Monday, May 22, 2017

Jiakeduo -- traditional noodle and dumpling shop off Yongkang St.

This one of a few traditional eateries still surviving in the touristy Yongkang St. area. Just a few steps from Yongkang MRT Station Exit 5., it is a typical Taipei noodle and dumpling shop where you can get a seat without waiting in line even at noon on a Saturday.

Jiakeduo roughly means 'Many Good Guests'. In addition to home-style noodles (jiāchángmiàn), it also specializes in tāngjiǎo or dumplings in broth, which are simply pork dumplings (shuǐjiǎo) in a mildly spicy broth. Perfect for a damp winter day or after a night on the town.

Pork dumplings were one of my first big food discoveries in Taipei. Typically, they are either stuffed with pork and cabbage or pork and garlic chives (jiǔcài). They are usually served 'dry' and eaten with  a sauce that you concoct yourself out of the condiments on the table. These will typically include vinegar, soy sauce, chili sauce, and sesame oil. I personally prefer plenty of vinegar with just a dash of soy sauce and a little chili sauce.

The pork dumplings at  Jiakeduo  are by no means the best in Taipei, but they are better than average and do well in Jiakeduo's mildly spiced beef broth. The 'dry' noodles (gānmiàn) are also a good choice.

No. 5 Lane 4, Yongkang Street, Da’an District, Taipei City
$ (less than NT$200 per person)

gānmiàn (乾麵) dry noodles (noodles in sauce rather than soup)
jiāchángmiàn (家常麵)  Home style noodles (typically thick cut)
jiǔcài (韭菜) 'Garlic chives' or Chinese leeks (Allium tuberosum)
shuǐjiǎo (水餃pork dumplings
tāngjiǎo (湯餃) dumplings in broth

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Southeast Asians in 17th Century Taiwan

The United Daily News ran a story today about the presence of Javanese and Cagayan islanders in 17 century Taiwan.

According to the UDN, the National Taiwan Museum of History holds a drawing showing Dutch colonists and their servants or slaves from Kelapa (an old name for Jakarta). After the Dutch were defeated by Koxinga, they left behind a contingent of 70 or 80 Banda Islanders who served Koxinga as mercenaries.

Place names in Tainan, Pingtung, and Kaohsiung are believed to be related to the Javanese presence in southern Taiwan. They include:


  • Black Devil Well (Wuguijing)
  • Black Devil Ferry Crossing (Wuguidu)
  • Black Devil Square (Wuguicheng)

  • Black Devil Flat (Wuguipu)   

Pingtung, Xiaoliuqiu (Lamay) Island

  • Black Devil Cave (Wuguidong)
The Spanish impressed around 200 Cagayan islanders to serve as soldiers and laborers in northern Taiwan. While most left Taiwan with the Spanish, some fled into the mountains to escape mistreatment by the Spaniards and remained in Taiwan.

The UDN article contains a number of errors. It incorrectly states that Koxinga defeated the Dutch in 1622 when in fact he did not do so until 1662. It also says that the Spanish left the island when Koxinga "won Taiwan." In fact, the Spanish left Taiwan after the Dutch defeated them at the Battle of Keelung in 1642. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Zhudong to Taipei Dingpu MRT Station Ride

This is a classic northern Taiwan overnight ride. Just 130km but 3,500 meters of cumulative elevation gain. Try this one after you have done the Northern Cross and are used to climbing in Taiwan. The climbs in Hsinchu County are some of the steepest in Taiwan but the ones on this ride are moderate by Hsinchu standards if you do the ride in this direction.

Road bikes are fine on this one.

We stayed in Luona (羅那) just before the climb up to Yulao. There is supposedly a guesthouse in Luona, but when we called from the road they were full. So we asked at a traditional grocery store and were soon directed to the home of a lovely elderly Atayal couple who put us up for the night and served us Atayal warrior soup (Taiwan Black Pig pork with pigeon peas).

Here's the elevation profile and map. We had great weather this time (early October) but the pass up to Yulao is often cold and wet in the winter and spring.

Elevation Profile

Route 3,298,587 - powered by

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Taipei's Huashan--a page in Taiwanese history

Sunday's United Daily News published an interesting comment about the history of Taipei's Huashan area under the title "Tracing the historical geography of Huashan: a page in modern Taiwanese history." 

Huashan is the local name for Zhongzheng's District's Meihua Neighborhood. It is best known these days for the Huashan Creative Park. Taipei Artist Village and Shandao Temple MRT Station are also in Huashan.

