NB: Mystery solved. Some details are posted below the following story so that you can experience the thrill of the journey before the ending. You’re welcome! – L
It’s February 2018, merely a few weeks before I’m due to leave Taiwan indefinitely. With that in mind it would be downright rude of me not to squeeze every last drop of possible adventure out of the country, so after a long, cold winter it was time to get out into the elements again. Visiting places on motorbike – particularly in the mountains – had lost its appeal in recent months as I didn’t have many winter clothes to protect from the icy humid winds. You know, because I’m in a tropical country and all, and jackets aren’t necessary? In the interests of exploiting my final days I decided to put up with a bit of shivering.
Thanks to a couple of tip-offs I had one or two places to investigate in and around the Xizhi (汐止) area. The first one took me an age to get to after falling victim to my own stupididity and making several wrong turns, and at one point ending up in someones front garden underneath a highway bridge. Their English was non existent, and though my Chinese wasn’t much better we managed to piece together enough of an understanding for me to have at least a shred of an idea of where to head next. Anyway, the first place looked like the most exciting one during my Street view reconnaissance so I was eager to arrive and have a good nose around at an old looking house standing in the corner of a large garden. To my dismay, it was abandoned no longer. Several people were dotted around the gardens digging flowerbeds and laying turf while a couple in smart casual get-up stood in a meeting huddle pointing at things. Mission sadly aborted.
Shortly after, I stopped in a Familymart to get my chocolate and tea fix, but equally to spend a bit of timing thinking about where to go next. As luck would have it, my Taiwanese mate who lives in the area text me so I told him I was prowling around his neighbourhood looking for abandoned houses. It didn’t take long for him to mention a building at the top of a hill that he’d found by drone, but had no idea how to access it. So, he sent me some potential locations to this mysterious area via messenger and my next target became clear! I had no idea what to expect, which sometimes can worry more than it excites. Mainly because of crazy territorial dogs.
The area was covered in a low lying heavy mist which wasn’t ideal for driving in, and noting that a lot of the neglected mountain roads here had patches of slippery moss in thin coatings, bouts of thick fog must be a common occurrence in this area (well… Taipei). Adding to the equation that I’d planned to ride a steep uphill gradient in a low gear with no idea where exactly I planned to go didn’t reassure any doubtful thoughts, but my desire to find this mysterious place spurred me on. The winding country roads were quiet and fun to ride, until I saw a green wall – which clearly hadn’t seen a coat of paint in the last fifteen years – alongside an uphill road. I turned off.
After a couple of dead end encounters with obnoxious dog jerks, I came upon a locked gate, and thankfully one with a Peps-sized hole to walk through. Not much of a deterrent. The road continues up in a spiral to the top as some carved white stone walls begin to peek over the edge into my line of sight. A couple of eagles fly overhead looking for lunch, their screams and the wind being the only sounds audible from such a height, waaay above the sounds of the roads and villages below. Soon enough I spot a few small shishi guardian lions and my route appears to have been successful. A large, mostly flat empty space rests at the top of the mountain, along with essentially only the concrete frame of a large three floored structure, which I’d boldly guess has never been finished. The weathered decay making it hard to say for sure. An Indiana Jones style stairway to the rear leading to overgrown grass (and what may have been a garden) definitely had a 40% of being bitten by a snake, so I didn’t dilly-dally up there for long.
I explored the building for a good hour or so with my deerstalker and magnifying glass but couldn’t find many clues as to what this place used to – or planned to – be. A building in this state could have been bloody anything as the majority are built with a relentless focus on function, and hence have a distinct Soviet concrete panache. The only possible personal effects were a single flip-flop and a couple of broken vases left in a sink at the back leaving me little to study and scratch my chin over. My lazy guess would be that it was built as some kind of restaurant, but my instinct tells me it may have been planned as an industrial unit with factory/office combo. The lack of trinkets and the presence of steel reinforcement bars with no trace of concrete attached at the front side leads me to believe that they were never completed, and the developer simply abandoned it.
One detail did arouse curiosity, however. And I’ve kept it until the end like I’m Columbo or something. Anyway, up the steep road to the building the stone wall – erected to stop weak drivers falling to their doom – appeared to have quite a lump taken out of it. Looking at the damage, it’s not out of the realms of possibility that a car crashed through it and ended up falling grill first into the trees below. Perhaps a fatal accident occurred during development which ended up labeling the site haunted?
Anyone with info is encouraged to messaged me with some history detail, and shall be given a hearty pat on the back. Only metaphorically I’m afraid.
More pics of the “interior” below. Cheers!
SOLVED: The winner of the metaphorical pat on the back goes to the distinguished explorer and researcher Alexander Synaptic; solving the mystery a mere 15 minutes after being posted on the Taiwan Blogs Facebook group. A news article in Chinese is available here. If your ability isn’t up to scratch or online translators aren’t doing the business for you, I’ll try my best to break it down:
It seems that back in 2006 a court ruled that the above structure (Chinese name is 天佛大道院) was constructed illegally, and the owner of which defrauded members of the public by selling plots – or “niches” – within a columbarium (a place where human ashes or remains are stored) knowing that the building wasn’t 100% kosher. I had to look up this word myself as it’s the first time I’d heard it. Columbarium, not kosher.
It sounds as though he took the money while he could, and built the structure slowly as tangible proof of the development to provide reassurance to potential customers, all the while knowing that it would never be completed, and laughing and throwing his money into the air like a cartoon villain in his dark mansion. Anyway, he got four years in the slammer as a result.
So there we have it. Now detectives, onto the next one…