Life Is a Gas

Gas tanks in Darong Village

Gas tanks next to an old tobacco barn in Eastern Taiwan.

Two weeks ago I noticed this stack of natural gas tanks outside the Fenglin Tobacco Barn 鳳林菸樓 in Darong First Village 大榮一村, one of several sites identified as Tobacco Barn Cultural Settlements 菸樓文化聚落 in the Huadong Valley 花東縱谷. Having spent some time last year exploring remnants of the tobacco industry in Taichung 台中 I figured it might be interesting to sample what might be found out east. I’ll have more to share from that mission at a later date—but for now, these tanks shall serve as a placeholder for future elucidations.…

Liancun Tobacco Barn 鎌村菸樓

Rice fields in front of the Liancun Tobacco Barn 鎌村菸樓

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.

Xizhou Chenggong Hostel 溪州成功旅社

Oblique shot of the Xizhou Chenggong Hostel 溪州成功旅社

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.

Xizhou Telecom Bureau 溪州原電信局

The former Xizhou Telecom Bureau 溪州原電信局

This week I visited the small town of Xizhou 溪州 in southern Changhua 彰化 to locate the eponymous Xizhou Theater 溪州戲院. I found no way into the theater but made a serendipitous discovery while walking around the block in search of another access point. Across the street I noticed the utilitarian outline of the former Xizhou Telecom Bureau 溪州原電信局, a modest building that once housed a combined post office and service counter for the state phone company, then known as the Directorate General of Telecommunica­tions (DGT) 交通部電信總局. The sign above the entrance simply reads Dianxinju 電信局, or “telecommunications bureau”, which is all anyone needed to know in those days. Taiwan’s telecom monopoly was broken up in 1996 with the privatization of what became known as Chunghwa Telecom 中華電信. In the absence of any sort of historic information about this obscure abandoned office I’d guess it was built sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s.

Shuangxi Donghe Theater 雙溪東和戲院

The main entrance to Shuangxi’s Donghe Theater 東和戲院

Donghe Theater 東和戲院 is an obscure ruin in the small historic town of Shuangxi 雙溪 in the mountains of eastern New Taipei 新北. Despite its diminutive size and remote location the town has a history going back to the Qing dynasty era. During the mining boom of the early 20th century Shuangxi became prosperous enough to warrant the establishment of an outpost of cinema. When the town’s fortunes declined so did this theater—but nowadays anyone is welcome to wander in and take a look at what remains here at the confluence of Mudan Creek 牡丹溪 and the eponymous Shuang River 雙溪.

Xizhou Theater 溪州戲院

The entrance to Xizhou Theater 溪州戲院

Some people are into urban exploration for the optics—they love visiting the most visually-impressive places and taking cool photos—but I’m just as interested in documenting history and solving puzzles. Animated by curiosity, I have become proficient in navigating the Chinese language web in search of leads. Not all of these turn out to be something interesting but I enjoy those rare days where I set out into the countryside and see how many candidate sites I can knock off my list. This is what originally brought me to the gates of the humble Xizhou Theater 溪州戲院 in the small town of Xizhou 溪州, Changhua 彰化.

A Short Ride Around Western Taoyuan

Giant god of grain 五榖神農大帝

Last October, while living in Zhongli, I ventured out into the countryside for a random bicycle ride on Halloween. Like most of my rides I didn’t have a route planned or anything, only a general intention of checking out the obscure Fugang Old Street 富岡老街 about 15 kilometers west of the city. Along the way I followed my intuition (with a little help from Google Maps) and captured photographs of anything interesting and unusual I came across. Featured here are more than two dozens pictures from this ride through parts of Zhongli 中壢, Xinwu 新屋, Yangmei 楊梅, and Pingzhen 平鎮 in western Taoyuan 桃園.

An Abandoned House and Community Garden in Hsinchu

An abandoned house on the edge of urban Hsinchu

Last weekend I visited Hsinchu City 新竹市 and rented a scooter to visit some of the more distant areas from the central train station. Along the way my attention was drawn to this traditional home on the margins of the north side of town. Hsinchu, like most other cities in Taiwan, is gradually replacing its agricultural frontier with modern subdevelopments, but this home has somehow escaped the wave of demolition that obviously swept through most of the rest of the area. The man in the picture had little to say before returning to his garden. Apparently the abandoned house beyond is a hundred years old—but anything more about its history will remain a mystery for now.

Dadu Plateau Anti-Airborne Fortifications 大肚台地反空降堡

An abandoned fortification on the Dadu Plateau

Dadu Plateau 大肚台地 (also known as Dadu Mountain 大肚山) is a geographic feature of great strategic importance to the defense of central Taiwan. It overlooks the Qingshui Coastal Plain 清水平原 and occupies high ground on the far edge of the Taichung Basin 台中盆地, home to the majority of the population of Taichung 台中, the third most populous metropolitan area in the nation. The entire length of the plateau is peppered with military facilities from the massive Ching Chuan Kang Air Base 空軍清泉崗基地 in the north to Chenggong Ridge 成功嶺 down south. In between one will find a number of abandoned or disused bunkers, gun towers, and blockhouses. This post focuses on seven anti-airborne fortifications located in the central part of the plateau starting with the #7 Anti-Airborne Fort 七號反空降堡, my introduction to this cluster of ruins.

Fanjiang Ancestral Hall 范姜祖堂

A closer look at Fanjiang Ancestral Hall 范姜祖堂

I chanced upon Fanjiang Ancestral Hall 范姜祖堂 while out for a bicycle ride around Taoyuan 桃園 in late October 2015. That morning I set out from my place in Zhongli 中壢 to see more of the countryside and eventually pay a visit to Fugang Old Street 富岡老街 in western Yangmei 楊梅. Along the way I made a brief diversion into Xinwu 新屋 to see whatever might be found there—and this cluster of historic Hakka homes were my reward.