Chinese Chewing Gum

Chinese Chewing Gum

A betel nut stand in front of the train station in Shuili.

Recently I stopped in Shuili 水里 while on my way to Puli 埔里 by scooter. There, while waiting out a rainstorm on the main street in front of the historic train station, I noticed an unusual betel nut booth with a fetching green sign. “Chinese chewing gum” is a curious phrase, not one I recall noticing before, and it is also peculiar to see an exclusively English sign out here in the mountainous heart of the nation. Searching around, I chanced upon a short documentary describing betel nut as Taiwan chewing gum, which still sounds somewhat odd. What sort of gum gets you high and stains your teeth red?…

Xiluo Huasheng Theater 西螺華聲戲院

Xiluo’s Abandoned Yisheng Theater

Xiluo 西螺 is justifiably famous for Xiluo Theater, the Japanese colonial era theater located close to the architectural wonders of Yanping Old Street 延平老街, but this small town on the south bank of the sluggish Zhuoshui River 濁水溪 was once home to two additional theaters. Almost no mention of these other theaters can be found except in this news report about a local painter—but while browsing around satellite view on Google Maps I managed to locate Huasheng Theater 華聲戲院 (also known as Yisheng Theater 一生戲院).

Shuangxikou Brick Kiln 雙溪口磚窯

The Tall Chimney of the Shuangxikou Brick Kiln

Recently I wrote about the Liujiao Brick Kiln 六腳磚窯, an obscure abandonment in rural Chiayi 嘉義, Taiwan. While attempting to find out more about that kiln I found a reference to a second abandoned kiln in the area, the Shuangxikou Brick Kiln 雙溪口磚窯, informally named after the closest village in neighboring Puzi 朴子. Weeks after visiting the first kiln I returned to scope out the second and—insofar as I can tell—only other remaining brick kiln in this expanse of the Chianan Plain 嘉南平原. It was a hazy, grey day out there so these photos aren’t nearly as nice as those of the other kiln, but in the interest of adding a little something to the historic record I’m sharing them here anyway.

Xinying Chenggong Theater 新營成功戲院

An Old Projector at Chenggong Theater

Despite its relative obscurity Xinying 新營 is the largest settlement along the railway line between metropolitan Tainan City 台南市 and Chiayi City 嘉義市. It is the former capital of Tainan County prior to amalgamation in 2010 and remains the second administrative seat of Tainan 台南 alongside Anping 安平. Located on the broad and fertile Chianan Plain 嘉南平原, it was also an important transportation hub for the sugar industry, and what remains of the Japanese colonial era sugar factory can still be found on the south side of town. These facts—the size of the town, its former importance, and the presence of a sugar factory—suggest that Xinying was almost certainly home to several standalone movie theaters in its heyday. After doing some research online I established that this was indeed the case—and in February 2017 I swung through to investigate rumours of several old theaters. One of these turned out to be a rather unusual example of a ruined KMT authoritarian era cinema by the name of Chenggong Theater 成功戲院.

Liujiao Brick Kiln 六腳磚窯

A Brick Kiln in the Backyard

Liujiao Brick Kiln 六腳磚窯 was an unexpected discovery while riding from Beigang 北港 to Puzi 朴子 earlier this summer. The chimney is plainly visible from the roadside and the crumbling bulk of the kiln can be discerned in a gap between the row of houses out front. Stopping to take a closer look I went around (and through) the old kiln to document what remains. Liujiao 六腳 is a rather obscure part of rural Chiayi 嘉義 so I’ve not found any mention of this place online apart from this brief post. Whereas several kilns in various other parts of Taiwan are being preserved this obscure ruin is almost certainly never going to be the object of a conservation effort.

Immense Interface

An Urban Interface in Chiayi City

The bare interface between two buildings in Chiayi City, one no longer present.

Over the last several years I’ve grown interested in the aesthetics of the interfaces between buildings, something that I recently learned is known as a party wall. These interfaces are not designed to be seen—but here in Taiwan, where little value is placed on appearances in the urban environment, it is not uncommon to see these interfaces exposed long after an adjoining building is torn down. Another of my photography side projects involves the documentation of these exposed interfaces—and this immense field of wooden slats running up the side of a building in Chiayi City 嘉義市 makes a nice addition to the collection.…

Wanshou Road Residential Ruins 萬壽路廢棄社區

An abandoned residential tower on Wanshou Road

Taiwan is riddled with failed construction projects, monuments to avarice, incompetence, and bureaucracy. Building defects, mismanagement, and land ownership disputes are common causes, but legal battles, limited funding for costly demolitions, and a lack of political often ensure such projects remain a blight on the urban landscape of the nation. One such project can be found along Wanshou Road 萬壽路 at the western margins of the Taipei Basin 台北盆地 not far from Huilong Station 迴龍站, terminus of the orange line of the Taipei MRT in Xinzhuang, New Taipei 新北. Technically this abandonment is located within Guishan 龜山, for the district boundary sweeps down from the hills and loops around a mostly industrial area sprawling along a small valley leading the rest of the way to the flatlands of the basin. Given that this road is one of the main arteries connecting Taoyuan 桃園 with Taipei 台北 these twin 17-storey towers, typically identified as the Wanshou Road Residential Ruins 萬壽路廢棄社區, are regularly the subject of inquiries on PTT and other parts of the Taiwanese internet.

Binh Tay Market

Out front at Binh Tay Market in Ho Chi Minh City

This week I am visiting Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, on another side trip from Taiwan. Six months ago I visited Hanoi and enjoyed my time there—check out this photo gallery for a comprehensive overview—so I’m hoping to repeat the experience in the emerging megacity further south.

My first walkabout brought me to District 5 in search of Cholon, HCMC’s historic Chinatown, which was originally a settlement separate from colonial Saigon. Cholon literally means “Big Market” so I made a point of visiting Binh Tay Market (Vietnamese: Chợ Binh Tây), which is just over the border in District 6. Along the way I noticed many temporary structures along the roadway so it was no great surprise to discover the famous market closed for what I would assume is renovation.

Linkou Lightning Building 林口閃電大樓

The infamous lightning building of Linkou

The Linkou Lightning Building 林口閃電大樓 is an infamous ruin not far from the newly-opened Taoyuan Airport MRT line in Linkou 林口, recently named the fastest-growing district in New Taipei 新北. It is also known as the Linkou Strange House 林口怪怪屋 and occasionally appears in Taiwanese media alongside the Longtan Strange House and other examples of the genre. While I wish there were a good story to go along with these photos it sounds as if it is simply a failed construction project where nobody wants to cover the cost of demolition.

Dong’an Theater 東安戲院

An oblong look at Dong’an Theater

Recently I added yet another theater to my growing catalogue of old school cinemas in Taiwan: the derelict Dong’an Grand Theater 東安大戲院 in East Tainan. This theater opened in 1969 and closed its doors not long after the turn of the millennium, another victim of changing consumer habits. I wasn’t able to find a way inside this theater so this post only features a handful of exterior shots and some links I chanced upon after conducting preliminary research.