict industrial facilities, the fading legacy of an aquaculture industry in decline. One such facility is this, the most easterly building on the island, a crumbling ruin previously documented in my explorations of the Pacific edge. I suspect it might have been a pump station for there is a network of pipes running through jagged holes in the floor to the ocean sloshing around in the darkness below. This small room is infested with Ligia exotica, a cosmopolitan isopod known to locals as Haizhanglang 海蟑螂, literally “sea cockroach”. This place has changed since I was last here. A chamber on the rooftop has collapsed into a heap of red bricks and twisted metal. Perhaps a close encounter with debris blown in by Typhoon Malakas was responsible—or maybe it’s the accumulation of elemental forces sweeping across this exposed headland. Whatever the case, it is interesting to witness these changes as my time in this land grows far longer than originally expected.

Traces of an Army Maintenance Depot

A trace of martial history in Xinyi District

Xinyi District 信義區 is now one of the most expensive and upscale parts of Taiwan but it hasn’t always been that way. Decades ago it was an undesirable area on the edge of the city with a significant military-industrial presence, traces of which still remain if you know where to look. The open expanse of parks and parking lots around the intersection of Xin’an Street 信安街 and Wuxing Street 吳興街 immediately to the west of Taipei Medical University 臺北醫學大學 is one such trace.

Shuidui Settlement 水碓聚落

Still here after all these years

Taichung 台中 is undergoing a massive transformation as vast tracts of rural-industrial sprawl are cleared to make way for new developments around the high-speed rail station 高鐵台中站 and the future Taichung Metro system, particularly in Beitun 北屯, Nantun 南屯, and Wuri 烏日. Google’s satellite maps are out of sync with the streets, many of which are so new that they appear only as ghostly lines coursing through the former rice paddies. With large parts of the urban periphery slated for wholesale demolition and renewal many grassroots organizations have formed to preserve cultural assets found in these doomed territories—as was the case with the Shuinan Tobacco Barn 水湳菸樓. Today I chanced upon another example: Shuidui Juluo 水碓聚落, a rare 17th century Hakka settlement in Nantun with an ambiguous future.

Nga Tsin Wai: The Last Walled Village of Kowloon

The entrance to Nga Tsin Wai Village 衙前圍村

Nga Tsin Wai Village 衙前圍村 is widely known as the last walled village of Kowloon 九龍. Located not far from the former location of the infamous Kowloon Walled City 九龍城寨, the village traces its history back to the 1352 founding of its modest Tin Hau Temple 天后宮. It was fortified in 1724 to defend against bandits and pirates but has, in modern times, lost the moat, walls, and watchtowers that once protected residents from harm. As the very last of its kind in the urban heart of Hong Kong 香港 it has become a flashpoint for conflict between the Urban Renewal Authority and the many activist groups and citizens passionate about preserving what remains of Kowloon’s cultural heritage.

The Remains of Taipei Prison 臺北監獄圍牆遺蹟

A remnant of Taipei Prison

Not much remains of the old Taipei Prison 台北刑務所 except the walls along the north and south sides of the prison grounds. Originally known as Taihoku Prison (after the Japanese name for Taipei), it was built in 1904 to incarcerate a burgeoning population of political dissidents, revolutionaries, and activists resisting Japanese colonial rule, though the authorities also imprisoned common criminals here as well. It was also the scene of the needless execution of 14 American soldiers a mere 58 days before the end of World War II. The KMT continued to operate the prison into the bleak years of the White Terror 白色恐怖 before razing it to the ground in 1963.