Glass Beads with the Heart of a Dancer

20 01 2011

You could say that the dancers of Tjimur Dance Theatre are fired to perfection like the glass beads they make. And the analogy works the other way too: the glass beads contain the energy and passion of a nimble dancer’s footsteps.

I arrive in Sandimen on a clear, sunny Tuesday morning. I’m here in search of the “glass beads that dance.” The beads themselves don’t dance, but many of the people who make them do.

As we drive up into the mountains, Tjimur Dance Theatre’s artistic director Luzen Matilin (Liao Yi-hsin) explains the marriage between two very different artistic disciplines in her family: the refined, still beauty of the glass beads, and the expressive motion of modern dance incorporating elements of traditional Paiwan culture.

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A Man and his Moon-shaped Lute

16 01 2011

It’s on one of my last days in Hengchun that I finally hear a tune plucked on a moon-shaped lute. A performing arts educator named Jenny Tai, who I encounter at Moonbeam Café, offers to bring me to Takuang Elementary School  where students are learning from a man named Chu Ting-shun, who is seen as somewhat of a national treasure. After a short performance incorporating lutes and African drums, Jenny and I go back to Chu’s house to listen to him tell stories and play one of the many moon-shaped lutes that line the walls of his living room. 

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Power Shopping at the Hengchun Morning Market

15 01 2011

 If you really want to experience for yourself the essence of a small town in Taiwan, you need to get up early and make a trip to a morning market. At 8:30am, Mei-hui and I are already running a little late, but there is still much to be seen.

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Lungkeng: Mighty Waves meet a Fragile Shoreline

15 01 2011

The most spectacular of all the rainy-day sights can be found at Longkeng, where visitors are limited to just 200 a day. As we edge toward the craggy shore of the southernmost tip of Taiwan, we pull our jackets tighter against the gusting winds and sea spray and marvel at the juxtaposition of the mighty waves and some of the most fragile and unusual plant life clinging to the windblown surfaces. 

Register to visit Longkeng here:

Houwan: Salt on the Rocks

14 01 2011
At Houwan, Mei-hui shows me how sheets of salt crystals form when the sunlight evaporates seawater that has gathered in craters along the rocky coral shore. She says that while the government no longer restricts the collection of sea salt, only store-bought salt contains the iodine that would have prevented her and many of her classmates from needing a thyroid operation back when they were younger.

Gangkou: Stunning Scenery in Rain or Shine

14 01 2011

One of many murals to be seen in Gangkou

Our trip takes us past stunning fields of pink cosmos on the road to Gangkou, a town in which many of the residences have been adorned with beautifully painted murals that speak volumes about the local culture: here a scene of women picking tea leaves; there a wall covered with flying fish; down the road a mural of farmers working the fields.

At the Gangkou Weeping Chinese Banyan Reserve, Mei-hui shows me what at first glance looks like a grove of trees, but turns out to be one massive banyan tree. The curious setting is like nothing I’ve ever seen, and has purportedly even attracted the attention of director Ang Lee, who was scouting for places to film.

In Lieu of Sunshine: Moonbeams

13 01 2011

The Moonbeam Cafe turns out to be a pivotal place in my trip to Hengchun.

Later, Kristine heads back to Taipei and I’m left once again to fate. I rent a scooter and head back into the town of Hengchun in search of a way to appreciate the area that doesn’t require sun — perhaps something cultural or historical.

I’m drawn to a little café called “Moonbeam” and I muse that if I can’t find sunshine, then I’ll have to settle for some moonshine. I get myself a delicious cup of coffee made from fresh-roasted beans, and in the process meet the store manager Alan Liu, who introduces me to the owner Willy Wu. It turns out that I’ve stumbled on a café which has become somewhat of a meeting place for people interested in music, culture and history.

Willy himself comes from an old established Hengchun family, and returned to set up shop here after having studied food and hotel management in Canada. In 1999, he opened the adjoining Chun Cheng bookstore, which bills itself as the “southernmost bookstore in Taiwan.” He then opened the café about eight years ago.

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