After the underwhelming experience of trying to navigate the Toufen Township Culture Bike Trail, we decided to ditch the trail and head up into the mountains near the Yung-Ho Shan Reservoir.
Spotted from a nearby mountain, the sprawling Wei Gong mental asylum caught our eye and we felt compelled to investigate.
Turns out the grounds around the asylum were far more interesting than the asylum itself…
Situated literally in the middle of nowhere which causes the asylum to stand out like a sore thumb against the mountainous backdrop of the mountain ranges separating southern Toufen from Miaoli City, it’s hard not to go past the “Wei Gong Mental Asylum” signage and not feel at least a little curious.
The asylum itself is actually the “Tung-Hsing Building” belonging to the Wei Gong Memorial Hospital (為恭紀念醫院), which is the main hospital servicing the Toufen Township area. I guess due to the nature of the patients inside, they felt it best to locate this particular building away from the main township.
Situated on a mountainside, we had to climb a steep road to get into the asylum grounds, after which we were greeted by a big white entrance gate:
Adding to the already eerie atmosphere conjured up by the term mental asylum (I couldn’t get Gotham City out of my head), just inside the welcome gate abandoned plans of long past glory days greeted us:
I don’t know if the area around the mental asylum was ever a thriving community, but clearly whoever designed this strip of shops had a greater vision for the area than ever came to pass.
A little ways up from the ghost town shopping mall, you then catch a glimpse of the asylum itself:
The white building is the start of the asylum and although you can’t see it in the photo, it stretched up the mountainside for over a kilometer. Judging the sheer amount of water tanks plonked onto the roof of the facility, it easily looked like it could house thousands.
The dominating pink building in the background (which we originally thought was the asylum) was a gated community. There was a guard on duty who wouldn’t let us in to explore so I can’t really tell you anything more about it.
Why you’d want to live on the footsteps of a mental asylum in the middle of the mountains cut off from civilization I have no idea but like the asylum, the housing community stretched up the mountainside and looked like it could house thousands.
Off to the side of the community was a little service road and whilst the girlfriend attempted to question the guard on the asylum and get some information (which ultimately proved unfruitful with him claiming he knew nothing about the asylum), I spotted some nice looking houses down the mountainside.
When my girlfriend returned we figured we’d take the service road down and see if it led us any closer to the houses we could see.
After a short roll downhill on the bicycles, we came to a stop at a great big barred gate. Fenced off but still clearly visible behind the gate, were some of the most western designed houses I’ve ever seen in Taiwan:
Looking like a suburban street out of 50s America, the overgrown Taiwanese vegetation and fact that we were halfway up a mountainside standing in the shadow of a mental asylum suspended my disbelief that we’d momentarily travelled back in time.
A testament to the ghost town nature of the area, after standing around at the gate for a while it wasn’t long before an old man came out of the house closest to us (the blue one), and asked us what we were doing there.
Taking the opportunity to find out more about the place, this guy was much more accommodating than the security guard and informed us that the houses we were looking at were built for western doctors working at the asylum (sometime in the 1970s).
The need for the houses had long since been expired and now they simply sat there mostly uninhabited and forgotten.
The grounds were well-kept though so people must have still occupied the houses, but the man was reluctant to give us any further information. He did however let us into the grounds to take some closer shots of the houses (I think we told him I was feeling homesick), on the condition we didn’t touch anything or venture out of his line of sight.
Although used as a cover story to get a closer look at the houses, after walking around for a bit amongst them I did actually start to feel a bit homesick. Well, I’m not sure if that’s the correct term to use but it was more of a sense that these were the most “normal” looking houses I’d seen here.
I’ve always wondered if I bought a house in Taiwan whether I’d have to resign myself to living in an indistinguishable concrete box or whether I’d be able to perhaps pay an architect to design something a bit more… “homey”.
These houses looked to be made of wood, which I’m sure isn’t the smartest material to build from in Taiwan’s humidity, but here the houses were, standing tall nearly a half century after being built and looking to be in much better condition than most of Taiwan’s dirty buildings.
Looking back now our visit out there in the middle of nowhere to the Wei Gong mental asylum feels somewhat like a surreal dream. But seeing those houses, knowing it can be done…
…I guess there’s hope yet.