One of the modern icons of Chiayi City is the Song of the Forest; a large domed structure that you can walk through. Designed by Wen Zhi-Wang and opened in 2012 it's built out of old railway tracks and local flora such as the rotang palm. According to information on the Chiayi website it represents both the railway and the sacred Alishan trees. It’s supposed to be spearheading the regeneration of this post-industrial section of the city.
Until about a decade ago the area where the Song of the Forest stands and the large fenced off green space next door were railway sidings. These are long gone but the workshops and communities that built up around them are still there.
Yushan Villages One and Two
What I have been to figure out from Chinese language sources is that these settlements belong to the Forestry Bureau. In the heyday of the lumber industry the department employed about 3 to 4000 people. A lot of processing and logistics took place around the railways in this part of Chiayi. The industry grew especially quickly during the Japanese era and most of the buildings in the area date from that time. They were built in an Osakan style as a few of the top officials hailed from that part of Japan. There were workshops and warehouses and the two villages both named after Taiwan’s highest peak. Yushan One Village is adjacent to the park while Yushan Two is a collection of pretty but collapsing wooden houses behind the museum. Over time buildings in the villages were added and altered and now there’re a mix of older wooden houses and newer metal and cement buildings.
Today it seems the villages are in a similar situation to military dependents’ villages. There have been a few fires and demolitions and the area has many empty plots. Save for a few older residents most houses are empty. News reports suggest people have been allowed to continue living here but the land has been rezoned and there are compensation disputes. One village section directly abuts the Song of the Forest Park but is hidden behind a high fence. In heavy rains water flows off the park and floods the residents’ houses. If these residents are indeed former employees of the Forestry Bureau it seems harsh that their homes are hidden like an embarrassment and flooded by the park that’s supposed to celebrate their history.
The village is not accessible from the park. There is a gap in the fence but the residents complained stray dogs used it and they blocked it off. You can reach it by walking down the lanes coming off the museum road. Of particular interest is the warehouse directly next to the park. It has the cypress cross-beam roof typical of most early Japanese era warehouses. At some point it was subdivided into small homes.
It’s quite open to the north, and was next to a railway siding, so I think it was open on this side to allow unloading from trains. Apart from a locked room next to the entrance it is unused and uninhabited.
Certain parts of the villages are covered by a historic listing, but it doesn’t extend to the whole area. The warehouse didn’t have a number so I’m unsure if it is included.
Further down the road is the Chiayi Museum. It’s got a fairly interesting display about Taiwanese earthquake history, and some fossils. It’s famous for Koji pottery if ceramics are your thing but I don’t really have much interest in them. Next to the museum is an old concrete building called the Chiayi Motive Power Room Wood Sculpture Museum. Which is a mouthful. It was the engine room for the nearby lumber works. I was intrigued but sadly it's always been closed when I've visited.
The Forestry Bureau Warehouses
This area is currently undergoing restoration. The workers allowed me to come past the gate and snap a couple of pictures but not go any further. The complex is a series of warehouses and factory buildings related to the lumber industry. The earliest date from 1913. It doesn’t look far off completion so I hope to have a proper look around during my next visit. I wrote most of this post two years ago but it needed more information and pictures. I visited recently on a Thursday expecting some big changes and the forestry area to be open. No such luck. Two years later and absolutely nothing has changed. The area is still sealed off with green construction fence. I think there are a couple less houses in the villages. The large green area that would make a great park is still closed. I was quite disappointed that change is moving at such a glacial pace here.
Yushan Village 2 is next to the museum and the Bureau warehouses. Most of the old wooden houses here are in a bad state though a couple are still inhabited. This village is more cohesive and compact than Yushan 1. I could see this area being saved while I think Yushan 1 has lost most of its assets now.
Just across the road from the museum is the depot and repair facilities for the Alishan narrow gauge railway trains. It's a large park with a lot of old locomotives and carriages. The engine shed is still used and I like that you can walk around the site and watch repairs taking place with no real barriers. The Alishan Railway is a narrow gauge track that winds up to the high mountain logging areas on Mr Ali. While sections are open parts of the main track were damaged in typhoon landslides and there have been other problems with accidents and derailments. On Mt Ali itself a few branch lines are operational. The cypress wood Beimen Station and Hinoki Village are nearby. The village is a bit of a bus tour trap, though it is attractive.
Old Markets and Water Towers
On the opposite side of the museum a few large market compounds still exist. They’ve not been used since at least 2014. I took a look around what seemed to be the produce one. There wasn't much to see and at one point I either set off an alarm or a cicada and so jumped out again.
Two years later this place is still unused. Next door a pair of old grain silos loom over the mainline railway. There aren't many of these left in the country, a famous and larger example is located in Yuanlin. Despite a fair few search combinations I can't find anything much about these two. Most of these towers were built to help with grain surplus in the 1960’s and 70’s.
I hope one day I'll actually be able to visit the Forestry Complex. When that happens I'll update this. For now, some of these sites are worth a visit, and some are just little curiosities. All can be found on the Hidden Taiwan Map.