I leave my bewildered travel companions behind at a county fair in Danshui to board a rickety minibus to Sanzhi, a tiny town an hour north of Taipei City. I offer the bus driver my EasyCard but the bus is off the city grid; I end up madly scrambling for coins to pay the fare.The minibus leaves me by the side of a wide road. Both silent lanes are devoid of people. A lone car would rush by every few minutes. I walk further down the ghost town and wonder if I’ll get to the bottom of my elusive quest.
I spot an old woman leave a general store. I ask in halting Mandarin where the so-called UFO houses are. She stares and walks away. I see two more people and they shrug and ignore me too. After ten aimless minutes beating the pavement I cross the street to a gas station. There’s only one car parked at the edge of the huge lot. A man is washing it. We two are the only people as far as the eye can see. A second man jogs out of the cashier’s cubicle, and we make three. I implore him to help me find my Holy Grail. He points to some indeterminate direction and I set foot once again.
I stumble upon a crumbling red brick wall with a Che Guevara stencil as large as my torso. I follow the trail of graffiti, taking photographs the whole time. It leads me to a two- meter high break in the wall. The bottom of the hole is as high as my knee. I chuck my camera bag across before hoisting myself up. The “floor” of the passageway is made up entirely of big crushed rocks.
I wonder if I’m in the right place. The passageway is as dark as a Minotaur’s lair. I crouch in a corner and try to make sense of the wrinkled printout of vague directions I found online. Sod it, I think, I’ve come this far. I stand up and prepare to meet whatever lies at the end of the dank path.
A bright light blinds me. I’ve reached the end of the passageway and I’m outdoors again. I have found my El Dorado! Dozens of multicolored pod houses in various states of decay arrayed like abandoned space ships in an industrial wasteland. I see I’m not the only searcher. There are approximately fifteen others milling about with DSLRs, tripods and other accoutrements of documentation. We acknowledge each other with nods but do not speak otherwise. We are each immersed in our own personal quest to capture a slice of this futuristic yet anachronistic architectural artifact.
These rusty, legendary, figure-eight shaped pod houses, remnants of more buoyant economic times, were built in the 1970s as luxury vacation homes of the “future”. The government has since torn them down, one year after my quest.
– October 2008