Ruimao Theater 瑞茂戲院 is an old wooden theater hidden in the winding laneways of Guogou 過溝, a small fishing and farming village in remote coastal Chiayi 嘉義, Taiwan. Nobody seems to know exactly when this theater was established, although there is general agreement it likely dates back to the early post-war era. Remarkably, it was one of two theaters in this settlement, and one of maybe a dozen along this stretch of coast in the 1970s, when salt production and oyster farming buoyed the local economy. As with most other theaters of its vintage, this one closed sometime in the 1980s.
Zicheng Theater 自成大戲院 is a derelict cinema located in Baozhong, a rural township on the coastal plains of Yunlin 雲林, Taiwan. After opening in 1966 this theater drew enormous crowds from the surrounding districts, particularly in its early years of operation, when it was customary for movie stars to appear on stage to promote new films. Business began to decline with the closure of the nearby sugar factory and the widespread adoption of home television in the late 1970s, ultimately leading to the final screening sometime around 1985. Since then the theater has remained idle, slowly decaying with the passage of years, its fading fortunes mirroring those of the surrounding settlement.
This entry documents my final day of riding on a bicycle trip down the Huadong Valley in 2018. I began with a short yet eventful spin around Taitung City 台東市, the administrative capital of Taitung 台東, and headed southwest across the alluvial plains before curving back to catch a train bound for Taipei 台北 in the afternoon. I already introduced the history, geography, and culture of Taitung City in this post from a previous visit in 2015, so I’ll focus on specific sites I visited on this particular trip.
Jincheng Theater 金城戲院 is located in Mailiao 麥寮, a rural township in northwestern Yunlin 雲林, Taiwan. This theater is something of a cypher; it was reputedly built in 1965, but may have only opened in 1968, and business records record only one transaction in 1975. It probably closed in the late 1980s or very early 1990s, a casualty of changing consumer habits and population outflow to larger urban centers. Beyond that, not much is known about this hulking monster of a theater, which may have accommodated something like 800 patrons at its peak.
Jianxin Theater 建新大戲院 is located in Yuanshulin 員樹林, a suburban area on the western outskirts of Daxi 大溪 in Taoyuan 桃園, Taiwan. Business records indicate an inception date of 1977, but not much is known about this theater apart from that. The last recorded transaction in 2000 sets an upper bound on when it was operating, but likely went out of business in the early 1990s, when most of the rest of Taiwan’s cinema industry collapsed. It now enjoys a second life as a parking garage for the nearby factories and residences.
Day four of riding through the Huadong Valley of eastern Taiwan in 2018 began in Yuli 玉里, the midpoint of this bicycle trip from Hualien City 花蓮市 to Taitung City 台東市. From the weather report I knew I’d have another challenging ride ahead—yet again the mercury was due to exceed 35 degrees. Luckily I was in no great rush, as I had allocated an entire week for a trip that experienced riders could easily manage in two days. I made good use of that extra time, making numerous stops and detours to document some of the many historic and cultural sites along the way, many of them quite obscure. I ended the day in Guanshan 關山, slightly more than 40 kilometers down the valley.
Jinxing Theater 金星大戲院 is located in the small town of Zhiben 知本 on the southern outskirts of Taitung City 台東市, Taitung 台東, in southeastern Taiwan. Zhiben is home to the Katipul group 卡地布部落 of the Puyuma people 卑南族, one of Taiwan’s recognized Indigenous groups, but this theater was constructed in 1967 to cater to the many KMT veterans who settled here after the completion of the Central Cross-Island Highway 中部橫貫公路. Named after Venus (literally “Golden Star” in Chinese), it went out of business shortly after it was sold to a lumber company in 1980 and has been abandoned ever since.
Day three of cycling down the Huadong Valley 花東縱谷 began with a hearty Taiwanese breakfast not far from the train station in Fenglin 鳳林, Hualien 花蓮. I was still recovering from a brush with heatstroke (a story documented in the previous entry in this series) so a traditional breakfast of danbing 蛋餅 (pan-fried egg rolls) and sweet black tea really hit the spot. A glance at the weather forecast indicated another full day of sunny skies and 35°C temperatures on the road—and even fewer opportunities for air-conditioned rest stops. I wasn’t too worried though; my loosely-planned itinerary of former Shinto shrines, industrial ruins, and other historic sites didn’t look all that challenging. Ultimately I ended up putting 60 kilometers of valley behind me, ending the day in Yuli 玉里.
My second day of riding Huadong Valley 花東縱谷 was not everything I hoped it would be. I didn’t manage a proper night’s rest due to a malfunctioning air condition and woke up feeling weak and dehydrated. With temperatures hitting 35°C on the road, and with fewer convenience store stops along the way, it turned out to be the most difficult day of riding on this particular trip back in May 2018. I originally planned to detour into the mountains to visit the village of Tongmen 銅門 and cruise around Carp Lake 鯉魚潭 on my way south. Instead I elected to head straight down Provincial Highway 9 through Ji’an 吉安 and Shoufeng 壽豐 into Fenglin 鳳林 to make up for lost time. Although I didn’t see nearly as much as planned I am glad to have an excuse to return to this part of Taiwan.
Zhongyang Theater 中央戲院 is located in Guanmiao 關廟, a rural district in southern Tainan 台南 with slightly less than 35,000 residents. The name is derived from a nearby street and simply means Central Theater. It was constructed in 1969, a few short years after an open-air movie theater began showing films on this plot of land just east of the biggest market in town. As with many Taiwanese cinemas of its vintage, it was in business until the late 1980s before winding down, another casualty of changing consumer habits, the collapse of local industry, and rural flight. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Zhongyang Theater, a milestone recently observed by Guanmiao Youth 關廟青, a group of local activists hoping to revitalize their hometown. They were successful in generating some some positive news coverage of the occasion, and now that this theater is in the news, I figure I may as well share my findings from several visits to the site over the last four years.