Hsin Kang Theater 新港戲院 is located in the small town of Xingang, Chiayi, not far from the famous Fengtian Temple 奉天宮. Multiple sources agree it went out of business in 1988—a victim of shifting consumer preferences and demographic changes in small town Taiwan—but the actual age of the building is somewhat uncertain. This academic reference suggests it was founded in 1929, in the midst of the Japanese colonial era, but the theater was almost certainly renovated or completely rebuilt in the post-war period.
One of the last of the many vintage theaters of Tainan seems to have finally closed its doors. Founded in 1964, the notorious Xinjianguo Theater 新建國戲院 was originally named for its location on Jianguo Road 建國路, which was later renamed Minquan Road 民權路. It is not uncommon for old theaters in Taiwan to resort to showing pornography in the twilight of their decline but this particular theater appears to have specialized in more carnal forms of entertainment for much of its history. Perhaps this is why this theater remained in business until very recently—long after most of the nation’s hundreds of other standalone theaters shut down in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The obscure Lize Theater 利澤戲院 is located in the village of Lizejian 利澤簡 in Wujie, a rural township just east of Luodong in Yilan, Taiwan. Built in 1964, it once served as a cinema and playhouse, hosting a variety of films and live theater performances for the local populace before slipping into decline in the 1980s, a little earlier than most other theaters I’ve visited around the nation. Afterwards the theater was converted for use as a clothing factory but this also went out of business. Nowadays the building is more disused than abandoned, as descendants of the original owner are still making use of the structure for storage and other purposes. In a stroke of good luck I happened to visit while the door was open—and after communicating my interest in the history of old theaters in Taiwan I was invited in for a brief chat and look around. Each theater has its own story to tell—but in this case I was particularly interested in learning why a theater was built in such a small and seemingly unimportant village.
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. Technically this abandonment is located within Guishan, 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 with Taipei 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.
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.
Ershui Assembly Hall 二水公會堂 is located in Ershui, a small town at the very southern edge of Changhua, on the border with both Yunlin (to the south) and Nantou (to the east). It is one of approximately 70 assembly halls built all around Taiwan to accommodate large public gatherings during the Japanese colonial era. This particular example was built in 1930 and is one of three remaining in Changhua. The other two—in Changhua City and Lukang—are both fully restored heritage properties open to the public, but the smaller Ershui Assembly Hall has been derelict for years, a consequence of a long-running legal dispute between the landlord and local government complicating preservation efforts.
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, recently named the fastest-growing district in New Taipei. Media reports often describe it as the Linkou Monster House (林口怪怪屋) and it regularly appears alongside the Longtan Monster 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 wanted to cover the cost of demolition until recently.
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.
Today I went to investigate reports of an abandoned building on the edge of Ximending (西門町), a busy commercial district in central Taipei. It is fairly well-known due to its central location but I could find no easy means of entry for the very same reasons. From this television news report it sounds as if this was originally the Zhongwai Department Store Company (中外百貨公司) and later the Yangyang Department Store (洋洋百貨). While it isn’t surprising to find such ruins around much of Taiwan it is somewhat unusual to see in such a prosperous area. The building is for rent, as I understand it, and much of the aforementioned report seems concerned with the outrageous price tag for such a decaying monstrosity.
Despite having spent a lot of time in Yuanlin, a mid-sized city in central Changhua, Taiwan, I have only recently begun to explore some of its more famous ruins. Among these is Yuanlin Hospital 員林醫院, formally the Changhua County Yuanlin Hospital 彰化縣立員林醫院, originally built in 1963 and operational until the the turn of the millennium. Nowadays it is one of the more notorious abandoned places in central Taiwan, where it is regularly featured in news reports, particularly around Ghost Month 鬼月. Taiwanese media engage in an annual outpouring of overly sensationalized stories about haunted places—and hospitals, as liminal spaces of birth and death, often appear in such reports, complicating research into the real story of what went on.