A network of trails around Battleship Rock near Beitou.
I recently signed up for driving lessons at a school in Dapinglin. I thought I may as well learn how to do it at some-point in my life. Admittedly it’s more just to learn something new than actually drive much here. I’m certainly not going to drive in the central city. The school is next to the prison I wrote about here.
Having a quick look at the area on Google Maps for directions I noticed something huge being built to the south, some farmland, a weirdly isolated and dense strip of old housing, and then a large area that had been cleared. I thought, well it might be worth wandering around, why not. I was drawn to how empty the area looked, even with the new building. There’s very little farmland this near to Taipei. Often I’m either surrounded by dense city or dense forest. The only other areas like it are the Guandu plain and that farm island in the middle of the river near Wanhua.
The area is divided on the map between 二十張 (ershizhang) in the north and 十四張 (shisizhang) to the south. 張 is a common family name here so I’m assuming the areas are named after twenty and fourteen Zhang family landowners. Alternatively this word is sometimes used as a measureword for 'pieces', so it could refer to plots of land. The narrow band of housing is called Heping community. Minsheng Road used to run through all these areas starting at the old prison, but it’s now fragmented. Below is the northern part of the area before 2012 and currently.
I find the historical imagery feature on Earth fascinating in places like this. Move the slider and generations of history, the patterns of peoples’ lives and the land they shaped appear again. Slide it back and they vanish into dirt and alien grey concrete hulks. I’m disappointed I never visited the area before 2012.
Walking south from the prison the first thing I reached was an enormous concrete MRT depot. This is being built for the circle line that loops around south Taipei from Muzha area to Banqiao. By floor area it’s clearly one of the largest buildings in the city (technically this is in New Taipei City though only just). For comparison it’s just slightly smaller than the CKS Plaza.
Originally there were a few Qing dynasty farmhouses here and a historic village. The village's main road was known as Chai Street and it was a trading port for tea and crops. On the edge of this village was the Liu Ancestral Hall. In the 18th century the Liu family rose to prominence here.
Many of the old farmhouses around the village were built by Liu family members. Their old hall was a beautiful though neglected building with a lot of fine decorative elements. The family fortune was reliant on agriculture, so there were lot of crop motifs on the buildings. It seems it was first built in 1879, but possibly reconstructed after a flood in the 1930’s. The blog here has some good photos of the details. I’ve read that it has been placed into crates, along with two of the more special farmhouses in the area for eventual reconstruction in a historical park. A timelapse video of one of the other old houses (in the southern area) being packed away can be seen here. It’s good that at least something has been saved, however my experiences with removal and restoration in Taiwan is that it’s often done quite poorly and buildings are turned into theme park pastiche.
At the MRT depot the road to the left leads to a dead end at some abandoned warehouses. These were at the edge of one of the more beautiful farmhouses. (The first one in this blog entry) If the depot was just a few meters smaller that would still be there. Following the road the other way there is still some farmland. There was a small section where a slow stream, some brick pillars and a ruined hut made a fairly idyllic pastoral scene. Just don't turn around!
At Huanhe Rd there’s a small village of cramped housing from a number of eras.
I walked around the depot on the riverside highway. Then I cut through farms on a small road past an old brick house to Heping Village. This place feels very isolated; it reminds me a little of a ship trapped on in an ice-field. You can see the community on the before and after pictures below:
Even before the demolitions it was marooned in the middle of farmlands. Now there’s nothing but rubble on three sides and farmland on another. The whole place is just three rows of 1950’s houses on narrow streets. No 7/11’s or anything else very modern in sight.
I got the feeling the area doesn’t see many visitors. A small temple on the south side looks as though the top floors have been unfinished for a long time. With everything around it destroyed I wonder how long this community has.
The land to the south has been cleared for building housing towers.
The former residents got compensation for their expropriated land, but valued as agricultural land. I read an article that suggested some only got about 1 million NTD, which is a pittance for property in Taiwan. This article suggests there were troubles with compensation and forced evictions. The government will have rezoned the land as residential or commercial. Developers will make an enormous profit building towers, mostly for wealthy investors. One of the last wide open pastoral lowland areas in the Taipei Basin is then lost forever. I can understand the MRT depot but I don’t really see the any good in this other development unless it’s social housing.
I walked up on Minsheng towards the MRT depot and found one of the remaining old farmhouses. It’s quite large and still has its original gate structure (first pic in this post).
It’s not the most decorative, and there are still a lot of these in the countryside, but it was still a nice find. Some of the outhouses were abandoned but not especially interesting or historic.
