Signs, Names and Clarity

Urban architecture in Taiwan is a mixed bag. Big factories are generally in places designed and zoned for industry, with attendant wide roads for truck access,  but there are older areas where small workshops sit cheek-by-jowl with private residences. On East Gate Road in Tainan, between the Great East Gate and the viaduct that crosses the railroad tracks about 400 meters away, there’s a blacksmith shop with a forge and hydraulic hammer. From only a few feet away one can watch a young man pounding on red-hot steel tools he’s making or repairing. More shops along the north side of that stretch of road are choc-a-bloc with pieces of jackhammers, drills and other noisy stuff.

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Holland, Michigan, where I now reside, is home to lots of industry. What was once Heinz Pickle Company’s largest cannery is a short walk from my home. It sits in a mixed industrial/commercial/residential neighborhood about a block from several mid-sized factories. Out on the edge of town” things get big. This is not quite as intertwined as residence and manufacturing in Taiwan, but neither is it as spatially segregated as  what I grew up around in the San Fernando Valley in California. 

What interests me today is the names on buildings. What went on in that forge and those tool shops near my home in Tainan was clear. What goes on in the big factories in Tainan’s Anping Industrial Zone may be less clear from the road, but just might (I say might) be understandable if one reads the company’s name. On one large wall of the Heinz works, there’s a sign shaped like a pickle. Holland also hosts a “Bowl MIll” and the “Holland Bar Stool Company” (both pretty clear). But as for  “Power Manufacturing”, “Challenge Manufacturing” and “Nuvar Incorporated”, other than the idea that they make things, one cannot get the faintest impression of just what. 

A couple days ago, out on a walk on otherwise empty streets, we through the employees’ parking lot at a factory a block from Heinz.  From its name, we’ve NO IDEA what goes on there, but it sounds like something out of the Jetsons. The signs on the wall declare it to be “Thermotron Industries”.  I’m sure I could look it up, but I’d rather just look in the door, like at that forge in Tainan, and see young men making thermotrons.

David Alexander now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.

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