Huazhong Bridge in Wanhua Taiwan

My family visits "Go Go Land" under the Huazhong Bridge (華中橋) in Wanhua (萬華) or Manka (艋舺), if you like, regularly. On weekends, local venders set up a traditional arcade. It includes shrimp and goldfish fishing (see above pic), traditional pinball, which issues tickets for prizes, and a ping pong ball throw. There is also a Thomas the Train ride which my daughter likes. It's hauled in on a three-wheeled motorbike.

According to its plaque, the Huazhong Bridge (華中橋) was completed in 1975, though it looks much older, thanks to wear and tear from the city's pollution and the Danshui River, over which it reaches. Huazhong Bridge is special for several reasons. First, it connects Monga (艋舺) to Zhonghe (中和), once a sprawling countryside of emerald-green rice paddies but now one of the most densely populated suburbs in the world. The bridge is also an interesting example of 1970 / 1980 architecture, viewed as shoddy by many. Flaws in the era's construction were revealed following the 1999 earthquake, a 7.3 with an epicenter in central Taiwan. Buildings, almost exclusively from this period, fell in an instant, exposing the corruption of builders who were in cahoots with officials. Columns were cracked open so that everyone could see they were hollow. Sometimes they were stuffed with newspapers or bottles to extract the echo should someone knock on them, but this was laid bare too. Hundreds of buildings lacked the basic amounts of concrete needed to keep them standing.

The shoddiness of this kind of architecture also speaks to Taiwan's unique history. Until 1945, the country was a colony of the Japanese. During the colonial period, the Japanese put up some magnificent and long-standing buildings, such as the Presidential Building and Biology Museum in 2-28 Park. All around this core, architecture remains as a reminder to Taiwan's impressive progress 115 years ago until the Second World War. After the US allowed the KMT to escape to Taiwan, things changed. The KMT invaders, intent on returning to China, saw little use in pumping money into Taiwan. For 30 years, general infrastructure spending stagnated as Chiang Kai Shek's regime siphoned off funds to the military and developing alliances overseas, in a policy of checkbook diplomacy.

By the 1970s, it became apparent that Chiang and his team were going nowhere. They were losing it internationally and having a hard time maintaining legitimacy at home. Taiwan was booming economically, and the democratic movement was gaining a footing. In 1973, the KMT regime, scrambling to remain relevant, implemented the Ten Major Construction Projects (十大建設):

1. A National Highway
2. A Northern-Link Railroad
3. An International Airport in Taoyuan
4. A Port in Taichung
5. A Port in Su-ao
6. Electrification of the Western Railroad
7. A Steel Factory
8. A Shipyard in Kaohsiung
9. An Oil refinery / industrial Park
10. A Nuclear Power Plant

At the end of the day, the Chiang regime was deemed illegitimate and martial law, which will always be attached to Chiang, came to an end. Locals were allowed to vote. They also began to speak and ultimately reclaim their country. Besides serving as a landmark in Wanhua, the Huazhong Bridge stands as another monument to this troubled and dark era.

The top picture is of my daughter fishing. The vendors who have set up shop under Huazhong Bridge have been carrying on for decades. They don't seem to have licenses, but the cops, who occasionally scooter down the center of the show, don't seem to mind. The owner of the fish tank my daughter frequents told me that she has been working under Huazhong Bridge for 12 years. The second picture (at the top) is of Ahleena's favorite ride Thomas, the Train. The third is just a wider view of "Go Go Land". It captures a stinky tofu stand followed by a bank of traditional pinball games. The fourth is Huazhong Bridge, kooky wiring and all.


Anonymous said...

The only bridge I know of from Taipei to then called Chung-Ho 中和is a wooden one called Hotaru-Bashi 蛍橋in Japanese, now replaced by Chung-Ching bridge 中正橋, I guess. Before that, there were only ferries over the Ching-Ten river新店河. After crossing the bridge, one can see was a streight street in the middle of rice field, extending a mile or so. That was all Chong-Ho can offer, no more no less though a farm house sanding here or there. That was what I remembered half a century ago. I can not believe it is the most crowded spot on earth today.