After I wondered out of the area towards Zhongying Rd, as I was damn hungry by then and craving pizza.
So yeah, an interesting past rather than present, and I don’t recommend visiting unless you are really curious (though I did actually enjoy this walk). This is more just a record of what once existed as there doesn’t seem to be any English language representation. After wandering around and researching I felt there should be.
Two factories on opposite sides of the railway by Chiayi Station. One for sorghum wine, one for gas. One restored after years of disuse, the other half abandoned.
This former government run distillery occupies a huge site just south of Chiayi station. The earliest parts date from 1916. Production ceased in 1999 and the factory was disused until recently. It's currently being re-purposed as a cultural and creative park, a little bit like Huashan in Taipei. I see a lot of criticism of Huashan and the Songshan Tobacco Factory as places that have been taken over by wealthy commercial interests. A lot of this criticism is valid. Too much of what was supposed to be a space for young artists to gain exposure has been turned into expensive Eslite style stationery and design shops. However with events like Free Art Taipei I do think Huashan is beginning to fulfill its original purpose.
With the Chiayi site I personally know the people running it. It seems to me that they recognize what went wrong at Huashan and they are determined not to repeat it. They are offering residencies and exhibition space for young artists and keeping the site free of department stores. Actually the only commercial business I've seen on the site so far is an Alleycats Pizza. I hope their vision continues!
The site can be split into two parts sitting either side of a wide path. On one side there are a group of more modern factory buildings from the 1960's and 70's, and an old red brick warehouse. On the other side there's a collection of beautiful art-deco structures that are the color of wheat and have a stumpy chimney beside them.
The red brick building is the oldest on the site. It's been a little over-restored but it's very beautiful. There are some strange diagonal marks on the front that look like roof outlines so perhaps it had buildings to the front of it before. On either side of it are factory buildings but for some reason they've been clad weirdly and made to look brand new. I asked the people running the site if they'd built some new offices and they told me with a little embarrassment that they were part of the original factory too. Inside their former uses are a little clearer and some equipment has been left too.
I'm very pleased to see that a lot of old machines like the bottlers and the huge boilers below have been left in the warehouses. I think it's a shame so many buildings in Taiwan have everything inside them ripped out during restoration.
The art-deco part of the site dates mostly from 1931. The chimney was originally double height, and I though perhaps an earthquake had knocked it over. Apparently though there used to be houses around the chimney. After a large earthquake the residents were understandably nervous about it toppling onto them, so they demanded it be reduced.
To the rear of these buildings is a tall black structure where barley was sorted. My pictures from the aerial walkway don't really capture how huge this space is.
In this large warehouse all the roof windows are controlled by moving this little lever. It's a delicate and complicated mechanism.
The Winery site is easy to find just south of the station. Parts are still not open to the public but this will change in the coming months. Many thanks to Lisa and Sharon for showing me around. Until Jan 2017 I have an exhibit in the main building. Nearby are the Monopoly Bureau Building, another fantastic 1930's art-deco design, and a toyshop with an inflatable dinosaur outside. The Monopoly Bureau will eventually become a city art gallery.
Lianhua Gas Factory
Across the tracks from the Winery I spotted a red brick warehouse covered in trees. I was a little curious and had to go and take map-making photos over there. The site is only partially abandoned. A company filling gas canisters occupies the more modern parts. However I feel they weren't the original tenants. The reason for this is this camels. The site is covered in yellow camels. Before I found the current name I nicknamed it Camel Steel. It's such an unusual logo, and an animal that is of course quite remote to Taiwan, that I'm very intrigued to know what company used it as their logo.
The interesting part consists of a few interconnected brick warehouses. I can't quite tell their age but I'd guess at 1940's or early 50's. Unfortunately there wasn't much in the way of interesting machinery or items inside. It looks as though they've been abandoned for decades.
There's a small rail siding on the grounds which looks wide enough for carts.
Some of the warehouses have upper floors but they look like a bit of a deathtrap.
The ground floor spaces are incredibly dark.
This is not a place I can see being saved, despite its quirky camels, so I'm glad I got to record it before it goes. I have a feeling it'll be demolished when the station is redeveloped in a couple of years. The profusion of banyan trees clinging to the largest warehouse are picturesque and I hope that one at least may be reused. I suppose I should warn people there's no easy way into this factory and you'd have to explore on a weekend. Next door there was a pile of metal filings that made a nice contrast with the greenery. The streets around the factory are enjoyable to walk around with a lot of old houses and interesting people.