This immense derelict site in the Shulin District 樹林區 of New Taipei City 新北市 is one of Taiwan’s most prominent abandonments, and was constructed for the now disestablished Taiwan Motor Transport Co 臺灣汽車客運公司. I’ve often heard it referred to colloquially as simply the ‘Shulin Factory’, but I don’t believe anything was actually produced here and instead, think it was more likely to have been a maintenance depot focussed on servicing and repairing the organisation’s huge fleet of public buses.
Bus services began operating in Taiwan in the early 1930s during the Japanese colonial era with the Taipei City Bus 台北市營巴士, shortly after plans to implement an electric streetcar project were dismissed as being too costly (although it would have been a very fitting precursor to the current MRT). After WWII and Japan’s subsequent surrender and exodus from the country, ownership was passed to the new ROC government, with the enterprise overseen by the newly formed Highway Bureau 交通部公路總局.
From what I can gather from attempting to decipher some rather messily machine translated materials, the introduction of an amendment to the existing ‘Highway Law 公路法’ around 1980 lead to the eventual formation of the Taiwan Motor Transport Co. I can’t be 100% sure (legalese is hard enough to decipher in plain English, never mind a language I can’t read!), but I believe it amounted to something of a clampdown on the large number of ‘illegal’, presumably unlicensed transport operators in business at the time, and in an effort to suppress (and also possibly monopolise), the government then subsumed these smaller entities, and branched off the TMTC from the Highways department, to consolidate the new acquisitions. Although from what I can deduce, there were no laws against competing bus operators as such, despite some small scale local competition, the TMTC held an effective monopoly due to their extensive network of transport hubs and large fleet of vehicles – particularly on national routes which became increasingly more efficient due largely to the recent completion of the Sun Yat-sen Freeway 中山高速公路 in 1978.
The TMTC website which has thankfully been archived, goes into great detail on the vehicles that were in it’s service – all imported from abroad (hence why I don’t believe the Shulin location was a factory), with many sourced from Greyhound owned MCI in the United States. These MCI models with their stainless steel side panels designed for withstanding the harsh Winters of the company’s native Canada (not exactly an issue in Taiwan) or ‘Silversides’, became somewhat iconic amongst the generations that grew up with them, and even received a special ‘Farewell Event’, in Taipei, when the 33 remaining in service were retired in early 2016.
The company’s downfall was fairly predictable – the ever increasing adoption of rail and air travel, coupled with the continued running of unprofitable local routes and maintaining a fleet of ageing vehicles made operating at such scale unviable. Also, rather unfortunately, I’ve seen it cited that it’s adherence to labour laws and generous employee benefits disadvantaged it over it’s more carefree competitors. After an attempted restructure in 1986 to curb the massive losses, the company continued leaking money until it was decided that more drastic measures had to be taken, and in 2001 the decision was made to privatise. To ensure this was done as cheaply as possible, the government appears to have given TMTC employees an ultimatum:
Pay NT$300,000 (around $10,000 USD) to keep their jobs in the newly formed Kuo-Kuang Company 國光客運 (under seemingly worse pay and conditions), or seek new employment. Despite union protest, these measures went ahead, leaving those who refused to sign jobless and with apparently little support from the government in finding new work. This article (in English) is worth a read if you want to know more about this. Despite the worker shift to Kuo-Kuang, the TMTC still existed on paper for a further decade with a total of 3 employees – all members of senior management, before it was officially dissolved on July 1st, 2011. I can scarcely find a mention of how this immense industrial wasteland fits into the picture, but I suspect it was too expensive to maintain, and probably overkill for the reduced number of buses following the restructure, and so was left to rot, rather than be passed on to Kuo-Kuang.
