The Seeds of Unrest

A tribute to Dapu

Part of a mural by Taiwanese artist Liu Tsungjung 劉宗榮 in Dapu village.

Last night I went to Dapu Village in Zhunan 竹南, the northernmost township in Miaoli 苗栗, for a concert and movie screening commemorating the treacherous demolition of four homes last year. The event took place on the former site of Chang Pharmacy, whose owner, Chang Sen-wen 張森文, was later found dead in a drainage ditch in an apparent suicide. This occurred not long after the government razed his home and business to the ground with all his possessions still inside. In a cruel twist of fate the Chang family was served a bill for demolition equalling the financial compensation offered by the government—leaving them with absolutely nothing. Eminent domain may serve the public interest in special circumstances—but this was outright robbery by the state.

The Dapu incident1, in brief: Miaoli 苗栗 magistrate Liu Zhenghong 劉政鴻 (pictured above, at left) ordered the expropriation of 156 hectares of land in…

Gushan Village Old Homes 姑山里老屋

A Japanese-era building in rural Dashu district, Kaohsiung

I was off the main road in Gushan Village 姑山里 in Dashu 大樹, a hilly rural district in Kaohsiung 高雄, when I noticed a row of old buildings next to a small temple. Stopping to investigate, I unslung my camera and snapped a few shots, not quite realizing what I was looking at. My mind was elsewhere—a consequence of two hard days of riding in the tropical summer sun. I was, at the time, heading south to the railway line after making it to Qishan the night before and touring through Meinong 美濃 earlier in the day. Only later, when I went to develop the photos, did I notice the faint traces of the Japanese rising sun flag in the top right corner of the building pictured above. At one point these stone flags must have been painted bright red, a reflection of Japanese imperial interests in Taiwan.

Changren Waste Flues 長仁廢煙道

Remnants of a lost kingdom

The waste flues of Ruifang 瑞芳 are an extraordinary sight. The ruins of these massive, crumbling conduits run for miles up the mountainside from the Shuinandong Smelter 水湳洞精鍊廠 and the rest of the abandoned mining complex below. Originally built during the KMT authoritarian era to transport noxious fumes and waste gases away from the refinery—and nearby settlements like Jinguashi 金瓜石—these flues are reputedly the longest in the world.

A Long Ride From Tainan to Changhua

Heading off the main highway in rural Tainan

I have been working very hard these last few weeks—a little too hard, at times. To break the monotony of laying code every day I elected to go for a proper ride yesterday. Since moving to Tainan 台南 I haven’t gone on any long rides whatsoever—so I geared up for a day on the road, preparing for almost any eventuality. I had several destinations in mind such as the badlands to the east of the city but struck out to the north on a whim, intending to make it to at least Chiayi City 嘉義市 by sundown.

Harbour City 海灣新城

The living ruins of Harbour City

Harbour City 海灣新城 is an imposing ruin sprawling along the coastline not far from Cape Fugui 富貴角 at the northernmost tip of Taiwan. I first noticed it on my round-the-island bicycle tour last year but did not stop to explore, having already spent much of my daylight riding time poking around the UFO houses of Wanli 萬里.

More recently I set out on a two-day urban exploration road trip with a friend from the Netherlands. Late in the afternoon on the first day we were thrown out of an abandoned amusement park in nearby Jinshan 金山. Not having anything better to do with the remaining hour or so of daylight, I suggested we make our way up the coast to Shimen 石門 to investigate the ruin I had seen the previous year.

Wufeng Minsheng Clinic 霧峰民生診所

Green chairs at the abandoned clinic

On the way back from the 921 Earthquake Museum 九二一地震教育園區 in early 2014 I noticed an abandoned building at the side of the highway in rural Wufeng 霧峰. Stopping to investigate, at first I assumed it must have once operated as a buxiban 補習班, or cram school, a common feature of the social landscape here in Taiwan, but that initial hypothesis turned out to be completely wrong. Years later it was brought to my attention that this was originally Minsheng Clinic 霧峰民生診所, the office of a country doctor by the name of Lin Pengfei 林鵬飛. He passed away several years ago, leading to the abandonment of the clinic. More recently it was purchased by local farmers, completely renovated, and has reopened as a small museum and community center, the Wufeng Minsheng Story House 霧峰民生故事館.

Minxiong Liu Family Mansion 民雄劉家洋樓

Wrapped around the window of the Minxiong ghost house

The Liu Family Mansion 劉家古厝 in Minxiong 民雄, Chiayi 嘉義, is one of the most famous ruins in all Taiwan. Situated in the countryside just outside of town, this old Baroque Revival-style red brick building is more informally known as the dreaded Minxiong Ghost House 民雄鬼屋. It was built in 1929 for Liu Rongyu 劉溶裕, a businessman with seven children, and appears to have been abandoned sometime in the early 1950s, not long after the end of Japanese colonial rule.

A Traditional Home in Dacun 大村三合院

An abandoned courtyard home in Dacun township

Today I would like to take you inside an abandoned sanheyuan 三合院, a traditional Taiwanese courtyard home. This particular home is in Dacun 大村, a rural township in Changhua 彰化, but it is not unique. The Taiwanese countryside is littered with thousands of these old homes, many of which have fallen into disrepair and abandonment over the years. I have given this place a name but it is merely a description of convenience. Chances are it has no formal name.

Renoir Resort Club 雷諾瓦俱樂部

The other side of the Renoir resort club 雷諾瓦俱樂部

Renoir Resort Club 雷諾瓦俱樂部 is a surprising find in Guanziling 關子嶺, the most famous and well-developed hot springs town in Baihe 白河, Tainan 台南. I went to stay there one night in the spring of 2014 to have a look—but I didn’t expect to find an abandoned club next door to where I was staying. I should have known—this is Taiwan, an urban exploration utopia. There are abandoned buildings absolutely everywhere. Sometimes you will get lucky and discover someplace cool without even trying.

An Abandoned Home on Yinhe Road 銀河路老屋

The abandoned homestead from the roadside

One fine morning in February 2014 I decided to go out riding. I had seen photos of a beautiful cliffside temple next to a waterfall in Xindian 新店 and it looked to be within easy reach of my place in Jingmei. I set out for the highway leading to Pinglin, passing through the sprawl of southern Taipei 台北 under the warm winter sun. The roadway began to steepen as I reached the outskirts of the city. Struggling against gravity—but enjoying every minute of it—I ascended into the hills before taking a turn onto Yinhe Road 銀河路 (the literal translation of which is “silver river”, better known to us as the Milky Way).