The Tale of a Big Ugly Brown Building

If you live in Tainan, you’ve seen this place a thousand times. It lies just west of the train station, a stone’s throw from the exit, across from the police station on the circle. It is a place that might choose to overlook, yet I find it interesting because of my experiences there.

My first time there was by chance, I was wandering around downtown Tainan the Sunday after moving down. Some Filipino factory workers started talking to me and they were a little drunk. I asked them where in the world they were drinking on a Sunday afternoon. They said they were at a nearby disco. I couldn’t believe it, and they happily took me to the place.

The building was dark and creepy, and had loads of Taiwanese people waiting for buses outside and also many Filipinos hanging out. I heard that Sunday’s are their days off so they go to parks, shop, and go to the disco/KTV’s so that would explain why there were so many of them milling about. The building appears to be quite old and decrepit. I was told that it was built in 1988.

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They took me to the fifth floor to what was a large Filipino disco. It was packed, with at least 100 people dancing and drinking and the music blaring. I couldn’t believe what I saw, and the guys I met ordered drinks and the day was on. I ended up drinking and dancing, and talking to a group of girls extensively about their lives in Taiwan.

The girls told me about their jobs, and how it was hard work. They mentioned their pay (something like NT 80 an hour for 12 hour days) and I was shocked. These people made in one day what I was making in less than 2 hours of work. I spoke a lot with one girl, who was married and working in Taiwan to support her family (mother, father, 2 children and husband). At that point the beer and the gravity of the situation hit me, and since i just got paid I took out a crisp 1000 dollar bill and gave it to her, and said please buy something educational for you children with it. She was shocked and delighted and very thankful. The next time I saw her she said she had used that money plus NT 500 to buy an encyclopedia set for her kids. Whether it was true or not, it was the right thing to say and made me feel good. Anyway, back to the story.

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I left the disco, went back to my bike only to find a small hole had opened up in my pocket and my scooter key was gone. I was screwed, and went back to the disco to look for it. They were cleaning up at that point and I sat while they were cleaning and sweeping. Eventually we came to the decision that the key was not there. I did get to know the owner of the place, who has been one of my best friends in Taiwan since that day and I am the Godfather of his son. It’s funny how things work sometimes.

They ended up calling a locksmith who came out and carved a key for the scooter (without any verification or anything) in about 10 minutes for NT 300. Not a bad deal, especially considering the friendship that came out of it.

That building has been a part of my life since then. I even lived there for about 5 weeks between apartments once because my friend got me a sweet deal in a love motel there. NT 4000 for a month. Of course they never cleaned anything but the air con was great and I had all the basic necessities. TV, bathroom, and convenience store. I never had to leave the building if I didn’t want to. There was even a disco on the same floor I lived on that was open on Sundays.

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It is a multi purpose building. People live in apartments there. There are hotels there. There are gaming parlors. There are KTV’s. Other places include discos, a convenience store, a bakery, a tea shop, and small Filipino goods shops. I was told the place has hosted previously a strip club, bar, and a variety of other seedy operations. Every room I’ve seen there has cockroaches, and I was told homeless people go to the roof at night to sleep. Some Taiwanese people say there are ghosts there. I think that really means it is a place you wouldn’t want your kids to go to.

I’ve been back, and even take friends there. Some of them can’t stomach it. Most find it interesting. Some even enjoy it and go back often. Some others even play music there. Check out this video of MJ from The New Hampshire Bushman. He played a few songs on an acoustic guitar at my friends KTV and they loved it. It was a full house in the little place. Especially take notice around the 5+ minute mark. The whole place is singing along with him. Somehow through his experience he knew just exactly what they should here and performed it well. I like to talk to him about his past as a performer, but this just shows that he’s still got it.

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I have been to that building too many times, and to be honest I won’t miss it, but I sure as hell won’t forget it either.

About the Author

I am a cultural geographer by nature, and now a photographer, videographer, musician, and webmaster.

7 Responses to “ The Tale of a Big Ugly Brown Building ”

  1. It does sound like an interesting building. But I think you’re right about the fact that parents probably wouldn’t let their kids go there.

  2. That’s so funny, I had to look at that building almost everyday when I lived in Tainan last year and I always wondered what It was. I thought it was completely deserted.

  3. Great post and a great illustrations, man. Makes me want to write about some of my old haunts and related bizarrenesses.

    This is a beautiful building in fact.

  4. looking forward to another visit this weekend John!

  5. Me too! Gonna kick ass. Get your smoke goggles and iron lung ready for this weekend. We’ll be in two smokey as hell places.

  6. i’ll bring my scooter mask!

  7. Same here, I kept looking at the watch on the roof as I runned regularly on the track at Cheng Kung, just across the train station.
    It kinds of look like a less dirty Chung Ching Mansion on Nathan road in HK: Cultural mix, seedy business, places falling apart, and everything you need inside.

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