O-M-G! What is this place? I came to check out this “Shu Wu” (Chinese for “Tree House”) in the historic Anping District of Tainan, Taiwan. I was so excited to see a giant flight of stairs going up this grand ole tree that I quickly shot up the steps. Then it led me downward…isn’t the tree house supposed to be ON the tree?
At the bottom of the stairs, I walked through an ornate but small doorway into a grand space. So this tree house is actually beneath the tree. It was now vacant, abandoned, but it appeared to be a majestic home from a time long ago. The expansive living room was supported by solid tree trunk beams, and decorated in beautiful but funky wallpaper. It featured an effervescent waterfall wall and in another room, there was exposed plumbing on the ground. Now that’s not something you’d normally find in a tree house.
As I strolled to the other side of the house, I noticed that the roof was leaking profusely, so much so that it was overflowing out the window. I needed to find my way out before the flood got worse, but I was lost. Suddenly, I encountered this alien-looking thing, like a leg of a giant insect. I turned around and saw the most ghastly sight in my life. It looked like this huge tree monster had this house in his grasp, and is pulling it toward its enormous mouth. What is this place? I need to get out, now!!
Since I’m completely lost, and now out of my mind, I scramble around to find any way I can get out of this place. I see this open window with Chinese style wood shutters and I dash toward it. No use, there are solid cement bars blocking the opening, and it’s reinforced by overgrowth of vegetation. I am imprisoned!
Looking out, I can see the dense beard of the monster moving closer and closer. Soon, it has devoured the house, with me in it, but I refuse to be trapped in here. Running around this hybrid between the Tarzan’s Tree House and the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland, I scamper frantically to find another way out. Finally, I see this map on the wall which points me toward an opening and I’m out. Escape at last!
Just outside, I recognize this 19th century building from the map as the Tait & Co. trading post. Tait was one of the major traders of Formosan Oolong Tea (Taiwan was named “Ilha Formosa,” meaning “Beautiful Island” by the visiting Portuguese in the 16th century). Apparently, the Tree House was Tait’s old warehouse building that’s been dominated by the Ficus Superba, also named Large Leaf Banyan or Sea Fig, which has grown around and into the structure after decades of neglect. All of the beauty and terror displaying inside is actually made with strangler roots and aerial prop roots, and a bit of my own active imagination.
As I walk out of the venue, I peer over at a smaller creeping root structure. This one looks like a tentacled sea monster. It seems to bellow, “Ahoy there, young lass. See ya in your next adventure.”
I check my itinerary, yo ho, Tainan Gold Coast here I come!