Beidou 北斗 is home to the historic Yuandong Theater 遠東戲院 (literally “Far East Theater”, a common name), originally built in 1955. Like most vintage theaters in Taiwan it struggled through the home video era and eventually shut down in the late 1990s. Unlike many other cinemas of its generation it does not appear to have been subdivided into smaller theaters prior to going out of business. It was, however, converted for use as a karaoke bar or gambling den at some point, judging by what I observed on a recent visit. As of 2015 the interior is used for nothing more than storage, particularly for a restaurant that has since colonized the area adjacent to the former ticket booth and entrance.
In late November of last year I was riding through southern Changhua 彰化 on my way to Beidou 北斗 when I noticed an unusually old building at the side of the highway. With a little research I puzzled out this is the obscure Bafen Catholic Church 八分天主堂, a parish dating back to 1906 and located in Meizhou Village 梅州里 on the western outskirts of Tianzhong 田中. I haven’t found any primary source material establishing its age—but the style of the church reminds me of Zhongshan Hall 中山堂 (originally Ershui Public Hall 二水公會堂) in neighbouring Ershui 二水, originally built during the Japanese colonial era in 1930. At a glance I would guess it was built sometime between 1940 and 1960.
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.
During a recent visit to Xizhou 溪州, a small rural township in southern Changhua 彰化, I made a brief stop to check out the historic Chenggong Hostel 成功旅社. I had no idea what to expect, having learned of its existence while browsing Google Maps in search of points of interest, and was pleasantly surprised by what I found there. It is privately owned and operated but they’ve gone to great lengths to preserve the building, transforming it into a tourist attraction and community space. The ground floor is home to a shop showcasing local products and a dual-purpose agricultural library and event space. Upstairs is something of a museum, lightly furnished with rickety beds and tatami mats. The floorboards creak and there is a mustiness about the place that makes it feel genuinely old. It wasn’t difficult to imagine what it might have been like half a century ago in the midst of the sugar boom.
Yesterday I made a brief stop in Wuri 烏日 to located and document the Japanese colonial era stationmaster residence. A metal fence has been erected outside the residence so I went for a walk around the perimeter to look for another point of entry. Along the way I passed several derelict and abandoned homes of a more recent vintage. These homes were constructed in a more provisional style common to the KMT authoritarian era and were probably built to house railway workers or military veterans and their dependents—but that’s just a guess. Whatever the case, I was momentarily transfixed by the vivid shade of blue on the trimmings of one of these modest homes and lined up a shot of the overstuffed mailbox worth sharing. You may also notice duplicate address plates which reminds me—I’d love to know when various versions of those plates entered into use in different districts.
Today I breezed through southern Taichung 台中 on my way to the high-speed rail station and parts beyond. Along the way I made a brief stop in Wuri 烏日 to follow up on a lead I uncovered while researching my much longer feature about the historic Japanese colonial era Wuri Police Station. Apart from the police station there are two other officially designated historic sites in the district (with nearby Jukuiju Mansion almost certain to become the fourth in the near future). One of these is the former Stationmaster Residence 站長宿舍 next to Wuri Station 烏日車站, pictured here. Despite its status as a heritage property the city has done nothing to restore it and little to maintain the old residence. About all they’ve done in recent years is put up metal fencing sturdy enough to prevent the intrusion of mildly curious explorers such as myself.
In the absence of a more thorough history that’s about all I have to say about this find. For a few more photos of this old ruin have a look at this blog from 2013. Finally, for those of you uncertain who or what a stationmaster is, Wikipedia has you covered.
Gathered here are around forty of my better photographs from a five day stay in Hanoi, Vietnam, in November 2016. All of these images were captured while idly wandering around the famous Old Quarter and its environs. I was not particularly adventurous on this trip but I still managed to find plenty to feast my eyes upon—and the food and coffee certainly lived up to expectations! I also found it interesting to apply some of my growing knowledge of East Asian culture gleaned from these years of living in Taiwan. Each photo is annotated with onward links to more information should anything pique your interest.
This week I visited the small town of Xizhou 溪州 in southern Changhua 彰化 to locate the eponymous Xizhou Theater 溪州戲院. I found no way into the theater but made a serendipitous discovery while walking around the block in search of another access point. Across the street I noticed the utilitarian outline of the former Xizhou Telecom Bureau 溪州原電信局, a modest building that once housed a combined post office and service counter for the state phone company, then known as the Directorate General of Telecommunications (DGT) 交通部電信總局. The sign above the entrance simply reads Dianxinju 電信局, or “telecommunications bureau”, which is all anyone needed to know in those days. Taiwan’s telecom monopoly was broken up in 1996 with the privatization of what became known as Chunghwa Telecom 中華電信. In the absence of any sort of historic information about this obscure abandoned office I’d guess it was built sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s.
Taichung 台中 is changing fast. The historic downtown area, formerly one of the worst examples of inner city blight in the nation, is presently undergoing a massive urban renewal effort. Some decaying and disused commercial buildings have been restored, many more await their fate, and others have been demolished before I’ve even had a chance to document their interiors. Zhongsen Theater 中森戲院 belongs to this last category: it came down after I shot a preliminary set of photos but before I had a chance to sneak inside. You have to move fast to capture these small histories in their unmaking.
Donghe Theater 東和戲院 is an obscure ruin in the small historic town of Shuangxi 雙溪 in the mountains of eastern New Taipei 新北. Despite its diminutive size and remote location the town has a history going back to the Qing dynasty era. During the mining boom of the early 20th century Shuangxi became prosperous enough to warrant the establishment of an outpost of cinema. When the town’s fortunes declined so did this theater—but nowadays anyone is welcome to wander in and take a look at what remains here at the confluence of Mudan Creek 牡丹溪 and the eponymous Shuang River 雙溪.