“The Search for General Tso”: expanding the Taiwan story

Recently, I watched the documentary “The Search for General Tso.” For those in the U.S., it is currently available on various digital mediums (such as Netflix, Amazon.com, iTunes, etc.) for streaming, rent, or purchase. The name of the documentary in Chinese is 尋找左宗棠, and was released in May in Taiwan, and can be seen at 高雄市電影館 (Kaohsiung Film Archive). The purpose of the documentary is to find the origins of the dish called General Tso’s chicken, or 左宗堂雞. The dish becomes a starting point to discuss Chinese food in America, and the history of Chinese immigration and Chinese people in America. The documentary includes interviews with prominent scholars on Chinese in America, which includes prominent scholars on Chinese cuisine and history from the U.S. and Europe.

The documentary takes an American focused view, so its target is probably American audiences. In one part of the documentary, we travel to 湖南 (Hunan), the home province of 左宗堂. We meet scholars who show us around his hometown, where there is an hotel and an elementary school named after him. We see his home, and a large statue dedicated to him. But when it’s time to explain his significance in Chinese history, those interviewed are in a studio or office, and are people in America and Europe.

It is not until the end of the documentary that we learn that one of the people we met in China is a descendent of 左宗堂, who is now a 左宗堂 scholar, and was basically showing us his family history. But this is already far after there was a humiliating scene where the filmmakers gave him a fortune cookie: not knowing what it was, he asked if it was edible; upon biting down, he found the piece of paper inside. I assume the filmmakers did not bother to explain to him what the cookie was, just so they could get the reaction of him eating a piece of paper.

I was starting to get annoyed at that point in the documentary. It’s a silly way of showing that people in the East do not know about something that was obviously concocted in the West. Since I’m sure the filmmakers knew that already, they should have had one of their historians point that out, rather than humiliating someone over the fact that he didn’t know how to eat a fortune cookie, or that people did not know the Americanized 左宗堂雞. Hint: if it has American broccoli, people in the East probably will not recognize the dish as a Chinese dish.

It is not until the end of the documentary that it is revealed that the true origin of 左宗堂雞 is from Taiwan, originated by chef 彭長貴. We are taken to Taiwan for a much too short interview with 彭長貴 (who is now in his 90s) and his son, 彭鐵誠. Footage of chefs at 彭園 was edited with other cooking scenes in a way that it is not until 彭鐵誠 holds the plate and says, “This is how we make General Tso’s chicken,” that we know the footage was of the original being made.

There is no introduction at all to 彭園, which began as a restaurant founded by 彭長貴. It is now a restaurant corporation run by 彭鐵誠. The restaurant corporation is famous for its banquet halls and fine dining. Chef 彭長貴 has been called 湘菜之神 (god of Hunan cuisine) and 國宴御廚 (chef of the state banquet) by the media.

The story of 彭長貴 is glossed over and not given the recognition he deserves in the documentary. However, his story is not lost in Taiwan. The following videos are in Mandarin. This Taipei Times restaurant review of 彭園 includes a good summary of the story of 彭長貴 and his restaurants, in English.

The following is a documentary on the life of 彭長貴.

This news clip has footage of 彭長貴 (at age 96!) recreating his 左宗堂雞.

This news clip introduces the dish and includes interview with 彭長貴. Notice in the beginning the host says to the audience, “左宗堂雞 is a famous dish that you thought may have come from China, but it really is from Taiwan.”

The 左宗堂雞 that 彭長貴 made famous is a banquet-style, high-end dish. The following clips are cooking shows where chefs show home cooks how to recreate the dish (there’s a mix of Mandarin and Taiwanese in these clips).

This first clip has a funny alternate 左宗堂雞 origin story. This show focuses on making a dish for less than 59元 (roughly $2 USD).

This cooking show focuses on health, so the recipe has been slightly altered.

The following was produced by 新光三越 (Shin Kong Mitsukoshi department store) to teach viewers how to make 左宗堂雞 for Mother’s Day.

Overall, I found “The Search for General Tso” to be a good documentary. As a documentary about the history of Chinese people in America, the history of Chinese cuisine in America, and the history of Chinese restaurants in America, it does an exceptional job. It touches on all the important aspects of the greater culture that the dish represents. I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about the history of Chinese culture and Chinese cuisine in America. It is a documentary that needed to be made, to recount the origins and evolution of American Chinese cuisine, as well as the experience of Chinese immigrants in America. I especially enjoyed the clips with Cecilia Chiang, and it reminded me that I still need to watch the documentary about her, “Soul of a Banquet.”







“Outlier Dictionary of Chinese Characters” Kickstarter

For those who are interested, there are less than three days left to pledge!

