By Trista di Genova, The Wild East
Boston Paul explains the artistic community’s objective: “The Refuge provides Creative Outlets for Artists, Musicians, Bohemians & Truth Seekers to come explore, create & make new connections with others. A Strong Community Makes a World of Change”
Just five o’clock Saturday morning the finishing touches were made on redecorating The Refuge Taichung. As a former amusement park, it really already had all the necessary elements– three decades of loving care infused into every aspect of its design.
Formerly known as Dongshan Paradise (東山樂園), it was a theme park that was once very popular with the locals, but it closed down ten years ago because of the 9-21 Earthquake (Sept. 21, 1999). However, a hotel and teahouse adjoin the site, and the theme park’s other various hydro-therapy opportunities are still open, such as hot springs, hot tub rooms and Chinese medicine pool.
The approach overlooks a King Kong statue, a merry-go-round and several other now-overgrown carnival rides. The backdrop is a forested mountain; to the side you can hear a river running through the valley.
This venue is magnificent – a ready-made paradise and artist’s resort that’s fortunately in the hands of those who wish to turn it into a creative mecca. There are several outdoor stage areas, vendor spots decorated with monkey statues, potential camp spaces for NT$300/night (US$10), and ‘The Path of Love’ where sighs of pleasure could be heard at past events.
The Refuge’s annual LUVStock Gathering was held here; after six years the music festival had grown from 300 then 600 people, then 1000 when it was held here at Dongshan Park for the second time last year. Then, its organizer Boston Paul said, they ‘just asked’ to rent the park – ‘about 30,000 ping’, whatever that is in acres.
Before they moved in a few weeks ago, The Refuge was run out of – and outgrown – Boston Paul and Sandra’s house. He jokes now that his neighbors must have had the police on speed-dial to make complaints. Moving the bar and other furniture out of their house required a community effort, something there seems to be a lot of at The Refuge. One person offered to donate a WiFi router he never uses; another a beehive.
It’s financially self-sufficient, Boston Paul says — he runs The Refuge with his lovely wife, Sandra, who works the bar. There’s no cover charge for this or the festival events (LUVstock and Basic Aid), only a donation and sign-in book at the door.
“I would like to re-word this and say that LUVstock has never really ‘lost’ money,” he qualifies, “because the Community pulls together and most people generally donate to help pay for the costs (which are substantial). Basic Aid has had an entrance fee in the past and we’re thinking of doing it differently this year.”
Inside, it resembles a Thai Resort. The bar, stage and hangout space are quite ample, and before I’d taken 10 steps a strange young woman jumped in front of me to say ‘hi’. It seems to bring out the friendly in people, this place.
The bar food menu is being developed, but in the meantime there are delicious home-made chicken curry pies available — definitely one of the best ways I’ve found to spend NT$100 — or the amazing jalapeño cheese poppers.
”There are vegetarian pies too,” Boston Paul adds. “They are supplied by THREE FAT FATHERS (friends of ours). There are also Creamy Mushroom, Broccoli & Cheese, Beef & Mushroom and there will more coming soon. We also will have Chris’ bread for vege sandwiches and our friend Gilbert’s Exotic Dumplings starting February. We will have a full kitchen in February, with guest chefs and cook for the weekends.”
One regular, Chris, makes his own bread, and today he brings a loaf to share; I pull out my tub of butter and studmuffin I happen to have in my KMT duffel bag, Sandra gives us a knife and cutting board and we go to town, sharing with everybody. There’s no last call — yet, Sandra said ruefully, but from past experience that’s where the most profits are to be made. And the upside is that lickety split, you’ll be able to sort out a vodka lime or whisky coke (NT$100), or draft (NT$100) or bottled beer (NT$80), and check out the veritable who’s who of today’s creative community in Taiwan.
“Are you down for the weekend?” Two Emilys ask me. I am definitely down for the weekend. Besides, Boston Paul says he has a wallspace for me to fill with a mural. Throughout the evening, I work on developing a theme – magical, and interactive — and get some useful feedback from the regulars.
Outside, you can take a leisurely stroll around the scenic park, or sit around a campfire on overturned wooden boats. And inside, the stage beckons. It is fully decked out with drumkit, mics, electric guitar, bass, amps, keyboard, djembes, tambourines. The Clines, this evening’s main act, had just arrived from Canada the day before. Lucille was nervous, she said, but they pulled off a sweet act of folksy standards.
If someone isn’t already performing on jamming on it, there is a very laid-back policy of ‘Create Your Own Entertainment’ here that is hugely popular with visitors — and understandably so. There’s no need to sign up or compete for stage time like other venues; you just play or sing something if and when you feel like it. Sometimes Boston Paul rents the place out to bands for practice or a studio session — for the insanely reasonable cost of 50NT per hour per person (US$1.50!) (Monday and Tuesday evenings they are only open by appointment, to get studio work done or have some much-deserved personal time).
In fact, by the end of last Saturday evening – 7 am on a Sunday morning – almost everyone has had a go. Boston Paul himself – formerly of the group Militant Hippi and still in the band Native Space – plays several instruments; every day in the lull periods, he often pulls off a sweeping keyboard improvisation, but he could just as easily provide a rock riff or impromptu vocals for other jammers, or play drums. He definitely helps maintain a flow and rhythm at The Refuge. Last Saturday, we did a Frederich Nietzsche song, one about “I love my penguins / I like ‘em sensitive; one about “what’s in your jumpdrive/junkdrive”. Afterwards, I asked if that was “the best jam, or one of them”; he said it would be the best one, except he hadn’t recorded. “I record 99% of everything,” he says. “We have not moved our recording stuff to the new Refuge yet. We will soon!”
Little did he know I made some bootleg recordings of some of the performances that weekend. For sure I caught the one that is a reading of my poem about Radio Banciao, because it was an artistic community, a lot like The Refuge.
As the evening goes on, everyone seemed familiar, in the sense that these are thinkers – “thinking people” as Boston Paul says. Many, too, are familiar because they know each other from LUVstock, or were at Peacefest, where several even bought my book of poetry, “The War on Sleep”. Many, like Steve George, live nearby, or in Taichung proper, and they congregate here because there are few places in Taiwan that provide this form of homespun, self-generated entertainment and welcoming, creative atmosphere.
Dong Shan Paradise 東山樂園 (“Dong Shan Le Yuan”)
Address: 台中市北屯區東山路二段151-2號 (No.151-2, Dongshan Rd, Sec. 2, Beitun District, Taichung)
THE REFUGE HOURS:The Refuge Villa is open Tuesday – Sunday 2PM until late. Mondays/Tuesdays by appointment.
HOW TO GET THERE: From the Taichung Train Station, it is about a 500NT taxi ride. Keep going past the temple at the roundabout and a hotel on your left.
Check out THE REFUGE TAICHUNG on FACEBOOK