One warm January afternoon (it was an El Nino winter in Taiwan), I headed out to the Losheng Sanatorium on the edge of New Taipei city, with a couple of friends. Before visiting I had read about the sanatorium's battles with the Taipei Department of Rapid Transit, but otherwise knew little else.
a little history
Losheng, which translates as happy life, was built in the 1929 by the Japanese. At the time Hansen's disease, commonly known as leprosy, was considered highly contagious, and Losheng was built to house Taiwan's sufferers. It was, and in many ways still is, a totally self sufficient community, equipped with a temple, a church, it's own hospital, vegetable gardens, communal laundries, and a lot else besides. In 1954, a new way to treat leprosy was discovered, and the inhabitants were allowed to leave. However for many it had become a home, and unable to adapt to what had been, and perhaps still was, a hostile society outside many elected to stay.
In the 90's the Department of Rapid Transit (DORT), decided it needed the sanatorium site for an MRT depot. This pushed the future of the sanatorium into the limbo it currently is in. A replacement building and hospital was provided (the large structure near the sanatorium bridge). However it was unpopular with residents, as the sense of community and memories would be destroyed, as well as the space and tranquility of Losheng. The MRT construction is underway right next to the sanatorium, and already a few buildings have gone. It's also clear a couple of buildings have shifted down the valley a little, and are twisted. It seems an alternative to destroying the whole sanatorium was proposed and currently there's a stalemate between the two sides.
I was up for visiting the place just for its interesting history, I didn't expect parts of the site to have been untouched for more than a decade, and be totally fascinating. Huge thanks to Nicole for bringing me out here to check it out. We met at Huilong station with her friend from the States, and proceeded to get kinda lost finding the bridge to the place (at one point wandering the dark hallways of the new hospital). There is a medium sized temple near Huilong MRT, from possibly the 30's, which is worth a look before you cross to Losheng.
There is one entrance to Losheng, across a long pedestrian bridge over the vast MRT construction site. Walk from Huilong MRT to the new Losheng hospital. Walk up its right side through the parking lot, and past a white church. The bridge is just past here. The scale of the MRT construction is enormous. A huge part of the hill the sanatorium is on has been leveled, leaving a 10 floor drop right in front it.
The sanatorium is quite large, and parts of it are still inhabited by the residents who haven't left. The people are friendly and even security were pretty sweet. We started with the left side of the site and worked up and across, then down to the hospital area. If you don't have much time then the hospital is the most interesting part.
The first buildings we came to were small dormitories, based on the three-side courtyard traditional Taiwanese homes. These were quite dilapidated, though we saw some repairs were being carried out. All of the buildings on the lower part of the site have been shored up with pilings to prevent damage from the slope moving. The MRT has stated that such movement is a fiction. However it's quite obvious the buildings are moving, and the first house has twisted and has huge cracks running through it.
These buildings looked untouched for decades, and were full of old furniture and bits of belongings. There was a small library and some ancient looking bathroom facilities (no bathroom on site seems to have been upgraded since the 50's). Every object gave another part of someone's story, making it way more engrossing and alive than a museum.
There's a narrow brick building here which was the community shop, and a few small stone buildings with arched windows. These seem to act as community halls, and more resident's housing. There didn't seem to be many people around, either the community is quite empty, or it was afternoon nap time.
We passed a couple of other residential buildings, then a large well kept temple. Next to this was a machinery building and warehouse, both of which were inaccessible. Down the street past this was the current clinic building, which though a little run down is still used. Next to this and from the same era are a couple of large abandoned 1960's style hospital buildings.
They each have large wards in, and have clearly been abandoned for a long time. What surprised us about the buildings in Losheng was how many personal belongings, and how much equipment and machinery was left. It was almost like people left in a big hurry. Perhaps they were evicted. The longer modern ward building was quite dark and creepy, with bathrooms straight out of a Silent Hill video-game. We even found a snake skeleton, and some bizarre shrine over one of the urinals.
There's a certain atmosphere that hangs over these wards, and the historic hospital buildings next door, that makes you wonder what went on here, especially during the early days.
At the southern end of the long ward there is a small, largely empty building. Go through this and down some steps to a green roofed building - the sanatorium church. This was one of my favorite buildings, I felt I was the first to open those doors in a long time. Vegetation has grown up all around it and paint peels from the ceiling. The church has a strange retro-future design inside, quite different from the Chinese style exterior. Above the altar is a small window, which is a dead ringer for Umbrella Corporation's logo. A bookcase of yellowed bibles sits by the door. It's an unusual space, not quite beautiful, but there's something about it I can't put my finger on.
Back out and onto the road we hopped the fence into the main hospital building. You can actually just walk down an open ramp into this place but we didn't see that. We entered the first building, that turned out to be the morgue. That really set the tone for the rest of the old hospital.
The hospital buildings are large, and there are many rooms that are still fully equipped; including a dentist surgery and an operating theater. There are medical records lying around, and even medicine and blood samples. There's really a sense that everyone dropped everything and left in a hurry, which gives the buildings and their dark corridors a very eerie feel.
I won't give everything in this building away, as there's a lot of cool stuff to be discovered, but I will mention the two pickled brains in jars, which are hands down the weirdest and most unsettling things I've found exploring anywhere. Who abandons brains and why? I did have a photo of the brains below but took it off after a fellow blogger got trawled through Taiwan's gutter press for documenting abandoned urns left in a forgotten temple. My intention here was for something to be done about these brains, before someone vandalizes them, or messes about with them. But I also don't want to provide lazy journalists with another fabricated "naughty foreigner not respecting Taiwan things" story. So the pic is gone.
There are several smaller buildings around the main ones which are just as interesting. Some are right next to the MRT construction's cliff and I wonder if they may fall in one day. Another large, modern ward sits next to the 1930's buildings and still has equipment under a thick layer of dust.
What I thought was going to be a small site with an interesting story, turned out to be so much more than I expected. I regret not having spoken to some of the residents a bit more, but there weren't many around. I wondered about giving the location of this place away; the site is pretty untouched and it would be a shame for it to be damaged. However my feeling is the sort of people who would do that are not the sort of people who are going to be reading this blog, and the site is guarded by security. This place has a special history, and its residents could do with some awareness of their troubles with the MRT. So really I think it's a good idea for anyone reading this to visit, explore, and learn about this quite unique place.
I was quite taken with Losheng and wanted to document the site in my own way. I decided to make the map you can see further up in this post, and to draw the lost parts of the site. I hope if the rest of the site is lost it'll make a good record of it. And I hope even more that the people fighting for Losheng can use it for exhibits and I can get the place some attention through my fb page.
Despite help from some friends I couldn't find anything near enough good photos to finish it and so it was stalled for about a year. Fortunately in Sept 2016 I stumbled on a clear-ish aerial photo by chance while scrolling through Facebook. Using this and a few ground photos (some very low resolution), I could work out the rest of the site. All apart from the library really, which I've had to mostly hide behind trees.
For some more cool places either check other blog posts or take a look on the Hidden Taiwan Map here. If you Google Losheng Sanatorium you'll find a number of press articles mentioning the MRT troubles.