來學正體字 Learn Traditional Chinese Characters

The Kickstarter deadline for Outlier Dictionary of Chinese Characters by Outlier Linguistic Solutions 久茂語林 is only a few days away! The dictionary aims to explain characters based on the latest research and academic knowledge of the Chinese language. It looks like a great project and is something to consider investing in. The dictionary looks suitable for everyone interested in the Chinese language.

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Do you know the World Cup country names in Chinese?

Since the world is now focused on World Cup events, it’s a great time to learn some World Cup related words in Chinese. Unfortunately, the FIFA website is not available in Chinese (traditional or simplified). The next best place to check out scores would be google Taiwan. Clicking on the World Cup graphic of the day will lead to the scoreboard, entirely in Taiwan Mandarin.

分組 gives the group standings. Country names can be tricky because they are typically transliterated, unless there’s an historic name. These standings are no longer valid, I took the screen shots after the June 18th games. If you’d like to review the phonetic symbols, you can take a look at my post on 注(ㄓㄨˋ)音(ㄧㄣ)符(ㄈㄨˊ)號(ㄏㄠˋ).


A 組 Group A
巴(ㄅㄚ)西(ㄒㄧ) Brazil
墨(ㄇㄛˋ)西(ㄒㄧ)哥(ㄍㄜ) Mexico
克(ㄎㄜˋ)羅(ㄌㄨㄛˊ)埃(ㄞ)西(ㄒㄧ)亞(ㄧㄚˇ) Croatia
喀(ㄎㄜˋ)麥(ㄇㄞˋ)隆(ㄌㄨㄥˊ) Cameroon
B 組 Group B
荷(ㄏㄜˊ)蘭(ㄌㄢˊ) Netherlands
智(ㄓˋ)利(ㄌㄧˋ) Chile
澳(ㄠˋ)洲(ㄓㄡ) Austrailia
西(ㄒㄧ)班(ㄅㄢ)牙(ㄧㄚˊ) Spain


C 組 Group C
哥(ㄍㄜ)倫(ㄌㄨㄣˊ)比(ㄅㄧˇ)亞(ㄧㄚˇ) Colombia
象(ㄒㄧㄤˋ)牙(ㄧㄚˊ)海(ㄏㄞˇ)岸(ㄢˋ) Côte D’Ivoire
日(ㄖˋ)本(ㄅㄣˇ) Japan
希(ㄒㄧ)臘(ㄌㄚˋ) Greece
D 組 Group D
哥(ㄍㄜ)斯(ㄙ)大(ㄉㄚˋ)黎(ㄌㄧˊ)加(ㄐㄧㄚ) Costa Rica
義(ㄧˋ)大(ㄉㄚˋ)利(ㄌㄧˋ) Italy
英(ㄧㄥ)格(ㄍㄜˊ)蘭(ㄌㄢˊ) England
烏(ㄨ)拉(ㄌㄚ)圭(ㄍㄨㄟ) Uruguay


E 組 Group E
法(ㄈㄚˋ)國(ㄍㄨㄛˊ) France
瑞(ㄖㄨㄟˋ)士(ㄕˋ) Switzerland
厄(ㄜˋ)瓜(ㄍㄨㄚ)多(ㄉㄨㄛ) Ecuador
宏(ㄏㄨㄥˊ)都(ㄉㄨ)拉(ㄌㄚ)斯(ㄙ) Honduras
F 組 Group F
阿(ㄚ)根(ㄍㄣ)廷(ㄊㄧㄥˊ) Argentina
伊(ㄧ)朗(ㄌㄤˇ) Iran
奈(ㄋㄞˋ)及(ㄐㄧˊ)利(ㄌㄧˋ)亞(ㄧㄚˇ) Nigeria
波(ㄅㄛ)士(ㄕˋ)尼(ㄋㄧˊ)亞(ㄧㄚˇ)與(ㄩˇ)赫(ㄏㄜˋ)塞(ㄙㄞ)哥(ㄍㄜ)維(ㄨㄟˊ)納(ㄋㄚˋ) Bosnia and Herzegovina


G 組 Group G
德(ㄉㄜˊ)國(ㄍㄨㄛˊ) Germany
美(ㄇㄟˇ)國(ㄍㄨㄛˊ) USA
迦(ㄐㄧㄚ)納(ㄋㄚˋ) Ghana
葡(ㄆㄨˊ)萄(ㄊㄠˊ)牙(ㄧㄚˊ) Portugal
H 組 Group H
比(ㄅㄧˇ)利(ㄌㄧˋ)時(ㄕˊ) Belgium
韓(ㄏㄢˊ)國(ㄍㄨㄛˊ) Korea
俄(ㄜˋ)羅(ㄌㄨㄛˊ)斯(ㄙ) Russia
阿(ㄚ)爾(ㄦˇ)及(ㄐㄧˊ)利(ㄌㄧˋ)亞(ㄧㄚˇ) Algeria

淘汰賽 are the elimination games. Unfortunately fans in Asia have been staying up until dawn to be able to watch these games.


