San Zhi: Ghost town on the coast

by on Thursday, 25 February 2010 19295 hits Comments
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On the ride up from Taipei, I wondered if I had chosen the right bus. There was a group of girls sitting next to me, dressed for the beach. "我要去一個地方...很多大樓,可是沒有人. 你知道嗎?" I asked them. "I want to go to a place with many buildings, but no people. Do you know it?" They shook their heads no, and asked me a question in Chinese I couldn't understand. But just then an old woman a few seats up swiveled her head back and pointed a bony finger at me. "那裡有鬼魂," she told me in a grave tone, worry sweeping across her features. "There are ghosts there."

These pictures are of a strange complex of buildings on the outskirts of Taipei that was abandoned in the early 1980's, before it could be completed. There is something pervasively odd about the site. Or rather, there was something pervasively odd about the site -- it has since been torn down. The crumbling flying saucers seemed to come from the future, but this was a forgotten future, a failed one. To visit this place in person was like stepping into a 1960's sci-fi film. It was the future as the past once imagined it could be: the ruins of retro-futurism.

The pod city was visually stunning in an unearthly way. Some of its buildings had been completely destroyed, others merely gutted by the harsh rain and wind of Taiwan's north coast. From inside the pods you could enjoy some truly spectacular views of unspoiled coastline juxtaposed with apocalyptic visions in pastel red, yellow, and blue.

Even on a sunny day, you could not escape a vague sense of dread hovering before you, just out of reach. And so it was often told that a series of mysterious accidents led to the deaths of several of the pod city's construction workers, causing the project to be abandoned. Some locals, including the old woman on the bus, believed that the ghosts of these workers haunted the site.

It is easy to understand why these stories spread. The sheer strangeness of the place challenges our sense of reason. But no construction workers died in the making of San Zhi's pods. There were no ancient burial grounds, no angry ancestors. The site was intended to be a vacation resort for the rich, but lack of funding halted its development. The only ghosts that were haunting San Zhi were the ghosts of financial failure.

Still, though there was nothing at all supernatural about these buildings, the intense weirdness of walking among them was undeniable. And now, looking back on my experience there, I feel the reason for my unease has taken a more definitive form. With a global recession spreading fear and panic, the real history of these buildings seems far more poignant than any ghost story ever could be; this place was a graveyard for dreams.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 17:33
Taylor Briere (白曄)

Freelance writer living in Taipei, Taylor is also a musician and a composer in his spare time.

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