“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.”

Spotify playlist: Taiwan indie – love of the land

I made this “Taiwan indie – love of the land” playlist to share with fyeahcindie at tumblr. I figured I would write about it here as well, since I just covered music from Taiwan on Spotify in a previous post.

The playlist consists of fourteen songs from independent artists from Taiwan. I’m really glad these artists are available on Spotify, because it really shows the diversity of artists in Taiwan. Some songs are definitely commentary on political and social issues. Other songs are purely about locations in Taiwan and gaining insight from those places. The diversity also shows in the language. The songs are in Amis, Hakka, Taiwanese, and Mandarin. There are also different genres: ballad, rap, rock, simple guitar, and songs that mix genres.

1. ho hay yan (喔嗨洋) – suming (舒米恩) (lyrics at kkbox)
In Amis. Suming is Pangcah (Amis) and has been credited with mixing Amis music with different genres.

2. Mahalateng (我心所屬) (things belonging to my heart) – suming (舒米恩) (lyrics at kkbox)
In Amis. About home, family, and ancestral lands, no matter where one has been.

3. 眾神護臺灣 (The Gods Bless Taiwan) – 董事長樂團 (The Chairman) (lyrics at indievox)
In Taiwanese. A mix of traditional temple instruments and rock. Asking the temple gods to bless Taiwan.

4. 台北!台北! (Taipei!Taipei!) – 八十八顆芭樂籽 (88balaz) (lyrics at bandcamp)
In Mandarin. Complaining about problems suffered by any major metropolitan city. “…lonely people of Taipei, lonely people of Taipei… so what if there’s pollution, Taipei, Taipei, where everyone is the same, Taipei, Taipei, where the food has no taste, Taipei, Tapei.”

5. 記憶盆地 (The History of Taipei City) – 拷秋勤 (Kou Chou Ching)
In Hakka, Taiwanese, and Mandarin. Features 李靜芳 (Lee Ching Fang), a traditional Taiwanese opera singer. A great mix of rap and traditional opera. The indievox entry for the song has a summary: “not sure when people started calling Taipei City the land of the nobles, when did everyone stop loving this city? the reason we do so is because we don’t know this city. Its past has been replaced by new buildings. tradition and modernity do not conflict, and modern construction can preserve many important traditional resources. we need to bring back that lost history. through this song, we’re telling everyone, let’s bring back our pride in Taipei.”

6. 台北 Balaba (Taipei balaba) – 黃玠 (Dadado Huang) (lyrics at kkbox)
In Mandarin. Escaping busy life in 台北 with a comforting song.

7. 貢寮你好嗎 (Gongliao how are you?) – 929 (lyrics at kkbox)
In Mandarin. 貢寮 is in the northeastern part of the Taiwan. It is known for 福隆 (Fulong) beach where the Hohaiyan Rock Festival is held every summer. The construction of the fourth nuclear power plant is also in 貢寮. “…youths have gathered on the sand in the hundreds of thousands, want to have fun, to rock, and be brave, if everyone sings together, what amount of strength could there be. I want to loudly sing, sing to you, I want to loudly sing, sing to the sand, I want to loudly sing, with all the energy I have, we do not want the nuclear power plant…”

8. 台中日和 (good day in Taichung) – 葛洛力 (Glory) (lyrics at kkbox)
In Mandarin. Spending lovely days on the west coast in 台中, and life’s ups and downs.

9. 三分之一搖籃曲 (One-Third Cradlesong) – 甜梅號 (Sugar Plum Ferry)
Instrumental. 甜梅號 (Sugar Plum Ferry), was temporarily named 四分之三搖籃曲 (Three-Quarters Lullaby), and is now called 微光群島 (Shimmering Islands). This piece was originally written after the 921 earthquake in 1999. The earthquake was one of the deadliest in history and caused major damage. The earthquake was centered in 南投 (Nantou), which is located in the center of Taiwan.

10. 要去高雄 (going to Kaohsiung) – 宇宙人 (Cosmos People) (lyrics at kkbox)
In Mandarin. Eagerly going to 高雄, a city in southern Taiwan, “…where the temperature is hot, the sun is bright… there is someone there waiting for me…”

11. 墾丁的風 (the wind of Kenting) – 吳志寧 (Zulin Wu) (lyrics at indievox)
In Mandarin. Relating the nature of 墾丁, which is the southernmost point of Taiwan, to life and love.

