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. 

He plays for us a song inspired by his predecessor Chen Da’s famous song – “Remembering” – and as I listen to the rich history in his vocals I’m overcome with emotion. It’s that rare feeling that you get when you hear a voice which is a direct connection to the people, places and events of long ago, a sound that is as Taiwanese as the soil beneath our feet.

As I listen with tears streaming down my cheeks, I’m reminded of the last verse of Sung Tze-lai’s poem which reads: “Any time is a good time to come to Hengchun. For singing the songs of Chen Da can uplift a weary heart.”

My tears are not of sadness, but of gratitude. How fortunate I am to have met so many amazing people, who have turned out to be the real treasures in my visit to Pingtung County!

You can draw an analogy between the people of Hengchun and the onions grown in Checheng. They say that the reason why the onions taste so sweet is because they have to cling to the surface of the ground so as not to be uprooted by the “downhill winds”. Perhaps it is the strength and resilience of the people I meet in Hengchun – people like Atimbon, Willy, Alan, Mei-hui, Jenny and Chu Ting-shun – which is at the root of their graciousness, their hospitality, and their willingness to share of themselves and this place they call home.

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