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.
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 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.
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.
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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.