Patrick Cowsill said...

Chung-cheng Bridge actually feeds into Yung-ho (永和). I know because it's about a fifteen-minute bike ride from my home and also because I used to play tennis nearby. Huazhong Bridge feeds into Yung-ho as well (my mistake); it's right on the border of Yung-ho and Chung-ho.

It's interesting how you call the river the Hsin-tien River and not the Danshui River. So, I just checked the map and you're right. It doesn't change until about a km down from Huazhong Bridge. But if you read the history books, like about the 18th and 19th centuries, when Wenhua was still flourishing, it's always: "Boats entered the Danshui River and sailed up to Wenhua". Hsin-tien wasn't even on the radar.

Got any pics of the Hotaru-Bashi? In English, it means "Fire Fly Bridge". I mentioned this to a colleague. She said there is still a Fire Fly Elementary, off Chung- cheng Bridge and to the left.

"I can not believe it is the most crowded spot on earth today." I kid you not; when's the last time you saw it?

Anonymous said...

There was a beautiful story about the construction of the Hotaru-Bashi in Prof. Takasaka’s Essay book. (Ref. 高坂知武「思い出すままに” As I think of.”」 (11) page 49, in Japanese)
When city of Taipei realized the bridge was needed, the project was awarded to a local contractor. It was war time and the inflation cost the constructor dearly; he sold his land, property and all his belonging to finish the construction, unbelievable by today’s standard, instead of declaring his bankruptcy. The Japanese government rewarded him by awarded him many construction projects without open bidding later and he made fortune. It was the good old days that people act more humane way. The single lane wooden bridge served many years until it was overrun by the so called progress of the modern time unfortunately.

Patrick Cowsill said...

高坂知武 seems to be in Chinese also and in many of the libraries. Thanks, I'll go check it out.

"It was the good old days that people act more humane way. The single lane wooden bridge served many years until it was overrun by the so called progress of the modern time unfortunately." I agree with that, especially when we consider the descriptions of countryside beyond the bridge, and what it's been swapped for. People used to swim in the Hsin-tien River! Imagine that.

EyeDoc said...

I seem to remember it was 新店溪 (not 河), and we did swim in it (in the 50s). Later on you could rent small two-person row boats instead of swimming. Then all of a sudden a lot of "Mongolian BBQ" eating places sprang up along the river side near 中正bridge which by then had become a concrete structure. The Taipei Municipal Bus went over the bridge and eventually ended in 永和 right before 中和, the latter was still just rice paddies. This was in the early 60s, a time when the typhoons hit, part of 永和 went under water.

Patrick Cowsill said...

Those two-person boats are still there, in Bitan (碧潭). There plastic now, in the shape of swans. You have to pedal them, as if you're riding a bicycle. When I came to Taiwan, Mongolian BBQ were still the rage. Now, they are, sadly, gone. They were delicious.

On a sidebar to this discussion, I'm interested in a Taiwanese scholar who actually learned Dutch, while he was a student in Japan, to go back into the annals of Taiwanese history more thoroughly. The reason I bring this up is because his first name was 永和. He was a scholar who finally worked at the Academia Sinica. I remember he was born in 1920, but I can't recall his last name, nor find him on the Internet. Any idea about this?

Patrick Cowsill said...

"There plastic now" = "They're plastic now". I am forgetting how to speak English.

EyeDoc said...

1. A pic of the old wooden bridge here:

2. Mr 曹永和

Patrick Cowsill said...

蛍橋 or Fire Fly Bridge, replaced by 中正 Bridge. Wow, that's a terrific shot, eyedoc. I wonder what the building is in it.

When I first came to Taiwan, 中正 or Chung-cheng Bridge had guards standing on pedestals on either side, at the head of the sidewalks, about 10 meters on to the bridge. They were from the military, with white gloves and shiny helmets. The guards were taken off sometime in the late nineties. Somebody told me that one of the guards was shot by a passerby and that's why they were relieved.

Anonymous said...

