Overlooking the main harbour in Taiwan’s Northern port city of Keelung 基隆市, from a vantage point on Tiger Hill 虎仔山, lie the remains of Jìngyīn1) Temple 淨因寺, a large, 3-tiered concrete husk that looms forlornly out of the perpetual gloom and constant rain that are an effect of the city’s close proximity to the warm Kuroshio Current, earning it the well deserved nickname of the ‘Rainy Port 雨港’. With that in mind, it was, rather predictably, pissing it down on this particular occasion I decided to wander round, making exploring the city’s cramped streets and back-alleys fairly miserable, which is actually a great way to see them funnily enough – Keelung exudes a kind of grim, forlorn, industrial charm that’s further accentuated by inclement weather and darkness, that gives it a very ‘neo-noire’ vibe – I like it.

The rain had stopped by the time I arrived at Jingyin, but the hanging storm clouds remained, blotting out a good majority of the available light, and making photographing the deeper recesses of the temple somewhat difficult without the tripod I’d utterly failed to bring (hence the focus issues and graininess of many of the photos attached to this report). Cranking the sensitivity of my camera and setting my lenses to ‘wide open’ in order to wring whatever brightness I could from the dim atmosphere, I set to mooching about to see whatever caught my interest, using the harsh LED glare of my cell phone for illumination when these were just not enough.

A 'Buddha Bell 佛鐘' with wooden clapper - used for both timekeeping and calling the monks to prayer.
A 'Buddha Bell 佛鐘' with wooden clapper - used for both timekeeping and calling the monks to prayer.
The abandoned Gods now covered in a thick layer of dust, flanked by the once illuminated towers of Peace Lanterns 光明燈, lit in order to bring good fortune to temple patrons who light one in their name.
The abandoned Gods now covered in a thick layer of dust, flanked by the once illuminated towers of Peace Lanterns 光明燈, lit in order to bring good fortune to temple patrons who light one in their name.

Jingyin temple itself was originally founded and constructed in 1925, funded by a female member of nearby Língquán Temple 靈泉禪寺, and dedicated to Amitābha 阿彌陀佛 – the Buddha of Infinite Light and compassion for a number of years, until 1952, when the property rights were transferred, and Guānyīn 觀音 was instated as the primary deity – maintaining the compassionate ethos (Guanyin in often attributed as being the Goddess of mercy), although interestingly in my (limited) understanding, in the spiritual hierarchy she actually stands slightly lower than Amitābha, although they’re often seen depicted together – I’d be curious to know why (presumably) the new owner felt the need to change as both Gods appear to have similar attributes?

The overgrown outer courtyard you enter onto after gaining access through the main gate is covered in the usual trash and detritus that always accumulates in places no-one’s going to shout at you for putting it – a hard hat, mattress, food packaging, toy robot, a candy dispensing slot machine – all the usual suspects are present and correct, atop a moist carpet of steadily rotting leaves – out of sight, out of mind. The ground floor is surprisingly well furnished given the length of time the place has languished, with many deities still in residence, gathering dust in the central shrine – evidently someone felt a little sorry for them living in near constant darkness, as they’ve taken it upon themselves to keep paying the electricity bill to illuminate (albeit very dimly) the hall for their benefit.

The first God is too blurry to make out, but behind that is Cáishén 財神 - the Money God, riding a Black tiger; and behind him might be Budai 笑佛 - the laughing Buddha and God of contentment. The guardians at the rear are probably Guān Yǔ 關羽 and Wéi Tuó 韋馱.
The first God is too blurry to make out, but behind that is Cáishén 財神 - the Money God, riding a Black tiger; and behind him might be Budai 笑佛 - the laughing Buddha and God of contentment. The guardians at the rear are probably Guān Yǔ 關羽 and Wéi Tuó 韋馱.
Not even temples can be without karaoke -  This looks like a 70s era machine which takes 8-track cartridges.
Not even temples can be without karaoke - This looks like a 70s era machine which takes 8-track cartridges.

The ground floor’s West wing appears to have been the temple’s administrative heart, with the numerous desks and shelves scattered about the place containing industrial quantities of astrological fortunes, candles, incense sticks, and other religious paraphernalia, while the East looks it’s been set up as a place for dining, tea drinking, and rest and relaxation for the resident monks judging by the more ‘at-ease’ design of much of the furniture, and indeed one of the tables already looked set, ready for snacks and for a spot of freshly brewed tea to be served from the adjoining kitchen which is still filled with crockery and assorted utensils, but lies in near pitch-black darkness. One other interesting find on this floor, was an old photo album which contained some interesting images: 2 women washing their hands in a ‘Rock Spring’, a young man stood in front of a horse statue at a temple complex, another in military dress in front of an old tree, along with many others. I did take photos of these, but after the fact, it occurred to me that they may well have been left as a ‘memorial’ to the deceased, so I’m going to err on the side of caution and refrain from posting them here.