12. 台灣魂 (Taiwan spirit) – Mc Basso (lyrics at indievox)
In Mandarin. A rap song about the being the future of Taiwan, putting away political and historical differences, and uniting for the greater good.

13. 島 (island) – 吳志寧 (Zulin Wu) (lyrics at kkbox)
In Mandarin. A lovely song about the people and beauty of Taiwan. It’s also the ending song for a show on public television called 我們的島 (our island). “…our youth is written on the island’s mountains… we have the strength, warmth of the sun, illuminating the path that the island will progress… it doesn’t matter if we are happy or sad, we will forever protect her. our island, small small island, forever accompanying her.”

14. 晚安!台灣 (Good Night! Formosa!) – 滅火器 (Fire EX.) (lyrics at indievox)
In Taiwanese. An anthem for many social movements in Taiwan. “in this quiet night, I know you have worries and cannot sleep, thinking about your past, your punishments, suffering for many years… in this quiet night, I know you have worries and cannot sleep, worried about where your future leads, where your happiness will be… darkness will eventually pass, once the sun comes out it will be a nice day, for you have a beautiful name… Heavenly Grandfather will bring blessings, once the sun comes out it will be a nice day, hoping for peace, Taiwan… hoping that everything will go smoothly, Taiwan.”

Even though I like the arrangement and songs on the playlist, there were a few songs that came to mind that were either not on Spotify or not counted as indie.

一條命 (One Life), the most recent album by 董事長樂團 is not on Spotify, but music videos are available on YouTube. 美麗啊 and 家己的Formosa both speak to the beauty and problems in Taiwan. 美麗啊 specifically speaks about 美麗灣 (Miramar Resort) in 臺東, a construction project that threatens to harm the eastern coastline of Taiwan.


The album 我是‧海雅谷慕 from 張震嶽 won the 25th Golden Melody Award for Best Mandarin Album earlier this year. The song 我家門前有大海 (Spotify link) (lyrics from kkbox) is a catchy song about the beauty of 花蓮 on the east coast of Taiwan.

Another song that came to mind was 入陣曲 by 五月天 (Spotify link) (lyrics from kkbox), which I’ve written about before. It definitely summarizes the overall social and political climate in Taiwan.

島嶼天光 (Island’s Sunrise) by 滅火器 (Fire EX.) will always be a reminder of 2014. It was written during the protests of the Sunflower Movement. Although it speaks to that particular moment in time, it also reminds us to continuously stand up for what we believe in and be 勇敢的台灣人 (courageous Taiwanese people).

Listen to music from Taiwan on Spotify and iTunes Radio

I’ve been waiting for kkbox to expand beyond Asia, but it looks like I’ll have to settle with Spotify and iTunes Radio for now. There’s a lot of music from Taiwan that is available on Spotify. iTunes Radio is currently only available in select countries, but there are also plenty of artists from Taiwan available through iTunes.

I like to look at the rankings for Taiwan to see what’s trending. I turned off “Hide Unplayable Songs” so I can see albums that are not available in my current country. Then I can try to find if there’s a compatible version available. In some cases artists, albums, and songs are also listed under an English name. I’ve also found some tracks listed in pinyin, which makes it impossible to tell what song it is.

At the same time, there are some surprises. The soundtrack to 九龍變, which is a 布袋戲 (glove puppet show), is available. 布袋戲 is quintessentially Taiwanese in culture and language. There’s quite a bit of modern Taiwanese music too. I’m not familiar with Hakka and aboriginal music, so I don’t know if they are well represented.

I’ve made a gigantic Spotify playlist of music from Taiwan. It’s really more of an library. I wouldn’t try to listen to the whole thing, it’s currently more than 500 hours of music. But if you put it on shuffle, you might find something you may not have heard before that you’d like. There’s rock, pop, indie, hip-hop, Taiwanese, and live albums. There might be duplicate albums because I noticed some albums became unavailable while an identical album would become available. My guess is some albums might have a Taiwan or Asia version and an international version. But I can’t tell which is which anymore because Spotify now tries to replace an unavailable song with an available version.

