2012 / 11月
Sam Ju /photos courtesy of Chin Hung-hao /tr. by Jonathan Barnard
There are a million different ways to show one’s love for Taiwan. One Tainan native, a big kid who goes by the name of Duck, is planning to show his by getting on a tricycle and circling the island, bringing his fire-cooked adzuki bean soup to the elderly and the physically and mentally disabled, and thereby demonstrating his concern for the land and people of Taiwan.
“Fire cooking brings back memories of my childhood. Adzuki bean soup represents an insistence on joy. Life unfolds over a lifetime.” Duck has chosen these words of wisdom to be put on cards which he is selling to finance his trip around the island, scheduled for next February.
Early in the morning, before the clock has struck six, smoke rises in front of a house in Tainan’s Xinhua. A ceramic pot, full of succulent and fat adzuki beans, is slowly simmering on a cannon-shaped wood-fueled stove.
Wearing a bandana around his head, Tang Wenzheng, 33, is crouched by the stove and blowing on its coals. Every so often a spark flies in his face, but it doesn’t seem to faze him.
Tang scavenged the firewood on the streets outside his house. A lover of wood, Tang has named his shop Mu Adzuki. The mu in its name means “admiration,” but it’s also a homonym for the Chinese character for wood.
Tang’s friends and family all call him Duck. In September of last year he began to sell adzuki bean soup, and in the process changed his outlook on life.Follow your heart
“Selling” puts it too vulgarly. In fact, Duck is spreading an indescribable sense of joy, and adzuki beans are the medium by which he is accomplishing this feat. Insisting on taking a “slow food” approach, Duck brews a full pot of adzuki bean soup and then, via “sharing” rather than “sales,” uses it to spread feelings of happiness and well-being
Even his method of interaction with his customers is special: Early on, when he couldn’t find a suitable storefront, Duck sought out landlords who were amenable to renting him places to set up his stand for three months at a time. Consequently, the “mu” in Mu Adzuki also suggests the English word “move.” Duck used Facebook and his blog to tell customers where he was temporarily set up. Locations around Tainan included Wuyuan, the Xiaolutai Art Space, and hostels.
After a period of searching, Duck found a regular storefront on Minzu Road near the Tainan train station. Mu Adzuki opened there in the middle of October.
Duck says that although the locations have changed, Mu Adzuki’s fire cooking remains the same, as does the sharing with his friends (the customers).
Duck only cooks one big pot of adzuki bean soup a day, as well as a syrup-drenched sweet potato as a topping. A bowl of soup goes for NT$50, which is well worth it when you consider the three hours of hard work he puts in to cooking it.
“I don’t look to be fast. That’s an attitude I take to life: Going slow has its own slow joys.” With his insistence on fire cooking, Duck is determined to go at his own pace.
Before Mu Adzuki moved into the regular storefront, Duck had been cooking the adzuki bean soup in front of his home in Tainan’s Xinhua on a wood stove that friends helped design. He used about 1.2 kilos of beans for a single pot of soup. Once he had finished cooking the soup, he would bring it out to his stall to sell. He’d only sell about 20 bowls a day.
Considering that one’s 30s are regarded as a time for going full throttle in establishing oneself in a career, the customers and friends that come to Mu Adzuki all wonder how Duck has been able to maintain such a happy-go-lucky attitude to life.Attitude determines altitude
After graduating with an information management degree from a technical college, Duck worked for six years as a salesman in the electronics industry. It wasn’t a happy time for him. “I’m not someone who takes a lot of joy in competition, in concerning myself with who’s up and who’s down and who’s won and who’s lost. In truth there’s some value even in losing.”
Duck’s parents run a restaurant business out of their home in Xinhua, preparing snacks for local elementary schools. Hearing that their son was planning on coming back home to sell adzuki bean soup, they didn’t object. Rather, they only expressed the hope that Duck would think things through clearly before committing himself.
In fact, during the stage when Duck was still testing out types of adzuki beans and cooking methods, his parents enthusiastically joined as he tried out cooking with brick stoves and gas stoves. Together they tried out iron, steel and clay pots. In this manner, Ducks’ parents were able to actively express their support for what their child was doing.
Duck also feels grateful that he is able to move forward without worry thanks to support from his girlfriend of seven years (who works in Yilan and has been coming down to Mu Adzuki twice a month), and due to the fact that his younger brother and sister both hold university degrees and work in Taipei. It all makes for a stable, reassuring environment.
“My adzuki bean soup conveys my attitude about life: my love of people and the land, my desire to share something simple and joyous,” Duck says.
In fact, in Mu Adzuki the customers and the proprietor don’t just have a relationship based on the ordering and serving of food. Rather, they relate to each other as friends, holding long conversations and sharing feelings.A simple life
“Do you like to watch movies? What kind of movies?” says the gregarious Kenji, an employee at Mu Adzuki. He’s conversing with a young woman from Yilan who came to Tainan for her studies. From films, they turn to music, art and philosophy of life. In the middle of August, the student read a story in a city travel magazine about Xiaolutai and Mu Adzuki, so she and a friend came to check it out.
“This is a good place to get together with friends with similar interests,” says Kenji, 29, as he wipes a table.
“Mu Adzuki’s customers have similar sensibilities,” observes Kenji. “They like to take things slow. They can linger over a bowl of adzuki bean soup for an hour or two, whether chatting with friends, leafing through the establishment’s collection of books, or simply spacing out.”
But make no mistake: Mu Adzuki is not exclusive to bourgeois hipsters. “There’s a diverse bunch of customers here. There are plenty of average Joes off the street.” One administrator from First Tainan High says that he became a customer after hearing about Mu Adzuki and being intrigued by the story of a young person living out his dreams. He came to Xiaolutai to show his support.
Since opening up his regular storefront in Tainan in the middle of October, Duck no longer needs to wander around. But he doesn’t regard the accomplishment as the endpoint of his dreams. Rather, he has added a new aim: to bring some warmth to the island’s elderly and handicapped. “It’s not convenient for them to come to Tainan. So it falls upon me to cook some adzuki bean soup and bring it to them.”Comradeship
This round-the-island trip is planned for next February. Recently, a bunch of artists and Mu Adzuki familiars designed some wooden spoons for the establishment, which are now being sold online in order to finance the journey. On the advice of Tainan’s Foundation of Historic City Conservation and Regeneration, Duck also hired some mothers just reentering the workforce to make bags to hold the spoons. He thus helped both himself and the mothers.
“It’s fortunate that so many wonderful people have helped Duck,” says Duck’s own mother.
A class at Tainan Community College created some cards for Mu Adzuki in order to raise funds for Duck’s trip. The cards include the following lines penned by Duck himself:
“Carrying adzuki beans and taking it one step at a time. Forgetting about winning or losing. Listening instead to my own heart.” For Duck, these are lines of self-encouragement.
“Eating adzuki bean soup and riding a tricycle. Filling it with blessings and bringing them to all of Taiwan.” These are the joys that Duck is delivering to the land and people of this island.