Urban sprawl in Toufen township

It was a nice sunny afternoon – the perfect kind for throwing on some tunes and riding around the countryside.  I revved up the scooter, and hit the road – no map, no plan – just freedom and adventure on my mind.  It had been a pretty hectic week, so I wanted to relax.

I was driving through Toufen township (north of Miaoli, south of Hsinchu) and passively watching the typical trappings of small town Taiwan.  Numerous scooter repair shops,  a betelnut stand or 2 and narrow streets covered with strange and cryptic (Mandarin) signs were all over the place.  Looks a bit like this:

I kept driving and daydreaming, when all of a sudden I came out of my reverie and realized I was surrounded by this:

Since I wasn’t really paying attention while driving, I was surprised because the change seemed to take place in an instant.  There was no gradual shift in architecture.  Felt like I went through a wormhole from dilapidated small town to western suburbia!  The buildings – all new, the roads – all new.  And even sidewalks – a feature missing from most of Toufen.

Looking back, I was reassured to see the older structures.  Whew, I was still in this time continuum.  I couldn’t believe how stark the difference was between the two areas.  It was as if someone had drawn a line – one side is where the bourgeoisie dwell and on the other, we have the proletariat

Curious now, I took a ride around.  The whole area is quite upscale and looks nothing like the rest of Toufen township.  It seems to exist in it’s own bubble.  There are a few expensive looking restaurants, cafes and boutiques.

Despite all this, it looked deviod of human habitation.  Some areas around the shops had life, but for the most part it was vacant.  There were hardly any people, vehicles or movement – which is damn strange in Taiwan.  The buildings seemed empty.  Almost like a ghost town.  At one point, I thought I saw a tumbleweed roll by and heard the clip-clop of horse hooves.  I half expected to see Clint Eastwood behind me!

The area extends for around 10 – 15 city blocks, then the wormhole leads back to regular Toufen town.  All traces of western suburbia disappear – like it wasn’t even there.  It’s a really strange zone division.

I discovered later that this area was built up about 3 years ago, I’d imagine, in response to the influx of engineers and other science types working in the nearby Hsinchu and Jhunan science parks.  Housing is cheaper in Toufen than in Hsinchu, so I guess they figured people would live in Toufen  and commute to work.

It seems like this paid off for the early buyers.  3 yrs ago these houses were sold (before being built) for  NT 8 – 12 million (US $ 266 666 – 400 000).  Today they cost around NT 22 million (US $ 733 333) – pretty much a 100% increase!  No wonder it seems like a ghost town now – that’s a hefty price.

Another explanation could be that rich people (living elsewhere) have bought up these properties and are holding them as investments.  The more Toufen grows, the higher the sale price.

Whatever the reasons behind this area, it’s truly strange to see something so urban right in the middle of a rural area.  I wonder how much more of this township will be developed in the coming years?  Donning my helmet, I went back through the wormhole to regular Toufen, and continued my ride.

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