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.

Willy’s eyes light up as he talks about the town Hengchun, and he offers to introduce me to some people who he says I must meet while I’m in town. And when I complain a bit about the weather, a smile spreads across his face and he leads me into the bookstore to read a large framed piece of calligraphy of a poem by Sung Tze-lai:

When You Come to Hengchun

When you come to Hengchun,
Be sure to come when it rains.
Fog conceals the mountains like a bridal veil.

When you come to Hengchun,
Be sure to come at sunset.               .
Clouds rest on the water like a fine red powder.

When you come to Hengchun,
Be sure to come on a clear day.
You can watch the sailboats drifting near and far.

Any time is a good time to come to Hengchun.
For singing the songs of Chen Da can uplift a weary heart.

I muse at how the poem actually suggests coming to Hengchun in bad weather. It turns out that my trip to the Hengchun Peninsula doesn’t have to be about the beach after all.

As for the fierce “downhill winds” that race across the Hengchun Peninsula in winter, Willy says they should actually be a drawing card for visitors. He explains that the winds clear the air, and contribute to good surfing conditions which lure surfers from as far away as Japan.

I decide to take the poet’s advice and seek out the scenic fog, clouds and rain of wintertime Pingtung. As luck would have it, I meet the perfect guide later that evening after a mini-concert on the front porch of the Moonbeam Café.

One of the singers – the store manager Alan Liu – introduces me to his mother, a part-time local guide (解說員) named Liao Mei-hui (廖美惠). In addition to creating clever sculptures out of modeling clay (an art which she also teaches), Mei-hui offers tours of many of the local scenic spots.

She offers to bring me to several places which would offer views that are magnificent even in inclement weather.

Moonbeam Café: 屏東縣恆春鎮中正路83號 08-8880302

Contact Liao Mei-hui (廖美惠): www.markstudio2009.blogspot.com

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