In Search of Salt on the Outskirts of Lukang

A mysterious brick building on the outskirts of Lukang

Several months ago, after researching and writing a piece about the Qingkunshen Fan-Shaped Saltern 青鯤鯓扇形鹽田 of Tainan 台南, I ventured out to Lukang 鹿港 in search of the Lukang Saltworks 鹿港鹽場, a Japanese colonial era saltern that shut down in the 1960s. Whereas there are several good resources outlining the history of southern Taiwan’s salt industry I found nothing similar for anything north of the Zhuoshui River 濁水溪, the traditional dividing line between north and south Taiwan. Turning to Google Maps I browsed satellite imagery for evidence of salt evaporation ponds (here is a historic photo of one of Lukang’s salt fields to give you an idea of what I was looking for). I soon noticed a street by the name of Yancheng Lane 鹽埕巷, literally “Salt Yard Lane”, as well as several sites with grid-like structures obscured by overgrowth. When the opportunity arose to borrow a scooter in the area I jumped at the chance to put this cartographic sleuthing to the test. Was there any chance I’d find some relic of an industry that vanished half a century ago?

Hengwen Temple 衡文宮

The gigantic statue on top of Hengwen temple, Yuanlin

Hengwen Temple 衡文宮 is located on the south side of Yuanlin 員林, a mid-sized city in Changhua 彰化, Taiwan. Completed in 1976, this temple is mainly notable for its 72 foot-tall statue of Xuan Wu 玄武, literally “Dark Warrior”, alternately known as Xuan Di 玄帝 (“Dark Deity”) or Xuantian Shangdi 玄天上帝 (“Dark Heavenly Deity”) among many other names. The statue itself is a hollow structure containing several additional floors filled with murals depicting the origins of Xuan Wu as well as various small shrines. A similarly oversized statue of Xuan Wu can be seen on the famous Lotus Pond 蓮池潭 in Zuoying 左營, Kaohsiung 高雄, and there’s probably several more scattered around Taiwan, but this one is apparently the largest of its kind. Such claims are often difficult to verify as pretty much any temple with a big statue is likely to say the same thing.

Traces of an Army Maintenance Depot

A trace of martial history in Xinyi District

Xinyi District 信義區 is now one of the most expensive and upscale parts of Taiwan but it hasn’t always been that way. Decades ago it was an undesirable area on the edge of the city with a significant military-industrial presence, traces of which still remain if you know where to look. The open expanse of parks and parking lots around the intersection of Xin’an Street 信安街 and Wuxing Street 吳興街 immediately to the west of Taipei Medical University 臺北醫學大學 is one such trace.

Xinxing Theater 新興戲院

Down at ground level inside Xinxing Theater

Recently I visited Xinpu 新埔, a small Hakka town in the hills of Hsinchu 新竹, Taiwan, alongside fellow photographer and blogger Josh Ellis. I was curious to confirm reports of a historic theater along the former Entertainment Street 娛樂街 but the location in my notes was occupied by a construction site. Forging on, we continued down the road and were soon rewarded by the sight of something that I wasn’t expecting: Xinxing Theater 新興戲院. In hindsight it wouldn’t be an “entertainment street” without more than one cinema, would it?

Taichung Shark Cemetery 台中鯊魚墳場

A shark cemetery in Taichung

Taichung Shark Cemetery 台中鯊魚墳場 (pinyin: Shayu Fenchang) is an unlikely roadside attraction near Donghai University 東海大學 in Xitun 西屯, Taichung 台中. There is no great mystery here—a nearby restaurant and banquet hall by the name of Tong Hai Fish Village 東海漁村 dumped a bunch of junk in this farmer’s field sometime prior to 2009 and since then it has become a popular place for young Taiwanese to visit and take photos. Just have a look at the unofficial Facebook page or the relevant Instagram hashtag and location feeds for plenty of examples.

Huangxi Academy 磺溪書院

Intriguing architecture at Huangxi Academy

Built in 1887, Huangxi Academy 磺溪書院 is one of dozens of Qing dynasty era schools of classical studies in Taiwan. Located in Dadu 大肚, a small town in southwestern Taichung 台中, it provides a window into a time when scholarship was more closely interwoven with spirituality. Apart from classrooms and areas for quiet study the academy also has an altar to the Five Wenchang 五文昌: Kui Xing 魁星, Zhu Xi 朱熹, Guan Yu 關羽, Lu Dongbin 呂洞賓, and, of course, Wenchang 文昌 himself. Collectively these Taoist gods represent classical Chinese culture and several are commonly venerated by students prior to writing exams. Structurally the academy follows a plan similar to a traditional Taiwanese courtyard home or sanheyuan with the addition of a large gatehouse and pavilion.

Shuidui Settlement 水碓聚落

Still here after all these years

Taichung 台中 is undergoing a massive transformation as vast tracts of rural-industrial sprawl are cleared to make way for new developments around the high-speed rail station 高鐵台中站 and the future Taichung Metro system, particularly in Beitun 北屯, Nantun 南屯, and Wuri 烏日. Google’s satellite maps are out of sync with the streets, many of which are so new that they appear only as ghostly lines coursing through the former rice paddies. With large parts of the urban periphery slated for wholesale demolition and renewal many grassroots organizations have formed to preserve cultural assets found in these doomed territories—as was the case with the Shuinan Tobacco Barn 水湳菸樓. Today I chanced upon another example: Shuidui Juluo 水碓聚落, a rare 17th century Hakka settlement in Nantun 南屯 with an ambiguous future.

Dawu Theater 大武戲院

Inside an abandoned movie theater in Dawu

I stumbled upon the remains of Dawu Theater 大武戲院 while on a bicycle tour of southern Taiwan in 2015. Located in the small town of Dawu 大武, it was one of approximately 36 theaters operating in Taitung 台東 in the cinematic heyday of the 1960s and 70s, all of which are now abandoned or destroyed. This particular theater was in business from 1968 to 1983 and allegedly accommodated as many as 1,200 patrons, earning it the title of nanbatian 南霸天, or “southern tyrant”, for how it dominated the industry in the southernmost part of the county. Hardly anything remains after three decades of exposure that would identify Dawu Theater apart from a small sign in the antechamber.

South Taiwan Ride 2015: Dawu to Taitung City

Looking south from Taimali along the coastal highway in Taitung

My last big day of riding around south Taiwan in June 2015 began in Dawu 大武, Taitung 台東, with only about 55 kilometers to go before arriving in Taitung City 台東市. I had been out in the sun far too much the previous day and was feeling rather sluggish and a bit sick so I didn’t end up taking any side trips into the mountains as I made my way north. Even so, the scenery was fantastic, and while I won’t have as much to write about this particular day of my trip, I have plenty of beautiful photographs to share.

Nga Tsin Wai: The Last Walled Village of Kowloon

The entrance to Nga Tsin Wai Village 衙前圍村

Nga Tsin Wai Village 衙前圍村 is widely known as the last walled village of Kowloon 九龍. Located not far from the former location of the infamous Kowloon Walled City 九龍城寨, the village traces its history back to the 1352 founding of its modest Tin Hau Temple 天后宮. It was fortified in 1724 to defend against bandits and pirates but has, in modern times, lost the moat, walls, and watchtowers that once protected residents from harm. As the very last of its kind in the urban heart of Hong Kong 香港 it has become a flashpoint for conflict between the Urban Renewal Authority and the many activist groups and citizens passionate about preserving what remains of Kowloon’s cultural heritage.