A former Lienchiang County Cultural Affairs Department director has found a new calling after converting a decommissioned military pillbox into the county’s only independent bookstore.
Thorn Bird Coffee cafe and bookstore is located at No. 222 Fusing Village in the county’s Nangan Township (南竿), but without a local to guide them, visitors are unlikely to find the narrow slope that leads to the cafe’s entrance.
People need to pass through the alleyway in Nioujiao Settlement (牛角), then continue along the tree-lined road next to the entrance of the No. 12 military stronghold, store owner Tsao Yi-hsiung (曹以雄) said.
Perched atop a high cliff overlooking the ocean, Thorn Bird is not only the county’s only independent bookstore, but also Taiwan’s northernmost bookstore, and the closest in the country to the sea.
“I am just waiting for the person who fate will bring,” Tsao said, sitting next to his books.
Over the past 20 years, Tsao — who retired from the department at the end of 2014 — has pushed for the preservation of the county’s former military facilities, many of which have been left to fall into disrepair.
As an avid reader, Tsao in 2016 resolved to combine his interests, turning one disused pillbox into a bookstore and cafe.
While its military past is an important part of the county’s history, there are other aspects of the county’s culture that visitors might not be aware of, he said, adding that he aims to share this culture with those who visit his bookstore.
When he was a child, Lienchiang was still in the grips of a cold war with China, and most of the county’s bookstores were run by the military, he said, adding that the books sold were ideological textbooks or patriotic books.
“I could not afford to buy books when I was young, but I would not have wanted to buy those books anyway,” he said.
When Tsao was in high school he moved to Taiwan proper and was exposed to the works of writer and political pundit Wu Hsiang-hui (吳祥輝), which motivated him to read Western philosophy books and other works that were not prescribed reading in Taiwan at the time, he said.
He has been collecting books ever since, he added.
“More so than calling it a ‘bookstore,’ it is more suitable to say that Thorn Bird Coffee is an elegant studio imbued with Tsao Yi-hsiung’s style,” Lienchiang County Cultural Affairs Department Director Wu Hsiao-yun (吳曉雲) said.
Paintings, stacked bookshelves and draped sofas create a comfortable and inviting atmosphere at Thorn Bird, while under the cafe’s main floor, a tunnel reminds visitors of the building’s original wartime purpose. At the other end of the tunnel, where a large gun once stood now rests a bench covered in books, the pillbox’s opening now sealed with glass.
Once a place of tense, wartime readiness, the pillbox is now a place to sit and listen to the ocean while taking in the view. Or, one can enjoy the space with a good book and a cup of coffee.
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