Guanmiao Shanxi Temple 關廟山西宮

Exploring the upper levels of Shanxi temple in Guanmiao

Shanxi Temple 山西宮 (often romanized as “Shansi Temple”) is a large historic temple in Guanmiao 關廟, a small town in southeastern Tainan 台南, dating back to the early 18th century, back when Taiwan was under Qing Dynasty rule. It has been expanded and renovated many times over the years, most recently in the 1970s, to the point where I noticed few traces of antiquity on two trips to the temple over the last couple of years.

Neiwan Hexing Station 內灣合興車站

Vintage clocks at Hexing Station

Last week I went out with a friend to explore rural Hsinchu 新竹. After checking out a cable car tower in Guanxi 關西 we slipped over the township line to Hengshan 橫山 to make a brief pitstop at Hexing Station 合興車站, the only wooden train station on the newly reopened Neiwan Line 內灣線. Inside the station house we discovered this wall of vintage clocks, obviously somewhat contrived but every bit as photogenic as intended. Although this station (and the rest of the railway line) was built in the 1950s, after the Japanese colonial period, many of these mechanical wind-up clocks bear Japanese names like Gifutokei, Aichi, and, of course, Seiko.

Eye on the Road

Weird art on the way up Honglusai Mountain

It is hard not to notice the giant freaking eyeball and neon orange head hanging out at the side of the road leading up Honglusai Mountain 烘爐塞山 at the southern edge of Zhonghe 中和, Taiwan. After taking in the scene I jokingly came up with a new slogan for the tourist bureau; “Taiwan: don’t ask why!” But of course that’s not really my style—I always like getting to the bottom of the seemingly inexplicable things I encounter in my travels here.

Exploring the Badlands of Southern Taiwan

Sundown in the badlands

The badlands of Taiwan are one of the nation’s most captivating and unusual landscapes. There are several scattered around the island but the most extensive badlands can be found along the hilly borderlands of Tainan 台南 and Kaohsiung 高雄. Known locally to Taiwanese as Yueshijie 月世界, literally “moon world”, these landscapes are composed of weathered mudstone outcrops that erode too quickly for plants to grow.

Peiyuan Industrial Aquaculture Factory 培源殖產工廠

Abandoned chemistry

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 Fangliao 枋寮, a small town along the coast of central Pingtung 屏東, while en route to Hengchun 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.

Wu Family Old Stone House 吳家樓仔厝

The old stone house in Aodi

Pictured here are the ruins of a two-story stone house in the small fishing village of Mao’ao 卯澳漁村 in Gongliao 貢寮, the easternmost district of Taiwan. I captured it while cycling back from the far end of Old Caoling Tunnel 舊草嶺隧道 late one afternoon. With daylight fading over the rugged eastern mountains I had little time to make sense of the historic plaque out front. I recall it saying something about this being a rice granary but what online sleuthing I have done suggests it was once the home of a rich family—hence the formal name Wu Family Old Stone House 吳家樓仔厝 (or Historic Stone Home 石頭古厝). Whatever the case, it certainly looks beautiful with a background of crepuscular rays.

Yutian Automotive Factory 羽田汽車工廠

On the factory floor at the old automotive plant

The massive ruins of the Yutian Automotive Factory 羽田汽車工廠 are located on the Dayeh University campus in Dacun 大村, Changhua 彰化. There are four main buildings, each approximately 360 meters in length and 90 meters across for an estimated total of 32,500 square meters apiece. Outside of the Changhua Coastal Industrial Park 彰化濱海工業區 in Lukang 鹿港 (which opened in 1995) these buildings are probably the largest in the county—and the entire complex is readily visible from space.

Tsai Ing-wen Old House 蔡英文古厝

Tsai Ing-wen’s childhood home

Tsai Ing-wen’s childhood home in the village of Fenggang.

One of the more unexpected finds on my recent bicycle tour through the deep south of Taiwan was the childhood home of Tsai Ing-wen 蔡英文 (pinyin: Cai Yingwen), current chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party and presidential contender in the upcoming 2016 general election. I was vaguely aware that she was born in Fangshan 枋山 in Pingtung 屏東, the southernmost county in the nation, but hadn’t known any more than that prior to taking a short detour through the old fishing village of Fenggang 楓港, founded in 1765 according to Chinese language Wikipedia. Imagine my surprise when I saw a small sign on the main road through town that directed me to Chairman Tsai Ing-wen Historic Home 蔡英文主席古厝!

When I arrived the courtyard was initially littered with trash. Several locals noticed my arrival and one quickly went to fetch a broom and clean up. I made what little conversation I could manage, not even knowing…

Jiahe Railway Tunnel 嘉和遮體

A tunnel on the coastal plains of Pingtung

Here is yet another roadside curiosity in the deep south of Taiwan: a false tunnel on the coastal plains of Fangshan 枋山, Pingtung 屏東. It doesn’t cut through any mountainside nor is it built to withstand landslides. It’s just an 1,180 meter tunnel that trains pass through for no discernible reason. I first read about this on Michael Turton’s blog and later saw it on my first round-the-island bicycle tour. More recently I took a spin around the southern loop once more, and spent a little extra time examining this concrete oddity in an attempt to divine its purpose.

Xinpi Machine Gun Fort 新埤反空降機槍碉堡

Sunset in a Japanese fortification in Xinpi

While cycling through Xinpi 新埤, an otherwise ordinary expanse of rural Pingtung 屏東, I was surprised to see a sign indicating that there was a “fort” somewhere in the area. I cut loose from the main road I was following and went to go investigate. After following a bend in the river just outside a small settlement I found it: a Japanese anti-aircraft fortification dating back to the late 1930s or early 1940s. I haven’t found a formal name for this fortification so I’m going to call it the Xinpi Machine Gun Tower 新埤反空降機槍碉堡 until I hear of something better.