As for my experience exploring this place, it actually starts with a rather funny story: My first visit to this site on a rather overcast afternoon in early July was cut short rather abruptly – I’d found a nice sized gap in the fence to squeeze through, and had just finished exploring a building close to the perimeter which I believe was once washing facilities for the bus drivers who would have parked up in the massive lot just outside. I made my way over to the large building that dominates the site until I was parallel with a room that was open to the elements which adjoins it’s main entrance, and suddenly did a double take: There was a soldier in the room. She was stood in full camouflage gear facing away from me, a scooter parked nearby and, from as much as I could see of her, she looked pretty bored and most likely waiting for something or someone. Given her stance, I got an exceptionally good look at the large assault rifle she had slung across her back. I did consider saying hello, but as she hadn’t noticed me at this point, I reasoned that startling someone with arm’s-reach access to deadly weaponry was probably not in my best interests, so backed away slowly keeping my footsteps light, before I slunk back the way I’d come. Upon exiting, I opted to make my way to a nearby FamilyMart to grab a drink (non alcoholic in case you were wondering) and let the adrenaline surge pass, before making my way back to my room, to digest what I’d seen.
My first thought was that the buildings had been co-opted by the military for exercises and so I tried to find references online on various news sites to see if this was the case, drawing blanks on each and every one. During this research binge I came across one article in particular and the metaphorical pennies started dropping – Airsoft! Being from the gun-shy UK, I’m not particularly knowledgable when it comes to firearms so to me, Airsoft guns can look incredibly convincing; and it doesn’t help that the players like the girl I saw, often go full-on and really dress the part.
Mystery solved and pants changed, I headed back a month later to investigate the location more thoroughly.
Having been abandoned for so long, and in such a prominent position, people of all types have gravitated to the ruins – the homeless as a place of escape and shelter; scrappers to gut it of fixtures, fittings and anything else of value; photographers to to capture the concrete desolation; and of course, the graffiti artists to plaster every wall within (and many out of) easy reach with paint and abstract ideas. It seems that the scrappers in particular have been busy – the buildings have been gutted so thoroughly, they’re now just husks; merely structural at this point. You’d have a hard time figuring out what this place once was just from walking through it as there’s so little evidence left go off – but that’s not to say it isn’t still interesting – the graffiti artists seem to have had the run of the place for the last 20 years or so; and looking at photos taken in the period since the site’s closure, it’s interesting to witness not just the deterioration of the buildings, but also the creation and evolution of a thousand pieces of artwork to fill the copious amounts of blank space.
As featureless as the remains are, some of the spaces – such as the main factory floor – retain some of the ‘awe factor’ due to their sheer scale, and there are some other interesting features, such as the old water tower that is visible from just about everywhere on site. After having a good poke around, we (a friend had tagged along for exploration round 2), entered one of the other large buildings on site – a 2 storey affair that I’m guessing was used for employee parking given the large hole in the centre which would have almost certainly been used to mount an elevator that seems like it would have been suitably ‘car sized’. On the lower floor which was just as bland, some guy was making an almighty racket banging pieces of metal and doing God knows what in one of the far corners. We avoided him as best we could until we decided we’d exhausted the possibilities of finding anything of further interest and made to leave. While we were exiting we heard a loud shout from the direction of Mr. Noisey informing us that it was getting dark and that we should leave. I’m not exactly sure what he meant by that – was he inferring that dangerous characters descended on the factory at night and we would be much safer outside? It could also have just been plain old Taiwanese superstition of late night hauntings, or was he perhaps concerned we were going to stay up past our bedtimes? I don’t know, but we were leaving anyway so we headed back the way we’d come to the hole in the wall… to discover what looked like a group of students entering from the wide open gate nearby, revealing our sneaky infiltration to be entirely unnecessary. Oh well – so it goes.
I know it might seem like I revel in abandonment and decay, but I don’t necessarily think everything should be preserved. This industrial hulk takes up a huge amount of space in a city that is somewhat deprived of it and I can’t think of any good reason for saving it. The site was earmarked for a residential and commercial development and due to be demolished in March 2017, however this exploration wouldn’t have taken place if that had happened, so it seems like it’s currently stuck in redevelopment hell – an all too common destination for abandonments in Taiwan. As well as remaining still stubbornly standing, the Shulin Factory recently played host to all night techno events, functions as a play space for the aforementioned Airsofters, and features in a movie or two. Occasionally it also makes the news when a fake site owner threatens the film directors with a (imaginary) gun after they don’t pay the ‘fee’ for shooting there, and so on, and so forth.
Looks like Google Satellite view imagery of the area has been updated, clearly showing that this complex has now been totalled levelled.