My wife's mother was born in Erlun Township, Yunlin County, Taiwan (二崙鄉, 雲林縣) in the 1960s. When she was a little girl, she was raised in a Sanheyuan (三合院) owned by her grandfather. Her father owned a spot of land next to the elementary school. When she was in elementary school her father built this house. Originally it was two stories. The house was built for about 100,000 NT at the time.
This abandoned and decaying house is nothing special; there are thousands of similar abandoned houses throughout Taiwan, especially in rural areas. However, it's story perhaps can shed some light on the individual struggles of the Taiwanese people as well as the changes going on in Taiwan society as a whole.
My wife's cousin once slept on this balcony and encountered a snake. This is the most intact part of the house, and the only part that shows it was once two stories.
Back in the day, my mother in law's family lived off the land. their house was surrounded by trees much as it is today. Back in the day they did not need air conditioning because the trees (and lack of asphalt roads, buildings, and A/C units) kept them cool.
This is the back entrance to the house. The family outhouse was actually separate from the house, and the sewage needed to be emptied out every six months or so. The children would take their own feces, dig holes next to the trees, and pour it in as fertilizer.
The family also raised animals such as pigs, chickens, and dogs. Once a year or so they would slaughter a pig or a chicken and eat it for quite a few meals. Most all their fruits and vegetables were grown themselves.
The family put most of their money on their oldest son, who was admitted into Taiwan National University. After he was accepted, they bought a house in Taipei and the rest of the family moved to Taipei as well (in the mid-early 1980s), where there were more jobs and opportunity.
The house was looked after for a while by relatives, and was occasionally visited by the family themselves. Eventually squatters and homeless people started to inhabit the place.
After one bad typhoon, part of the roof collapsed. After that, there was no more hope for the house. No one came back to repair it and it succumbed to the elements. The plot of land is still owned by my wife's grandmother, but it is just sitting there not being used. Some of her relatives still do some gardening on the property.
My mother in law said that they had a fridge and a basic TV set in their home. They didn't have problems with mosquitoes or cockroaches either, and kept their house very clean. They all slept on the second floor, and the main floor was the kitchen and living room.
Their fruits and vegetables that they grew were only harvested daily as needed. This way, they didn't have to worry about running our of fresh greens and vegetables.
My wife and her siblings have completely lost their roots to this farmhouse. In our visit, it was the first time her brother and sister had even seen the place. They were born and raised in the heart of New Taipei in a small apartment, where they didn't even raise any pets, much less grow their own crops.
The pace of industrialization from 1950 onwards in Taiwan was so fast, it was probably equal to 150 years of technoloical advancement that happened in the U.S. There was no time for generations to age with little change. Mothers that grew up with no electricity are raising kids with iPhone Xs (my mother in law is in her 50s and her smallest children are middle school aged). The differences in technology and quality of life between the older and younger generations is staggering.
Electric outlets peak out of the walls of the house, one of the only signs that this was a semi modern house.
My mother said that Erlun was formed by a few Liao brothers long ago. It makes sense, because basically everyone in the town is named Liao, which is a few thousand people.
A door swung open that would have led to the second floor in another life.
A forgotten bookshelf, the most intact artifact in the house.
One of the books on the shelf is a giant Chinese-English dictionary, one needed for the oldest son to test into NTU, and later get a professorship in California.
The inside of the dictionary, eaten out by termites likely.
When I lifted up the book a ton of maggots slurked out from underneath it.
Mosquito repellant and a pot.
My wife's grandmother does not miss the house. She said that the place fell down because no one was living in it. The roof always leaked, and with no one maintaining it it was bound to collapse eventually. After the family left the house in 1980 to move in with the oldest son who was teaching at Qinghua University, the house was left abandoned. Some squatters moved in and left garbage everywhere. Somewhere in the past 40 years the roof collapsed.
In the few years after leaving the house, my wife's grandmother had many sleepless nights worrying about the house and the property that they left.
Now the land that they own (which is quite a few acres) is watched over by their relatives, who have planted papaya and banana trees, as well as bamboo.
Oh yeah, the house was really hard to find. We knew it was next to Erlun elementary school but we had to end up calling my mother in law and walking around in circles before we found it. You have to walk down an unmarked dirt road and into the bushes before you can find the house. Feel free to visit anytime! But hurry, because with all historic buildings in Taiwan, this house could soon be demolished completely at any time.
We are US Expats that have extensive experience living and working in Taiwan. In our day, we had to learn many things about Taiwan the hard way. But we have come to learn that Taiwan is one of the best places in the world for Foreigners to live. Our blog does not represent the opinions of every foreigner in Taiwan. We are just trying to help others learn more about this beautiful country.