Donggong Theater 東宮戲院

Exterior view of Donggong Theater 東宮戲院

Donggong Theater 東宮戲院 is located in Dongshi, a Hakka majority township in mountainous central Taichung 台中. Dongshi (or Tungshih in the older Wade–Giles Romanization system) is the gateway to the densely forested interior and was a major center of the lumber industry in Taiwan prior to its decline in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Disaster struck in 1999 with the devastating 921 Earthquake. Dongshi was among the worst hit; over 300 people lost their lives and hundreds of buildings collapsed—but not this grand old theater.

Clean Your Head

Ear cleaning shop in Wanhua

Here’s something you might not have seen before: a professional ear cleaning service in Wanhua District 萬華區! When I shot this photo while riding around a couple of months ago I assumed it was a run-of-the-mill ear, nose, and throat doctor with a quirky sign out front. Turns out this is a famous shop by the name of Erqiang Qingli de Jia 耳腔清理的家 (loosely: “Ear Canal Cleaning Home”) where you can have your ears cleaned by a “professional ear cleaning master” (zhuanye tao’er shi 專業掏耳師) for about 500 NT. Apparently Yao Bin 姚賓, the octogenarian proprietor, will be happy to show off jars filled with grotesque things he has unearthed over the course of five decades of aural spelunking.

A Gem of a Storefront

Xinfu Jewelry in Hsinchu

A classy storefront in Hsinchu not far from the train station.

This storefront immediately caught my eye when I arrived in Hsinchu 新竹 a few hours ago. Both the facade and the lettering are unusually classy, showing a vintage style of design not commonly seen here in Taiwan. This is a jewelry shop, as the clever use of characters would suggest, and its formal name is Xinfu Zhubao 鑫府珠寶. The first character, xin 鑫, is known as a sandiezi 三叠字, or triplet character, and is composed of three instances of jin 金, which means gold. Whoever designed the lettering obviously had some fun integrating a sparkling jewel into the two characters on either side of the shop’s name!…

Taipei Biennial 2014: Art in the Age of the Anthropocene

Hammock and tea at the Taipei Biennial 2014

Curated by Nicolas Bourriaud, the Taipei Biennial 2014 was held at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum 臺北市立美術館 in Zhongshan District 中山區 from September into the early part of the new year. The theme is “art in the age of the anthropocene”, the current geophysical epoch defined by humankind’s enormous impact on the natural world. From the curator’s notes: this exhibition is organized around the cohabitation of human consciousness with swarming animals, data processing, the rapid growth of plants and the slow movements of matter. I am no serious critic but I certainly appreciate thought-provoking art when I see it. Since I haven’t any expertise in this area I’m mostly going to let the photos speak for themselves, however incomprehensible that might be. Much like the Xu Bing retrospective it was an inspiring experience so I’d like to have a record of it here on my blog.

Taichung Times Square 時代大廣場

The sign for Times Square 時代大廣場

Times Square on a sunny day in February. It is not abandoned any more.

This might be the only photograph of Times Square 時代大廣場 in Taichung 台中 I will post on this blog. Despite numerous reports of abandonment for the better part of a decade (for instance here, here, here, here, and here) it appears to have been undergone some renewal in the last year or so. Previously there were a few tenants still holding on at the margins but nowadays there are many more. It would seem as if this aging relic has been occupied by Southeast Asians, likely Filipinos given the presence of a community church on the third floor (with many people sitting around outside of it when I visited today). The underground levels are still abandoned but there wasn’t much of interest to see down there.

At any rate, I have followed leads in Taiwan and found places that were demolished or inaccessible, but I don’t recall ever following a lead as strong…

Archaic Squid Soup

Cengji Squid Soup in Sanhe Night Market

I was wandering through Sanhe Night Market 三和夜市 on the first day of the new year when this small shop caught my eye. The formal name of the place is Cengji Huazhigeng 曾記花枝羹 and, as the last three characters would suggest, they specialize in squid thick soup, a popular Taiwanese snack. The highly stylized characters on the signboard look something like seal script 篆書 to my inexpert eyes—with the last character, “geng 羹”, swapped for the more traditional “焿”. Don’t ask me to make sense of that first character, mind you—it is enough to know that “hua 花” means flower.

A Glimpse of Gogo Mall

Gogo Mall from a distance

Having just shared a photo from an abandoned Sogo department store in Zhongli 中壢 I can’t resist also posting about the Gogo Mall building I found in Yonghe 永和 about a month ago. I was there in search of an entrance to the abandoned Miramar Theater 美麗華戲院, one of many abandoned theaters in Yonghe, but all entrances were sealed. Initially I visited at night and assumed it was a derelict building but on my second visit I saw signs of renovation through an open window. Perhaps some effort is being undertaken to redevelop the place.

First Dispatch From Zhongli

A rundown building near Zhongli Station

Last week I moved from Taipei 台北 to Zhongli 中壢, a mid-sized city of approximately half a million1 about 45 minutes down the Western Line 西部幹線 in the heart of Taoyuan 桃園. I have been all around the island but haven’t explored much of what you might call the “middle north”, the strongly Hakka-influenced area stretching from the rugged borders of New Taipei 新北 south to Taichung 台中 that includes Taoyuan 桃園, Hsinchu 新竹, and Miaoli 苗栗. Perhaps by staying here awhile I will find opportunities to explore more of this part of Taiwan and fill in some blank spots on my personal map.

Taiwanese Scooter Stickers 1

The friendly scooter on earth

Taiwan is absolutely mad for scooters, a consequence of high population density, tightly cramped streets, and the expense and inconvenience of driving a car. Everywhere you go you’ll find streets lined with parked scooters and filled with scooterists going about their business. In can all seem like absolute chaos to outsiders—but there is a method to the madness, and the convenience factor regularly seduces skeptical westerners into the scooter lifestyle, particularly when living outside of Taipei 台北.

One unusual feature of Taiwanese scooters are the cheeky stickers commonly found on the body. These stickers typically feature the make and model of the scooter—but for reasons unknown to me, poorly translated slogans full of Chinglish are also common, particularly on older scooters. About a year ago I chanced upon a link to a collection of scooter stickers published by Jonathan Biddle way back in 2005. Shortly thereafter I began documenting some of the more intriguing examples of scooter stickers I found in my travels, mostly around Changhua 彰化. This post contains 17 of the more interesting examples I have collected in this time.

Remember the Sunflowers

The dawning of the Sunflower Student Movement

A year ago the Taiwanese people stood up to their elected government and halted the passage of a controversial free trade agreement by occupying the Legislative Yuan. This act of mass civil disobedience was soon christened the Sunflower Student Movement. I was living in Taipei 台北 when it all went down and visited the protest on several nights to watch history unfold. I am not a professional photographer, political observer, nor journalist, so please excuse the poor technical quality of the images and lack of elaboration in this gallery. It is my hope that these pictures capture something of the spirit of those wild, uncertain nights when anything seemed possible.