I’ve tried both Spotify radio and iTunes Radio, starting with one artist and then telling the radio my preferences. My experience is that Spotify will play the artist I start with, whereas iTunes Radio doesn’t and (on the variety setting) will quickly deviate from what I was expecting. I’ve given up trying to teach both services the difference between Mandarin and Taiwanese (that would be an awesome but complex machine learning algorithm). It actually worked on Spotify for a while, but then deviated and I couldn’t get it back. With iTunes Radio I was able to get a station with indie artists from Taiwan. This is definitely not a comprehensive test since I didn’t keep track of the variables. But it seems that both services have a large enough library of music from Taiwan that the radio settings will provide a good selection of music.

International Mother Language Day 2014 – 臺語 (Taiwanese)

我會曉講臺語,但是我袂曉寫臺語。這是我第一遍寫臺語。寫臺語是一个重要的代誌因為字是阮流傳語言的方法。若是阮拍毋見咱个語言,阮無法度明瞭咱頂輩的字和故事。咱一定愛繼續寫臺語、讀臺語。臺語是阮个語言,咱需要用臺語寫阮个故事。

我會說臺語,但是我不會寫臺語。這是我第一次寫臺語。寫臺語是一個重要的事情因為字是我們流傳語言的方法。如果我們遺失了我們的語言,我們沒辦法瞭解我們長輩的字和故事。我們一定要繼續寫臺語、讀臺語。臺語是我們的語言,我們需要用臺語寫我們自己的故事。

I can speak Taiwanese, but I do not know how to write Taiwanese. This is my first time writing in Taiwanese. Writing in Taiwanese is important because words are the way we hand down language. If we lose our language, we will not be able to understand the words and stories of our elders. We must continue to write Taiwanese and read Taiwanese. Taiwanese is our language and we must use Taiwanese to write our own stories.

When I saw “Tweet in Your Mother Language on February 21”, I decided I would participate by writing a blog post. The first paragraph is in Taiwanese Min Nan, the second paragraph is the Taiwan Mandarin translation, and the third paragraph is the English translation. There are many languages in Taiwan, and Taiwanese Min Nan is just one of them. Even though I have learned three languages in native environments, my true mother tongue is Taiwanese Min Nan. The only proof I have is an audio recording of family speaking to me only in Taiwanese when I was about one. Taiwanese is mostly a verbal language for me. Every once in a while I’ll see something online that’s meant to be read in Taiwanese, and I can usually figure it out. But writing in Taiwanese is not something I’ve attempted before, so those few sentences were a huge challenge for me!

In the Taiwanese Min Nan and Taiwan Mandarin versions, there are some characters that are the same, but are actually pronounced differently. I’ve included the romanization for each character in the following paragraphs to show the pronunciation differences. The first paragraph is Taiwanese Min Nan and the second is Taiwan Mandarin.

我 (gua) 會 (e) 曉 (hiau) 講 (kong) 臺 (tai) 語 (gi),但 (tan) 是 (si) 我 (gua) 袂 (be) 曉 (hiau) 寫 (sia) 臺 (tai) 語 (gi)。這 (tse) 是 (si) 我 (gua) 第 (te) 一 (it) 遍 (pian) 寫 (sia) 臺 (tai) 語 (gi)。寫 (sia) 臺 (tai) 語 (gi) 是 (si) 一 (tsit) 个 (e) 重 (tiong) 要 (iau) 的 (e) 代 (tai) 誌 (tsi) 因 (in) 為 (ui) 字 (ji) 是 (si) 阮 (guan) 流 (liu) 傳 (thuan) 語 (gi) 言 (gian) 的 (e) 方 (hong) 法 (huat)。若 (na) 是 (si) 阮 (guan) 拍 (phah) 毋 (m) 見 (kinn) 咱 (lan) 个 (e) 語 (gi) 言 (gian),阮 (guan) 無 (bo) 法 (huat) 度 (too) 明 (bing) 瞭 (liau) 咱 (lan) 頂 (ting) 輩 (pue) 的 (e) 字 (ji) 和 (ham) 故 (koo) 事 (su)。咱 (lan) 一 (it) 定 (ting) 愛 (ai) 繼 (ke) 續 (siok) 寫 (sia) 臺 (tai) 語 (gi)、讀 (thak) 臺 (tai) 語 (gi)。臺 (tai) 語 (gi) 是 (si) 阮 (guan) 个 (e) 語 (gi) 言 (gian),咱 (lan) 需 (su) 要 (iau) 用 (iong) 臺 (tai) 語 (gi) 寫 (sia) 阮 (guan) 个 (e) 故 (koo) 事 (su)。

