Fri, Jul 19, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Highways and Byways: Finding history in Kaohsiung’s residential sprawl

The area around Kaohsiung’s Gushan TRA station features wetlands, an abandoned theater, crematorium and a century-old brick kiln

By Steven Crook  /  Staff reporter

Looking across Jhongdu Wetlands Park toward Shoushan.

Photo: Steven Crook

I’m a big fan of Taiwan’s conventional rail system. In terms of reliability and reasonable fares, it’s far better than the network in the south of England, which is where I grew up. In recent years, Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) has opened several new stations, and rebuilt and reopened some long-closed ones, in the suburbs of major cities.

Kaohsiung’s Gushan District (鼓山) has been a major beneficiary of this trend. It now has three TRA stops, all of them underground: Neiwei (內惟), Museum of Fine Arts (美術館), and Gushan. The last, located where a street-level station of the same name functioned between 1929 and 2008, was the starting point last week of a short mission to visit some nearby historic sites.

During the 1895-1945 period of Japanese colonization, Gushan was known as Tamachi, and this toponym lingers on at a couple of places. One is Tamachi Saiba, a 1933 structure that’s believed to be the only colonial-era funeral parlor still in existence.

When I began my research, I wasn’t familiar with the third character in the building’s name. One online Japanese dictionary translates it as “religious purification.” The definition provided by a Chinese-language Web resource is long-winded but not dissimilar: “to show one’s piety before offering sacrifices and other ceremonies... by abstaining from meat and alcohol, bathing oneself and clearing one’s mind of distracting thoughts.”

Tamachi Saiba is just a few minutes’ walk southwest of the station at 244 Gushan 2nd Road (鼓山二路), and encircled by a high fence. But when I noticed a sealed-up old well between two fairly modern buildings on Lane 246, Gushan 2nd Road, I stumbled across a way into the grounds of the old funeral parlor.



Two or three northbound and a similar number of southbound local trains per hour stop at Gushan and Museum of Fine Arts stations. Travel time from Gushan to Kaohsiung Main Station is never more than five minutes.

The building covers as much land as four standard Taiwanese houses. It hosted funeral services until about 1960, after which it formed part of Gushan Second Market (鼓山第二市場). In 2016, the city government decided to relocate the market, demolish the structure, and clear the site for redevelopment.

After the building’s original role was rediscovered, the authorities changed tack. A renovation program has been initiated, but little work has been done so far. Most of the tile-covered concrete benches that were installed for butchers and fishmongers have been removed, but in other respects the building looks much as it did when the market moved out.

Motifs and features common on 1930s buildings in Taiwan are visible, but only just. Grime, mold and haphazard additions — I was surprised to find a crumbling partition made of bamboo wattle and mud daub — cover much of the structure, inside and out. Despite these unsightly accretions, by the time I’d finished exploring, my mind seemed to be empty of “distracting thoughts.” Intriguing old buildings have that effect on me.

Unlike some other cities, Kaohsiung doesn’t have a famous city-god shrine. I stumbled across the Wenwu Chenghuang Temple (文武城隍廟) at 223-3 Gushan 2nd Road purely by chance. It’s a tiny hall of worship, squeezed between even tinier blue-collar homes at the bottom of the hill. It appears to have been founded in 1945. Like other city-god temples, offerings of tea are placed before the main effigy, and a formal placard reads: “You’ve come at long last” (爾來了).

The Buddhist complex called Yuan Heng Temple (元亨寺) looms above this part of Kaohsiung, but I’ve always been more interested in the favela-like neighborhood that covers the hillside here. Some of the houses are single-story; others have three or four floors. Many are brick, but a few are clapboard.

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