Huashan does not refer China's Mount Hua in Shaanxi, one of China's Five Great Mountains even though it uses the same characters.

During the Japanese colonial period, the Huashan area was known as Kabayama-machi (樺山町) in honor of Count Kabayama Sukenori, the first Governor-General of Taiwan.

Count Kabayama played an important role in Taiwanese history. In 1872, he made several visits to Yilan in connect with the Mudan Incident and he later led the invasion of Taiwan in 1895.

After the KMT took over Taiwan in 1945, Kabayama-machi was renamed Huashan. The first character of Kabayama's last name 樺, which means 'birch', is pronounced huà in Mandarin. The new name replaced 樺 with s similar character 華, which means 'Sino'.   華 is pronounced huá. The KMT left the second character 山  (shan) alone and dropped the Japanese 町 (-matchi), thereby sinicizing what must have been to Chinese nationalists a galling reference to the Japanese imperialist project in Taiwan.

It is interesting that many residents and visitors to Taipei mistakenly assume that Huashan refers to the famous mountain in Shaanxi. This reflects the tendency to subsume Taiwanese place names and history into Chinese referents.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Hou Hsiao-hsien's 'The Assassin': Character List

Here is a list of the main characters in Hou Hsiao-hsien's The Assassin:

  • Nie Yinniang. The eponymous heroine played by Shu Qi.

    Daughter of Nie Feng, Weibo’s chief military officer and Princess Jiacheng’s lady in waiting Lady Nie-Tian. Nie is her surname.

    Yin means 'hidden' or 'concealed'. Niang here means (young) woman, not mother. She is also referred to as Nie Yao, Yao Niang, Yao Qi, Qi Niang, and A-Yao. Yao means a dark, still beauty.
  • Tian Ji'an. Military Governor of Weibo. He is the son of Tian Xu and a commoner concubine. He was adopted by Princess Jiacheng.
  • Lady Tian-Yuan. The daughter of General Yuan Yi of neighboring Mingzhou and Tian Ji'an's principal wife. She is also the masked Jing Jing and a disciple of the Central Asian sorcerer Kong Konger.
  • Concubine Hu. Tian Ji-an's favorite concubine.
  • Princess Jia-cheng. Daughter of the Daizong Emperor. Married to Tian Xu, Tian-Ji'an's father and previous military governor of Weibo.
  • Taoist Abbess. Twin sister of Princess Jia-cheng. Taoist Abbess and Princess Jia-cheng are both played by Fang-Yi Sheu,  a former principal dancer of the Martha Graham Dance Company.
  • Nie Feng. Yinniang's father and Weibo’s chief military officer. He is often referred to by his title Duyuhou, which means commander.
  • Lady Nie-Tian. Yinniang's mother and lady in waiting to Princess Jiacheng. She is a member of the Tian clan. Tian Ji'an's paternal aunt. Therefore Yinniang and Tian Ji'an are also cousins.
  • Tian Xing. A Weibo military adviser and Tang loyalist. He is Tian Ji'an's uncle.
  • Kong Kong. Central Asian sorcerer. Lady Tian-yuan's teacher in the dark arts. Played by French artist Jacques Picoux, who has lived in Taiwan since 1979. Kong means 'emptiness'.
This list is from the Chinese Wikipedia page (Cike Nie Yinniang) for the movie.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Cheat sheet for Hou Hsiao-Hsien's 'The Assassin'

Hou Hsiao-Hsien's 'The Assassin' is a beautifully filmed movie but its plot is opaque to anyone without a thorough knowledge of Tang history.

Here is a chronological cheat sheet that may help others understand the plot better than I did. It is largely based on the Chinese Wikipedia page (Cike Nie Yinniang) for the movie.

The names of the main characters are in bold.

Yinniang (lit. 'Hidden Woman') is the eponymous heroine. Her role is played by Taiwanese actress Shu Qi. The plot is based on a short piece of historical fiction by the late Tang writer Pei Xing (c.825-880).

General historical background

  • 618–907. Tang Dynasty.

    China’s most cosmopolitan dynasty that served as model for Japan. The Tang Capital was in Xi’an (then known as Chang’an).

    Sprawling over 4-5 million sq. km, the Tang ruled a multi-ethnic empire with a population that eventually reached 80 million.

    By way of comparison, Charlemagne’s roughly contemporaneous Carolingian empire ruled over 1.1 million sq. km and had a population of 10-20 million.

     In addition to the Chinese title of ‘Son of Heaven’ (tianzi), the early Tang emperors also had the title of ‘Heavenly Khagan’ (tiankehan, Khan of Khans ).
  •  755–763. Anlushan rebellion. Turkish-Sogdian Tang general Anlushan rebels against the Tang and establishes a rival dynasty centered in Henan and Hebei.