Names of numbers in Chinese

I found a way to make remembering the names of large numbers easier:

In Chinese, large numbers change names when they increase by 10000 (10^4). 10^4 is 萬, 10^8 is 億, and 10^12 is 兆.

In English, large numbers change names when they increase by 1000 (10^3). 10^3 is thousand, 10^6 is million, 10^9 is billion, and 10^12 is trillion.

思想語言 Thinking About Languages

One thing that can be confusing is the names of numbers in Chinese. It is not simple to translate one to the other, especially for numbers above one hundred. In English, the name change occurs at the thousand. For example, a million is equivalent to a thousand thousand. In Chinese, the name change is at 萬, which is ten thousand, so the names do not change at the same numbers. 一億 is equivalent to 一萬萬. I do not know if this makes a difference in the perception of numbers. Does 十萬 seem larger or smaller than one hundred thousand? I’m not sure. If I write down the number, I know the two terms are identical.

1 = one = 一
10 = ten = 十
100 = one hundred = 一百
1000 = one thousand = 一千
10000 = ten thousand = 一萬
100000 = one hundred thousand = 十萬

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五月天追夢3DNA available on Hulu and 5月天諾亞方舟 preview – updated

Update: information about 《5月天諾亞方舟》 in the last paragraph.

While 五月天 fans in Taiwan are anticipating the release of the movie 《5月天諾亞方舟MAYDAY NOWHERE 3D》, I found 《五月天追夢3DNA》(“Mayday 3DNA”) on Hulu (U.S. only). 《五月天追夢3DNA》 was released on September 16, 2011 in 3D. 《5月天諾亞方舟》 will be released on September 18, 2013 and will be in 3D (and 4DX where available).

The majority of 《五月天追夢3DNA》 comes from 五月天 concert footage from their 《D.N.A.》 tour that took place between 2009 and 2010. The other parts of the movie consists of three touching vignettes that conclude at a 五月天 concert in Shanghai. English subtitles are provided. There’s actually no option to turn them off. The songs in the movie are from albums that were released up to that point, which was《後青春期的詩》in 2008. 五月天 has so many songs that there’s no way they would get through them all in the movie, unless the movie was more than three hours long. All of the songs in the concert footage are in Mandarin, there were no Taiwanese songs. There are parts in the movie where it would look better in 3D, but it is mostly graphics during the concert footage that were added afterward. The sound on Hulu is not the surround sound quality found in the original, but the performances and music are still impressive. My favorites are 你不是真正的快樂 and 知足. Instrumental versions of 五月天 songs are in the background of the vignettes. Also not to be missed are versions of 知足, 倔強, and OAOA sung by 家家.

《5月天諾亞方舟》 consists entirely of concert footage from the 《諾亞方舟》 tour. The 《諾亞方舟》 tour began in 2011 after the release of the album 《第二人生》. The tour does not look like it will end soon, since the concerts in Europe were postponed until February 2014. Also, the tour will have additional stops in Japan, Korea, U.S., and Canada. 《5月天諾亞方舟》 is more technically advanced than 《五月天追夢3DNA》. 3D cameras were used to film concert footage. Sweeping overhead views of arenas were taken with a flying camera system. Spidercam technology was used for aerial footage within arenas. These are views one would not even get to see at a concert. Here are two previews that have been released.

Reflections on a vocabulary notebook

I’ve been keeping a vocabulary notebook to write down characters I do not know. In the beginning, I thought I would keep it organized, keep track of the characters I wrote down, and not repeat any characters. I quickly realized it’s pretty much impossible to keep track of characters since it takes time to find characters in my notebook. I’ve actually found that having to recheck and rewrite a character is helping me remember characters better.

For each character that I find myself not recognizing, I write down the character, the pronunciation, and the definition. Everything is in the same language because I’m not focusing on translation. If a definition has a character I don’t understand, I then look up that character. Sometimes I end up looking up multiple characters to understand the definition of one character. Even though looking up many characters can be tedious, online dictionaries make it easier and faster. It’s the act of writing that helps me remember.

Lately I became concerned that I was not improving the number of characters I recognized. However, after a few weeks of diligently looking up unknown characters, I have noticed that I have learned a few new characters. I don’t just write down the characters. I do use some free time here and there to flip through my notebook and review the characters. I have noticed that there are some characters that I have written down multiple times. Even though it can be a little annoying to see repeated characters and definitions, I think it helps me remember the characters to have to repeat some of them. At some point I’ll remember them!