我 (wo) 會 (hui) 說 (shuo) 臺 (tai) 語 (yu),但 (dan) 是 (shi) 我 (wo) 不 (bu) 會 (hui) 寫 (xie) 臺 (tai) 語 (yu)。這 (zhe) 是 (shi) 我 (wo) 第 (di) 一 (yi) 次 (ci) 寫 (xie) 臺 (tai) 語 (yu)。寫 (xie) 臺 (tai) 語 (yu) 是 (shi) 一 (yi) 個 (ge) 重 (zhong) 要 (yao) 的 (de) 事 (shi) 情 (qing) 因 (yin) 為 (wei) 字 (zi) 是 (shi) 我 (wo) 們 (men) 流 (liu) 傳 (chuan) 語 (yu) 言 (yan) 的 (de) 方 (fang) 法 (fa)。如 (ru) 果 (guo) 我 (wo) 們 (men) 遺 (yi) 失 (shi) 了 (le) 我 (wo) 們 (men) 的 (de) 語 (yu) 言 (yan),我 (wo) 們 (men) 沒 (mei) 辦 (ban) 法 (fa) 瞭 (liao) 解 (jie) 我 (wo) 們 (men) 長 (zhang) 輩 (bei) 的 (de) 字 (zi) 和 (he) 故 (gu) 事 (shi)。我 (wo) 們 (men) 一 (yi) 定 (ding) 要 (yao) 繼 (ji) 續 (xu) 寫 (xie) 臺 (tai) 語 (yu)、讀 (du) 臺 (tai) 語 (yu)。臺 (tai) 語 (yu) 是 (shi) 我 (wo) 們 (men) 的 (de) 語 (yu) 言 (yan),我 (wo) 們 (men) 需 (xu) 要 (iao) 用 (yong) 臺 (tai) 語 (yu) 寫 (xie) 我 (wo) 們 (men) 自 (zi) 己 (ji) 的 (de) 故 (gu) 事 (shi)。

Hopefully I didn’t make any major mistakes. I consulted 萌典 a lot. It is an online dictionary from g0v.tw, a group in Taiwan that is analyzing and organizing government data to improve transparency. This page is in English and describes the background of the group and their projects. Writing in Taiwanese was a great exercise for me. Perhaps in the future I’ll post more sentences and continue practicing.

五月天 諾亞方舟 arriving in Europe September 2013 – UPDATE: rescheduled for February 2014

mayeurope14Image via 五月天 Mayday FB

UPDATE: Official dates and locations for 五月天 諾亞方舟 in Europe have been announced. Tickets go on sale November 08, 2013 for the London concert; November 15, 2013 for the Amsterdam concert; and November 22, 2013 for the Paris concert.
February 21, 2014: Wembley Arena, London, United Kingdom, tickets at LiveNation (UK)
February 23, 2014: Le Zénith Paris, Paris, France, tickets at LiveNation (FR), ticketnet (ticketmaster France)
February 26, 2014: Heineken Music Hall, Amsterdam, Netherlands, tickets at Ticketmaster

mayeuropeImage via 相信音樂 FB

(OLD) UPDATE: The European leg of 五月天 諾亞方舟 Mayday Now-Here tour has been postponed.
The new dates are:
February 21, 2014: London, United Kingdom, O2 Arena
February 23, 2014: Paris, France, Palais Omnisports de Paris Bercy

1001518_552980804768511_298410152_n
Image via 五月天 Mayday facebook photo

I haven’t had the chance to write an introductory post on 五月天 (Mayday). But news and information about their European tour came out first, and I want to get the word out there.

五月天 is the biggest rock band out of Taiwan. Their shows in Taiwan (if not all of Asia) routinely sell out in one day. Now, they will be bringing their music to Europe! They have performed in Europe before at music festivals and some smaller venues. But, this is their first European tour, and they have booked some impressive venues.