The Hotaru-Bashi蛍橋 picture shows a short span wooden bridge with 2 lanes wide, which is differ from my memory and Prof. Takasaka’s description.
The two person wooden rowing boats first appear under the Mei-Ji Bridge 明治橋near the old zoo at Yuen-Shan 円山as recorded in the documentary Viva Tonal. The same boats were also popular around Man-Ka萬華 at the third water gate第三水門. I remembered also that there were many at Tamsui beach淡水海水浴場. When I learned how to sail with El Toro in Lake Merritt, Oakland, CA they were all made of plywood; one might have to go to museum to find a wooden El Toro today.
During the martial law period under KMT monopoly ruling, all bridges are guarded by armed soldiers. The picture taking of the bridge is strictly prohibited. One of the reasons that bridge pictures are almost unavailable in Taiwan. Influenced by that kind of no-freedom system, I asked a sailor if I may take a picture when I boarded Nuclear Aircraft Carrier S.S. Enterprise in Alameda Naval Base in the States. He gave me a strange look and then said “why not?” ;obviously he could not understand.
It is beside the point but the longest bridge near Taipei is the “Big Bridge” 大橋from end of Tai-Ping-Ting 太平町to San-Chong-Po 三重甫and the third span is very popular for committing suicide 跳水自殺, so is the Golden Gate Bridge 金門橋in San Francisco旧金山.

Patrick Cowsill said...

Where in Manka is the third water gate 第三水門? Is that a specific place or a wall?

The guards on the bridge must've been a holdover from martial law, when people were afraid the communists would steal the bridge. The guards were there for another ten years after martial law ended.

I want to watch that documentary again. I've just got to find it in my mess of DVDs. It's excellent.

You're memory seems really good. The pic that eyedoc posted says Fire Fly Bridge, 1951, Kuting (which is still the name of the Yonghe neighborhood directly over the Hsin-tien River and also an MRT stop) in the caption. But that bridge in the picture looks way, way to short. To get over the Hsin-tien River, you'd need it to span at least four times the distance shown.

EyeDoc said...

The pic shows the original 螢橋. 川端橋 was the one replaced by 中正橋.

There is a painting of the 台北大橋 here:

The same type of wooden row boats were in 碧潭 as well where there were also larger ones for families/groups, popular for cruising the lake especially at night during 中秋節. Jasmine tea was served on the boat, BTW.

Patrick Cowsill said...

That's a great painting, so dark and beautiful. The mountains in the background are captured nicely. It looks so quiet down by the water in that painting. But it's also a gloomy and emotional work.

These days, there's a driving ed. course to left of the bridge. The walls depicted in the painting, a few meters from the river, are, needless to say, gone. They're a good 60 to 75 meters back. I was drawing a blank on what is immediately to the right, so I asked a friend. He told me: "Used to be a parking lot and tennis courts. But they are widening the whole bridge on both sides, so both sides are under construction." Thanks for the link and info.

Anonymous said...

Ancient Chinese built the Long Wall 万里長城to block invaders from North, German built Berlin Wall to divide the country in two parts and Taipei-Ran 台北人built the concrete wall along the Chin-Ten Chi 新店渓and Tamsui-Ho 淡水河to prevent the invasion of the flood. The concrete wall is almost 20 feet high and continues from Man-Ka to Big Bridge, hope it is still there though I am not sure the exact extent. The so called Water Gates 水門are those openings on the wall that numbered from South to North; the one near Man-Ka where people can enjoy boating is #3 第三水門and the one near the Big Bridge 大橋is #13第十三水門. The Water Gates are kept opened all the time so people can go through but closed to prevent the flood when the water level is increasing. We can tell our friends that we live near #13 Water Gate area and they know immediately that the area is near the Big Bridge Head or Twa-Kyou-Tao大橋頭, I have no idea though what really is the “Head” means.

Anonymous said...

What's going on with the comments?

Patrick Cowsill said...

"What's going on with the comments?" I don't know. It got a bit screwy with Blogspot for about a week. Things seem to be back to normal.