Near the end of my first summer in Taiwan I visited Badouzi 八斗子, a rocky headland, coastal park, and major fishing port at the far eastern edge of Keelung 基隆. I went there on impulse, not knowing what to expect, just to see what was out there. Google Maps and Taiwan’s excellent public transit system make random explorations like this almost effortless: pick a point of interest and follow the directions—the digital equivalent of throwing a dart at a map. This post features a selection of retouched photos from this expedition alongside the sort of explanatory text I wouldn’t have been able to write back in 2013. Fair warning for arachnophobes: this post contains several gratuitous photos of giant spiders and other creepy crawlies!
Kuixing Temple 魁星宮 in Tamsui 淡水 is nominally dedicated to the eponymous Kuixing 魁星, god of examinations and one of the Five Wenchang 五文昌, a group of deities representative of classical Chinese culture. He typically takes the form of a man balanced on one foot with a writing brush in one hand, his body twisted in a pose suggestive of the strokes of Chinese calligraphy. But you didn’t come here to read about Kuixing—this temple is notable for being one of only a handful of sites in Taiwan venerating Chiang Kai-shek 蔣中正, president of the Republic of China until his death in 1975, as a god. For a time it was informally known as the Tamsui CKS Temple 淡水蔣中正廟.
Taitung City 台東市, the administrative capital of Taitung 台東, was my final destination on a multi-day bicycle tour around southern Taiwan in the summer of 2015. Previously I shared words and photos from every day on the road so this post will act as something of an epilogue. Start at the beginning or read the last chapter to get up to speed—or treat this as a singular post about some of what I saw in an extra day of exploration around the most remote major city on the Taiwanese mainland.
Quan’an Hall 全安堂 is a century-old building on Taiwan Boulevard 臺灣大道 not far from the old train station in Taichung 台中. Built in 1909 with red brick, reinforced concrete, and a Neo-Baroque style commonly attributed to Japanese architect Tatsuno Kingo 辰野金吾 (中文), it was a pharmacy for many decades, and more recently a bakery. A few years ago it was rebranded as the Taiwan Sun Cake Museum 台灣太陽餅博物館, which now operates a gift store on the ground floor and, beneath the exposed wooden beams of the restored rooftop on the second level, a cafe, event space, and interactive museum.
Liancun Tobacco Barn 鎌村菸樓 is a historic building on the agrarian outskirts of Fengyuan 豐原, Taichung 台中, and one of the last of its kind. Back in the tobacco industry heyday of the 1950s there were more than 100 tobacco barns in this small agricultural community. Almost all the others have been torn down or fallen into grave disrepair over the years but this one remains in surprisingly good condition, a testament to the upkeep of the owners, who still live inside. I haven’t had any luck sourcing credible historic information about this place—it isn’t an officially designated heritage property nor a tourist attraction—but I’d hazard a guess that it is at least 70 years old. I would have asked the old lady in the courtyard but she didn’t seem all that interested in having a chat—though she warmly granted permission to shoot these photographs when asked.
The south side of central Taichung 台中 is undergoing massive changes with the opening of the new Taichung Station. Formerly one of the most rundown parts of urban Taiwan, it is now the front of the station, and many old and decrepit buildings like this house on Dayong Street 大勇街 are being torn down to make way for lucrative new developments. It is a minor ruin, one for which I have uncovered no specific history, although a little sleuthing around on Google Street View indicates the building was still intact in February 2015 and boasted a simple signboard for a tea shop: 茶點複合式冷飲. Judging by the construction style I would guess this place dates back to the 1960s, give or take a decade. Gathered here are several photos shared more for their aesthetic appeal than intrinsic historic value.
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.