A bunker became a temple in Keelung, Taiwan. photographs: Lam Yik Fei /nyt
Guests to Keelung, a mountainous port metropolis on Taiwan’s northern coast, would possibly moderately assume that the white wall in the back of Shi Hui-hua’s breakfast store is, properly, a wall. Just a few air vents counsel there could be one thing on the opposite aspect.
“It is a bomb shelter,” Ms. Shi, 53, stated as she waited for the morning rush. “As a result of we’re Keelung, we all know these sorts of locations.”
“It is a dwelling area,” she added. “And an area for loss of life.”
Throughout his road and plenty of extra in Keelung – which suffered its first international assault, by the Dutch, in 1642 – the panorama has been reduce away for cover.
Shihciouling Tunnel, a bunker in Keelung. Lam Yik Fei/The New York Instances
The kitchens connect with underground passageways that tunnel by way of the sandstone. Rusty gates on the finish of the alleys result in darkish maws stuffed with wartime memorabilia, and infrequently garbage or bats – or an adjoining altar or restaurant.
There are almost 700 bomb shelters on this closely fortified metropolis of 360,000, main officers to say Keelung has a better density of locations to cover than anyplace else in Taiwan. And for a loosely organized group of city planners, artists and historical past buffs, Keelung’s bomb shelters have change into a canvas – for inventive city renewal and civil protection.
A few of these havens have been remodeled into cultural areas. However these underground areas aren’t simply cool relics; on a self-governing island that China sees as a misplaced asset it plans to get well, it’s also important infrastructure.
A lot of the bunkers have been mapped and constructed by Japan, which dominated Taiwan from 1895 till the tip of World Conflict II, when Keelung was the goal of bombardment.
Entrance to certainly one of Keelung’s many bunkers. Lam Yik Fei/The New York Instances
The shelters round Ms. Shi’s store occupy one of many oldest components of city, just under a hillside park that’s being upgraded with an elevator. One in all its entrances will quickly require a brief stroll by way of a cave with winding tunnels that till lately served as a storage shed for firefighters.
On a current morning, it seemed extra like an artwork gallery or a nightclub. Rails of lights ran alongside the damp partitions, illuminating shoots of inexperienced crops, the one bursts of coloration within the basement. Concrete flooring had been laid with drainage areas on the perimeters.
Hung Chih-chien, 33, an official with Keelung’s metropolis planning division, stated metropolis officers initially thought of opening up the area and turning it right into a restaurant, then determined they did not wish to. not break the unique geology.
Keelung’s shelters aren’t straightforward to handle; acts are uncommon and entry usually defines possession. However the metropolis discovered paperwork displaying that this bunker was constructed within the nineteenth century, in the direction of the tip of the Qing dynasty’s rule over Taiwan.
It was certainly one of many tunnels and bunkers constructed throughout this time when China, weakened by famine and riot, struggled to carry on to its territory.
A slender path in a bunker-turned-temple in Keelung. Lam Yik Fei/The New York Instances
In 1884, for instance, the French invaded Keelung, seizing the city for a few yr till Taiwan’s Imperial Commissioner, Liu Ming-ch’uan, drove again the French troops. Quickly after, to raised safe Keelung, he commissioned the development of Taiwan’s first railway tunnel by way of Shihciouling Mountain, a pure barrier blocking Keelung from Taipei.
The tunnel opened in 1890 — and can reopen, renovated, in a couple of months.
Throughout a current tour, Kuo Li-ya, who heads the Keelung native authorities’s cultural heritage division, defined the sophisticated restoration effort, which included putting in small cameras above the tunnel to evaluate the ceiling resistance. She stated she hoped it will finally be linked to mountain climbing trails and native roads.
“We would like folks to know the story, to know the way it helped shield Keelung,” she stated.
Standing within the tunnel, with new brilliant orange bricks combined with ageing grey stone, she spoke of the story however acknowledged that the tunnel may additionally shield folks in one other battle.
For a lot of in Keelung, previous and current threats are fading.
Pufferfish, a restaurant in a transformed bunker in Keelung. Lam Yik Fei/The New York Instances
In current months, China has elevated the frequency and depth of army workouts off the coast of Taiwan. Xi Jinping, the Chinese language chief, additionally spoke out on unification with Taiwan, reserving the suitable to make use of power.
At Pufferfish, a restaurant in Keelung backed by a cavernous bomb shelter, vacationers seated on the half-dozen wood tables take photographs of the inside. However the locals favor darkish humor.
“Lots of people advised me that if a conflict broke out, they might come to my restaurant,” stated Miao Hsu-ching, 34, proprietor of Pufferfish. “They’re sure that we’ll proceed to offer meals.”
Rising up in Keelung, Miao felt it was a disgrace that many deserted bomb shelters have been stuffed with trash and uncared for. For generations, the youngsters of Keelung have frightened one another with tales of their ghosts, slain troopers and murders.
“You will need to renovate them and join them to their environment,” Miao stated.
The Keelung Tower building web site in Keelung. Lam Yik Fei
To some, a penchant for shelters appears odd. Ms. Shi stated she noticed a snake within the one behind her retailer – past the storage room – and she or he had no intention of stepping into, though missiles began flying.
She stated the Keelung shelters needs to be renovated primarily to encourage younger folks – whom she known as smooth, a “strawberry technology” – to pay extra consideration to tensions with China that might power them to combat or to cover.
For a few of its neighbours, the bunkers are a reminder of their previous.
A couple of doorways down from his store, 91-year-old Wang Huo-hsiang sat within the store the place he made rubber stamps, earlier than he retired.
He remembers when the People bombed Keelung in 1944 and 1945, recalling the growth, growth, growth of the bombs he heard whereas hiding in a close-by shelter.
Shi Hui-hua in her restaurant, within the storage room of the bunker that extends past the wall behind her, in Keelung. Lam Yik Fei/The New York Instances
He slept in a single tunnel at night time, he stated, lived in one other by day. He was solely a boy, in CM2, however this reminiscence made him smile. The refuges had saved him.
“It was the one secure place to be,” he stated. “They have been filled with folks.”
He and his spouse then spent summer time nights within the man-made caves, hiding from the warmth. They shared a drink and meals, talked to buddies.
Wang Huo-hsiang, 91, in his retailer in Keelung. Lam Yik Fei/The New York Instances
“It was like an air conditioner in there,” he stated. His spouse, Wang Chen Shu-mei, stood behind him. She laughed and agreed.
However when requested if they might think about returning to the shelters within the occasion of one other assault, they each frowned. Ms. Wang Chen began screaming.
“We’re Taiwanese, we have now nothing to do with China,” she stated. Then she spoke quietly, “We do not know when the bombs will come. We hope they by no means will.”
Bats in Shihciouling Tunnel, a bunker in Keelung. Lam Yik Fei/The New York Instances
Wang Chieh close to the partitions outdoors a bunker he adorned with a mural in Keelung. Lam Yik Fei/The New York Instances
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