Wed, Mar 25, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Finding the world in Dulan

A tiny village on Taiwan’s largely untapped southeast coast is home to a bohemian community of artists hailing from all corners of the globe

By Dana Ter  /  Staff reporter

Dulan Village in Taitung County is home to spectacular scenery.

Photo: Dana Ter, Taipei Times

Twenty-five kilometers north of Taitung City along Highway 11, which marks the shoreline of Taiwan’s scenic southeast coast, lies an odd yet charming village.

The short stretch of mom-and-pop shops and sprinkling of backpackers’ inns with colorful signage does not serve a morsel of food during the slow season.

“We’re out of ingredients,” a shop owner says. “We only serve drinks and dessert.”

“It depends if the chef feels like cooking today,” says another.

Finally, a kind restaurateur takes pity on me when I tell him I’m famished. But as I whip out my camera, poised to capture the rare delicacy, he places a miserable burrito the size of a name card in front of me. I devour it in three bites.

FEEL THE BEAT

If the inhabitants of Dulan Village (都蘭) are not being nourished by food, then it’s the music and arts scene that’s sustaining them.

The roaring mountains and black sand beaches are home to Amis Aborigines, as well as a growing number of bohemian expats and hipster Taiwanese. The vibe is akin to untapped Polynesian enclaves in Hawaii. Except you’ll be lucky to see more than a lone fisherman out at shore. Whatever infrastructure there is, it’s away from the coast. The nearest access point to the beach is a good half hour trek down a rocky dirt road.

Dulan is a different sort of subtropical getaway — one where you wake up at sunrise to the sounds of people singing in the mountains, their voices softly syncing with the waves lapping and roosters crooning. Throughout the day, earthy-sounding music intermixing lyrics in Hoklo (more commonly known as Taiwanese) and the Amis language drifts out from the windows of the Sugar Factory (新東糖廠), a cluster of ramshackle warehouses in an old sugar plantation revamped into an arts and culture center with live music.

We’re on scooters without helmets earlier this month, coasting along a winding road to the Sugar Factory.

Referring to Amis songs, recording artist Wang Chi-san (王繼三) says, “I felt a different kind of energy emanating from their music.”

His recording studio is a little wooden-boarded room on the second floor of the factory. Remotes and wires are strewn all over teal-colored desks and endless stacks of CDs loom on shelves looking like an unfinished jenga game. Wang, who is Taipei-born and raised, was introduced to Amis culture when he met Aboriginal singers visiting the city.

“I previously thought that technique was something that was taught in school,” Wang says. “But Aboriginal people learn how to sing by listening to their grandparents.”

Wang was inspired by their music so much that he packed his bags and drove down to Dulan three years ago despite protests from his wife, who refused to step out of the car when they first arrived.

“When Aboriginal singers enter a commercial studio, they lose their ability to sing. The studio manager might steer them in the wrong direction and misunderstandings ensue,” Wang says.

By contrast, he wants artists to feel at home in his recording studio. While his wife was making peace with Dulan, Wang was busy drawing up the design plans for the studio. The space is meant to be different than the ones he worked at in bigger cities. And it shows. Despite the sound proof walls, an airy feel permeates. Wisps of palm trees are also subtly visible from the ceiling windows.

If “dilapidated chic” isn’t a catch phrase yet, it should be. The rest of the Sugar Factory is a musician’s dream — drum sets and keyboards are scattered all around, sound boxes are hooked up to power outlets with multicolored wires and busted holes in the walls are converted into stairwells rather than being patched up. Regular musicians who jam at the factory have their own desks, although there’s a communal working space on the second floor where they brew coffee and enjoy locally-grown tomatoes (so that’s where the food is).

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