    Background to movie (No plot spoilers. This is what you need to know to follow the plot)
  •  The Tang Crown Prince Li Yu (later the Daizong Emperor) sends his tenth daughter Princess Jiacheng and her twin sister to a Taoist nunnery for safety.

    Princess Jiacheng returns to the court after the Anlushan rebellion ends, but the twin sister remains at the nunnery, where she becomes the leader of an order of female assassins loyal to the Tang.

    The Taoist assassins hold that the killing of disloyal tyrants is justified to to save thousands from tyranny.
  • 763 The Daizong Emperor (r. 762-779) appoints warlord Tian Jisi as military governor of Weibo (modern Hebei).

    In reality, Weibo is an independent kingdom that poses a serious military threat to the Tang.

    Weibo’s ruling class is a complex ethnic mix of Turkic, Sogdian, and Han clans bound by marriage, the need for mutual protection, and the ultimate goal of perhaps seizing power from the Tang one day.

    The lords of Weibo and the neighboring fiefs were generals in Anlushan’s armies.

  • 778. Tian Jisi dies and names his nephew Tian Yu his successor to rule Weibo.

  • 784. Tian Jisi’s son Tian Xu murders Tian Yu, Tian Yu’s wife and mother, and 20 other family members.

    Tian Xu seizes power in Weibo.
  • 785. Emperor Daizong marries his tenth daughter the Princess Jiacheng to Tian Xu to secure peace with Weibo.|
  • 786? Princess Jiacheng adopts Tian Ji’an, Tian Xu’s son by a concubine and raises him as her own.
  • 791? Yinniang is born.

    She is the daughter of Princess Jiacheng’s lady in waiting Lady Nie-Tian.

    Lady Nie-Tian is Tian Ji-an’s paternal aunt and is married to Nie Feng, Weibo’s chief military officer.

    Yinniang and Tian Ji-an are childhood playmates.

  • 796? On Tian Ji'an's 15th birthday, Princess Jiacheng gives two jade disks to Tian Ji’an and Yinniang Tian Ji'an's coming of age ceremony.

    The jade disks mark symbolize the marriage between Tian Ji’an and Yinniang that Princess Jiacheng is arranging.

  • General Yuan Yi of neighboring Mingzhou pledges 10,000 troops to Weibo.

    To cement the nascent military alliance with the Yuan clan, Tian Xu breaks the betrothal between Tian Ji-an and Yinniang and marries his son to Yuan Yi’s daughter Lady Tian-Yuan.

  • Yinniang is sent to the Taoist nunnery at the age of ten to live under the protection of Princess Jiacheng’s twin sister.

    There she trains as an assassin for 13 years.

    Tian Xu and Princess Jiacheng are dead. Tian Ji-an has succeeded his father.

 ***Movie plot spoiler: read anyway or you will not understand what is going on.**

  • Yinniang returns home with orders to assassinate Tian Ji-an.

  • Yinniang fails to assassinate Tian Ji-an after she sees him with his children.

  • Yinniang leaves her jade disk in the chambers of Tian Ji-an’s concubine Hu as a message to Tian Ji-an that she intends to kill him and that she has renounced their ties of marriage and kinship.

  • Tian Ji-an’s principle military adviser Tian Xing (Yinniang’s maternal uncle) advisesTian Ji-an to maintain peace with the Tang.

    Tian Ji-an flies into a rage and exiles Tian Xing to Linqing.

    Tian Xing suffers a stroke.

    Yinniang’s father Nie Feng is ordered to take Tian Xing to Linqing.

  • Nie Feng and Tian Xing are ambushed on the way to Linqing.

  • Lady Tian-Yuan (Tang Ji-an’s principal wife, AKA Jing-jing), who is also a trained assassin, participates in the ambush wearing a mask.
  • Xia Jing. Tian Ji'an's bodygaurd and a childhood playmate of Yinnian and Tian Ji'an.

  • Lady Tian Yuan/Jing Jing’s master is a Central Asian sorcerer known as Kong Kong (Emptiness). He casts spells on Concubine Hu who is pregnant with a heir who is a potential rival to Lady Tian Yuan’s sons.

  • Having saved her father and maternal uncle from the machinations of Lady Tian Yuan, Yinniang abandons her mission, rejects her assasin's creed of killing tyrants for the good of all, and renounces the aristocratic world of power she was born to for a better life among the common people on the frontiers.