Keelung 基隆, like many cities in Taiwan, is a dark wonderland for urban exploration. You can hardly turn around without sighting yet another hulking ruin calling out to be entered. Most of these buildings are so decrepit that little remains to indicate what its purpose once was—a direct consequence of Keelung’s incessant rain and gloom. The process of decay works at a feverish pace in this grim port city, rapidly eroding evidence of human occupation in any abandonment exposed to the elements.
In May 2015 I toured the city with a friend who shares my passion for adventure and discovery. We visited a number of ruins earlier in the day (something to speak of in future posts) before giving ourselves up to chance and happenstance by driving around with our eyes peeled for signs of disuse. This is how we found Tǒngyī Bowling Alley 統一保齡球館 (Tongyi is “United”), originally built in 1972 and closed the previous year.
When we first entered the building we had no idea what it was. At that time neither of us could read enough Chinese to parse the sign out front, but it’s just as well, for that would have spoiled the fun of puzzling things out for ourselves. My first hypothesis was that it had been a car dealership—as evidenced by the sprawling size of the place and its location at a major intersection. There were no clues to be found on the ground floor, only huge piles of debris lost in darkness and illuminated only for brief seconds as our torches swept over them1.
Upstairs things started to take shape. Here we found an office at the top of the stairway and several piles of scrap machinery, all of it completely unrecognizable at the time. While I attempted to puzzle things out and line up some shots my compatriot crossed the vast open expanse of the second floor. There he found a bowling ball—and we had our answer.
Does this place look like it had been abandoned only last year? I was shocked to find a calendar from 2014 in what I would assume was once a kitchen off to one side. Entropy works fast here in Keelung, though in fairness this place was stripped clean and gutted before the previous owners left.
For whatever reason the rooftop is the final resting place for many gaming machines that once occupied the old bowling alley. Someone must have hauled them up here and smashed them to bits. We also found a number of other relics up here, none of which were particularly photogenic after having been exposed to a year of rain and wind. The view of the port from the rooftop was superb, but it was also precarious, what with the green moss and algal film growing all over the place. One misstep and we might have tumbled through one of the gaping holes in the structure.
One final anecdote from this exploration: there were apartments attached to the bowling alley for some reason. We wandered in through the rooftop access door and had a quick look around. I tried the first we encountered but it was locked. I proceeded down the hallway, jokingly remarking that it was about time to start kicking down doors—not something I usually do—since the place seemed obviously uninhabited. Just as I unslung my camera to inspect the disaster in the next room I heard a bang from behind me, and a great uproar. I spun around and saw an old man standing in the doorway, shock and outrage written on his face. Here we were—two no-good foreigners attempting to break in!
If you read into the urban exploration literature in other nations you’ll find a common theme: many explorers are paranoid about running into squatters and homeless people when exploring the ruins. But this is Taiwan, and within seconds the old man was smiling broadly, his teeth stained red from betel nut juice, appreciating the absurdity of the situation. I mean, just look at the photos I’ve shared here—would you imagine anyone living in this place? Hilariously, just as both of us were expressing genuine regret at having disturbed him, the old man launched into what you might call “the script”, the standard list of questions that most older Taiwanese people ask foreigners. “Where are you from, America?” “No, England. My friend here is from Canada.” Looking back I totally should have asked to take a group photo.
One side effect of such a recent abandonment is that the place still has a social media presence on Facebook, among other places. Browse around and you can see the place in its twilight years here and here. There’s more if you go searching for the Chinese name of the place—but you probably get the idea. This was not exactly the most happening place in town these last few years. The entire building was demolished sometime after my visit and nothing remains as of January 2016.