On the way back from the 921 Earthquake Museum 九二一地震教育園區 in early 2014 I noticed an abandoned building at the side of the highway in rural Wufeng. Stopping to investigate, at first I assumed it must have once operated as a bǔxíbān 補習班, or cram school, a common feature of the social landscape here in Taiwan, but that initial hypothesis turned out to be completely wrong. Years later it was brought to my attention that this was originally Mínshēng Clinic 霧峰民生診所, the office of a country doctor by the name of Lín Péngfēi 林鵬飛. He passed away several years ago, leading to the abandonment of the clinic. More recently it was purchased by local farmers, completely renovated, and has reopened as a small museum and community center, the Wufeng Minsheng Story House 霧峰民生故事館.
Part of why I got this one wrong has to do with conflicting signals at the site. Near the entrance I found a rack with several wooden tablets hanging from it. These tablets, inscribed with prayers and wishes, are known as ema, and they are a relatively common sight in temples and certain tourist attractions. One of the wishes was dated 2013 so my guess is that the rack was dumped here sometime after the abandonment—but I could be wrong about that. As for the hand-painted QR code, don’t ask me. I tried cleaning it up and submitting it to various online QR code readers but came up empty. Is this where wishes go to die?
Inside the building was mostly empty. It looked like it had been abandoned for a very long time judging by the amount of dust around—though not every area was equally dusty. Upstairs the landing was filled with trash. Someone dumped a lot of garbage here, which isn’t hugely uncommon in residential abandonments. Thankfully not much of the garbage was organic. Mostly it was old clothes and junk that nobody would want.
Often when I explore abandoned buildings in Taiwan I see almost no evidence of anyone having been there in years. I have more recently learned that this is something of an illusion; Taiwan has a thriving urban exploration subculture but people are generally very good about leaving no trace. Not so in this case, as the clinic had been used by students from the nearby Asia University 亞洲大學 for a school project.
Evidence of this school project could still be found in one of the small rooms on the second floor. Here someone had posted up many small photos on the decaying old walls, all of which can be seen here. Taking a closer look it was obvious all these photos had been shot within and around the abandoned building. This was puzzling to me at the time. Were the students using the place as a club house, a place to shoot photos for commencement and graduation?
As I crept through the hallways on the second floor I formulated several hypotheses about what the building might have been used for. When I entered the room with all the green chairs I figured it must have been a cram school at one point. Why else would all these seats with desks be laying about? I saw no sign of chalkboards or anything else that would indicate a buxiban. With no better idea, and having found no information about the place online while conducting research after the fact, I originally posted this piece as Wufeng Cram School 霧峰補習班. Now I recognize these “classrooms” for what they really are: waiting rooms!
Next to the waiting room I unlatched a narrow wooden door and went up a stairway leading up to the rooftop. Leaf litter deposited at the foot of the stairwell suggested no one had been up here in quite some time. Wary of whatever earthquake damage this building must have sustained I stepped lightly while ascending to the third floor rooftop balcony.
The rooftop provided a good view of the surrounding countryside. Behind the clinic you can see the treetops of a kumquat orchard. Out front, across the highway, rice paddies stretch to one of rural Taiwan’s many vertical villages.
Back on the main floor there wasn’t too much more to see. The decrepit kitchen was choked with cobwebs and another waiting room held nothing more interesting than the first. Now that I know this place was a clinic I wonder if I might have missed something critical during my only visit—but this place had been picked clean for the most part. With nothing more to see I hit the road again. The sky was looking ominous and I had no interest in getting caught in a torrential downpour so far from shelter.
Now that I know what this place really was (thanks to a tip from Chia Wei Lin) I have been able to fill in some of the details. The clinic was built in 1952 and likely abandoned sometime after the doctor retired in 1990. As previously surmised the class project occurred in 2013, not long before I showed up to take a look around. Anyhow, it’s nice to be able to revise old posts like this when new information comes to light. Now we know: it was a medical clinic opened by a well-respected local doctor—and, after renovation, a local museum.