Tickets are on sale now for 五月天 諾亞方舟 Mayday Now-Here at LiveNation. The European tour schedule is as follows:
September 19, 2013: London, United Kingdom, O2 Arena, tickets at LiveNation
September 22, 2013: Amsterdam, Netherlands, Ziggo Dome, tickets at LiveNation
September 24, 2013: Paris, France, Palais Omnisports de Paris Bercy, tickets also available through Fnac spectacles
September 26, 2013: Oberhausen, Germany, König-Pilsener-ARENA, tickets also available through EVENTIM

The current tour is based on their latest album (released in 2011) called 第二人生, or “Second Round.” The concept of the album is based on the prophecy that the world would end on December 21, 2012. The songs reflect the ideas about “what would you do if the world ended now,” “would you regret anything in life,” and “life’s too short to wait for something to happen.” I think it’s a great reflection on what people are going through these days in their busy lives. Are you really living? When the album came out, there were two versions, 末日, meaning end of the world, and 重生, meaning rebirth. The songs were the same, but in different order. Here are some music videos from the album:


Don’t worry if you don’t know Mandarin. Turn on captions for lyrics in English or Japanese.

五月天 can also be found on Spotify at their artist page and on iTunes (link to UK store).

Parce que 五月天 sera en Paris le 24 septembre, je voudrais écrire en petit peu en français. Il y a longtemps que j’écris en français. 五月天 (nom anglais Mayday) est un groupe de rock avec cinq musiciens. Ils sont Taïwanais. 阿信 (Ashin) est le chanteur principal, 怪獸 (Monster) et 石頭 (Stone) sont les guitaristes, 瑪莎 (Masa) est le bassiste, et 冠佑 (Ming) est le joueur de tambour. Les chansons de 五月天 sont la langue mandarine et la langue Taïwanais. Ils composent la musique et 阿信 écris les paroles. 五月天 a chansons avec paroles profonde et significative. C’est la poésie avec musique. Les mots et la musique sont une combinaison parfaite. Les guitares et le tambour sont incroyable.

Here’s what I was trying to write in French: Because 五月天 will be in Paris on September 24, I want to write a little in French. I haven’t written in French for a long time. 五月天 (English name Mayday) is a rock band with five musicians. They are Taiwanese. 阿信 (Ashin) is the main vocalist, 怪獸 (Monster) et 石頭 (Stone) are guitarists, 瑪莎 (Masa) is the bassist, and 冠佑 (Ming) is the drummer. The songs of 五月天 are in Mandarin and in Taiwanese. They compose the music and 阿信 writes the lyrics. 五月天 has songs with deep and meaningful lyrics. It is poetry put to music. The words and music are a perfect combination. The guitars and drums are incredible.

沒想到幫五月天轉發歐洲巡演的消息用了三個語言。已經好久沒有寫法文,利用這個機會練習很不錯!五月天,我幫您們宣傳,去歐洲,加油!

Translation: I didn’t think helping 五月天 spread the word about their European tour would result in using three languages. It’s been a long time since I’ve written in French, but using this opportunity to practice is pretty good. 五月天, I’ve helped you spread the word, good luck in Europe!

State Farm’s Chinese language advertisements featuring 張鈞甯 and 何潤東

I was really confused when I saw 張鈞甯 in commercials for State Farm. As far as I know, Sate Farm does not do business in Taiwan. So, did they hire a Taiwanese actress to do Chinese language commercials in the U.S.? It took me a while to figure out that this was the case. And there was even a series of commercial shorts with 張鈞甯 (Janine Chang) and 何潤東 (Peter Ho). 張鈞甯 is also now the main face of State Farm’s Chinese language site.

There are four shorts total, which put together a rather cute romantic story. Each short is roughly four minutes. The little drama has enough tropes to fill an entire drama series.




It wasn’t until I saw the “behind the scenes” footage that I figured out what was going on.

It looks like the commercial was filmed in Taiwan. There’s some interesting footage of the crew putting up American signs next to Taiwan street signs. In another scene, the actors film under (what looks like) a freeway overpass while facing Taipei 101.