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.