Abandoned

“I want to go to the old city centre.” It was the third day of the Chinese New Year.  I was in Taichung with my parents and we had been celebrating the arrival of the wooden horse by eating an obscene amount of food.  We’d also been spending time with grandma, and the extended family from my mother’s clan.  They are a rowdy bunch and demand constant attention.   Dealing with family for an extended amount of time is always mentally draining, and on top of that, I had not been sleeping well.  The room I was sleeping in was infested with mosquitoes and I slapped myself awake multiple times throughout the night while trying to kill a buzzing insect above my head.  By the third day, I was showing signs of tear and wear, and my dad, being an empathetic human being, asked me what I wanted to do on the third day. “Why do you want to go there?” Mom made a face, “there’s nothing there.  All the shops are closed and nothing to do.” “Exactly, I want to go and take pictures of abandoned buildings.” We parked Dad’s old dark green Benz from the late 90’s next to an abandoned department store. Abandoned department store The building still looked every inch a department store, but it had been neglected,  the light fixtures were falling off and everything was covered in dust.  There was such a contrast between the festive mood elsewhere during the holidays and this forlorn building. Looking into the windows lacking dressings and shoppers, I was thinking perhaps 15 years ago,  all the dressings were screaming in loud red and gold, enticing excited shoppers with their wallets bulging with red pocket money.  Now it was standing there, empty, abandoned, and not serving its function as a place of merry consumerism. Both my parents are from well established families in Taichung.  In the 60’s, Taiwan was not open for trading with other nations.  However, in Taichung City, there were lots of shops that specialized in imported goods from Japan and America, brought in to Taiwan by the American military.  Back then,  Taichung was a prosperous city, teething with energy.  In addition to import shops, there were an array of restaurants. “Look.” Dad pointed at an empty store front. “I used to eat dumpling there when I was younger.   When we first moved to Taiwan, you kicked and screamed and refused to go inside because you thought the place was dirty.  You were standing outside while we ate, and your aunt had to convince you to come inside.” He laughed as he retold the story. I was 6 when I moved to Taiwan.  Even as a small child, I remember the busy streets of the city centre.  However, as I walked around with my parents on the third day of new years more  in the year 2014, the streets were deserted and many of the buildings were abandoned.  We walked by the Second Market, which was a very famous market in Taichung.  Even today, there were many signs for shops, but I imagine most were no longer there.  One of the signs brought back waves of memories.  It was a sign for a shoe shop that was called “Cinderella”, and the sign was written in Chinese characters.  It was still placed prominently at one of the entrances of the market.  I am not sure if the shoe store was still there, but I remember distinctively looking up and seeing that sign as a child when I was forced to go to the market with mom.  I could see my childish self, a 6 or 7 year old girl, dressed in delicate floral Japanese dress, pouting, and following behind her mother meekly with her head down.  I was cringing and  watching the dirty red tiled floor carefully, trying not to step on puddles.  Every so often, her mother would yell, “hurry up!” in Japanese. The former glory of the city  had dissipated.  On any given street, 6 out of 10 buildings have been abandoned, and the others were struggling to not crumble. street scene “Ha, this is the movie theater I used to go to.” Mom stopped in front of a fading cinema with old movie posters still inside the display. “Grandpa knew the owner of this place so I used to go there, whose house was right behind the theater.  After my friend and I have a snack we used walk through  the backdoor and go directly into the cinema.” “Free movies?  Very nice.” Snapping a picture, I noted the movie poster of the last film they were showing.  It was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.   This means that the cinema had been abandoned since 2001.  12 years ago. “Yes, free movies.” in a nostalgic tone, she said, “this cinema specialized in foreign films too.” 20140204-183840.jpg “Maybe we could walk by Grandpa’s old clinic?” Dad suggested after we passed the cinema. “Yeah sure.” Grandpa's clinic Grandpa was a prominent obstetrician who delivered many baby boomers in Taichung.  After he died, the clinic was boarded up.  However, Grandpa’s name still lives on a plaque on green tiled wall.  Chang Obstetrics Hospital.  Head Doctor, Chang Yao Dong Medical Doctor graduate of Tokyo University.   A place where many people’s lives had started, was now abandoned, like so many other places in the city. In the car on the way home, I was reflective.  “Dad, why was the city abandoned?” “Well, you know the city centre is very old, and as the city grew, it became very crowded.” Dad explained as he steered the car.  “There was lots of land outside of the city, so they started to develop it in the recent years, especially near the big Eslite bookshop that you like.” “Back then, those were all rice paddies.” Mom chimed in, “People who owned property way out in the middle of nowhere are now rich.” “But why didn’t they just renovate it?  Fix it up?” “People in Taiwan want to live in high rises with modern facilities like elevators and underground parking lots and not have to park their cars out on the street.  They want to shop in grocery stores and not in the wet market.”  He sounded a little melancholy as he drove us back to my grandmother’s house, which was located at the edges of the old city centre. On the way home, we drove by a large, burnt out building.  It was despondent, tattered, and yet it still occupied a space, silently protesting;   traces of its former glory echoing in its hollowness.    I like to imagine what the building was like in its heyday, when it was serving its purpose.  Was it a night club?  A multi-purpose building with many restaurants and shops?  I also like to imagine what happened before it was burnt down and abandoned.  Was it a careless accident? 20140204-183820.jpg “Well, I like the old city centre.” I said, seeing myself as a little person pouting in the dirty market, my mother wearing her school uniform watching a foreign film, and my dad as a teenager eating dumplings at the same place where his daughter refused to go in 20 years later.  The ghost of our former selves will always live on in this abandoned city, and even though either my parents nor I live in Taichung anymore, every time we visit, the past will always come out to say hello.

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