Looking through an interior Moon Gate 月亮門 on the temple's ground floor.
Looking through an interior Moon Gate 月亮門 on the temple's ground floor.
A drawer containing astrological fortunes based on the 'Stems and Branches 干支' Chinese calendar cycle. They reference 'Gēng Wǔ 庚午' which is the 7th year of the 60 year cycle, which last fell in 1990 in the Gregorian calendar.
A drawer containing astrological fortunes based on the 'Stems and Branches 干支' Chinese calendar cycle. They reference 'Gēng Wǔ 庚午' which is the 7th year of the 60 year cycle, which last fell in 1990 in the Gregorian calendar.
An ornate artwork (although possibly mass-produced) hidden in Jingyin. On the right is Guanyin, the bird is the White Cockatoo from the 'Precious Scroll of the Parrot 鸚鴿寶撰' legend; and the girl on the left is Longnü 龍女 presenting the Pearl of Light.
An ornate artwork (although possibly mass-produced) hidden in Jingyin. On the right is Guanyin, the bird is the White Cockatoo from the 'Precious Scroll of the Parrot 鸚鴿寶撰' legend; and the girl on the left is Longnü 龍女 presenting the Pearl of Light.
A partially set table in darkness on Jingyin's bottom floor. If you look closely you can see the vines creeping inside have formed a string of hearts underneath it. Very cute.
A partially set table in darkness on Jingyin's bottom floor. If you look closely you can see the vines creeping inside have formed a string of hearts underneath it. Very cute.
The dark and messy kitchen area.
The dark and messy kitchen area.

Evidence of the temple’s primary deity is to be found upstairs, at what I assume was the main shrine, with an appropriately large Gold statue of Guānyīn taking pride of place, although, aside from stacks of chairs there wasn’t really anything further of note, bar the shredded wooden remains of dozens of pieces of furniture and decaying bedding inside what I assume were the monk’s dormitories. From here you can up further still to a viewing platform, from which you get a fantastic view of Keelung Harbour and the downtown area – there are more rooms up here, but these have either been totally stripped, or were never occupied at all. In 1973 Jingyin underwent what I’ve been told translates as ‘renovation’, but I’m more inclined to think it was a total rebuild given that I’m pretty sure structurally reinforced concrete wasn’t in vogue in the 1920s2, but construction was halted by the city council after it was determined that the structure was in fact, illegal;3 the owner, with impeccable timing, appears to have also died at the time of this dispute, with responsibility passing to his 3 heirs, who seemingly either lost all interest in the entire thing, or couldn’t agree upon a course of action, and so have subsequently walked away from the problem.

A Golden Guanyin statue within the recesses of Jingyin Temple.
A Golden Guanyin statue within the recesses of Jingyin Temple.
I think that this may be yet another depiction of Guanyin, although this one looks decidedly more masculine.
I think that this may be yet another depiction of Guanyin, although this one looks decidedly more masculine.
Not a deity, just the skull of some poor cat who wandered in.
Not a deity, just the skull of some poor cat who wandered in.
Stacks of chairs in the corner of Jingyin Temple.
Stacks of chairs in the corner of Jingyin Temple.
What I presume was once the monk's sleeping quarters. Now strewn with bedding and fragments of furniture.
What I presume was once the monk's sleeping quarters. Now strewn with bedding and fragments of furniture.
Looking out onto the balcony on Jingyin's upper floors. The urn flanked by dragons is an incense burner 香爐. I also like that this photo looks kinda like a face.
Looking out onto the balcony on Jingyin's upper floors. The urn flanked by dragons is an incense burner 香爐. I also like that this photo looks kinda like a face.

These empty receptacles at the temple’s apex with their skeletal roofs and collapsed bamboo scaffolding now stand as a testament to this developmental failure, and a source of annoyance to local residents, who have staged demonstrations in an effort to convince the local government to intervene and tear the complex down- a task which they seem loth to do given the large costs involved, so the temple looks set to stand for at least the near future, which will undoubtedly delight the numerous late night ‘Ghost Tour’ groups who frequent it for it’s supposed haunted character4. I didn’t spot any supernatural happenings on my visit, although I will say that the place did strike me as having a particularly sombre atmosphere, probably a result of the wet, gloom and silence of the place lending itself particularly well to introspection and pondering those poor lonely Gods just sitting there awaiting rescue, their only company being the occasional ghost hunter and urban explorer.

An empty room on the temple's uppermost level. It doesn't show much, but I find this photo weirdly captivating for some reason.
An empty room on the temple's uppermost level. It doesn't show much, but I find this photo weirdly captivating for some reason.
Ornamented roof tiles that I believe contain depictions of Chīwěn 螭吻, a dragon known for it's swallowing abilities. It often adorns roofs  as a means of protecting the dwelling by swallowing any harmful influences.
Ornamented roof tiles that I believe contain depictions of Chīwěn 螭吻, a dragon known for it's swallowing abilities. It often adorns roofs as a means of protecting the dwelling by swallowing any harmful influences.
Looking out towards Keelung Harbour 基隆港 from a window in Jingyin.
Looking out towards Keelung Harbour 基隆港 from a window in Jingyin.
A rather skeletal section of the temple complex looking grim in the rainy weather.
A rather skeletal section of the temple complex looking grim in the rainy weather.
  1. Literally meaning ‘Pure Cause’ – Likely a reference to the ‘Pure Land’ branch of Buddhism of the temple’s primary deity at the time of it’s construction: Amitābha 阿彌陀佛
  2. My hypothesis is that the original building was of a wooden construction, but this was completely knocked down and totally replaced with the current building.
  3. I can’t seem to find out much info on exactly why this was deemed so, but all temples in Taiwan have a legal requirement to undergo registration with the local Department of Civil Affairs, so I’m hazarding a guess it was an issue in this process.
  4. Pretty much every derelict building in Taiwan could be said to be ‘haunted’ – ghostly superstitions run somewhat rife, although Jingyin might have more of a claim than most, given that the temple’s basement (now sealed I believe – or at least I didn’t notice any way down) serves as a columbarium, and contains cinerary urns full of human ashes.
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