Scene: Another Heaven Fuzhou Style Restaurant

The loft of the Fuzhou style restaurant, Another Heaven, on Minle Street, was permeated with the fragrance wafting up from the kitchen, of the aroma of tasty dishes and cooking smoke. In order of their age, the male members of the Hong family sat at the large round table occupying the private room. The dining ambience at this Fuzhou restaurant, situated within a group of unauthorized buildings at the Sanyi Wet Market, was really lacking, but in that era when people were not fussy about decorations or ostentation, if the chef was able to put together some locally flavorful dishes, then the business would catch fire.

Interestingly, if one wanted to eat in this crude loft, nevertheless there were certain ‘rules.’ It didn’t matter if you were a tycoon or an important government official, you had to bow down to enter, because this loft was squeezed out of a small space stuck up near the roof, the ceiling was low and slanted, so if you did not bow, you could not get in. Due to this special dining environment, some Mandarin scholar had penned a commemorative sign with the nickname “Pavilion of Bowed Heads.” With this clever endorsement from the ‘literati,’ and word of mouth from their diners, their Fuzhou dishes became known far and wide, so if one wanted to book this private loft room, one had to make reservations two to three weeks in advance.

Besides Elder Wu-fan, there were two empty seats of honor set aside at the big round table next to the low window. As was customary on the table, an assortment of salt fried melon seeds and red earth peanuts was displayed, but no one dare make a move to serve themselves. Elder Wu-fan struck an uncharacteristically firm tone, “If you quarrel in anger, it is a momentary conflict; if you fight over ideals, it is a conflict for a lifetime. I am not only thinking of making minor changes. I am thinking about an entire turnaround. But it all depends on luck and opportunity. Just like when you are fishing, you cast your lure out, then you can only wait patiently. On the surface, it appears as if the fisherman is doing nothing, and this is the hardest part, the hardest part is patiently holding your tongue.

“From our foothold on Dihua Street, every day we must be accountable for fluctuations in market competition and our cost of raw materials. To remain unchanged is actually harder. Really, if we change or not it is the same, both have attendant risks and costs to calculate. Compared to the treachery of the marketplace, those guys aren’t too bad. If we can use money to smooth things out, it is no big deal.

“I just caught a whiff of a scent that something big is going to happen,” he said, tapping the side of his nose with his finger. “An intuition that we have to act first. I have always believed in this kind of premonition. Therefore, we need to strengthen our capacity to meet an emergency. Thus, we can increase our chance of survival during great change. But before we make a move to transform, we first must think clearly about what basically needs to be changed. Do we have the ability? Is it cost effective? Because as soon as we start to move, it’s like a sword being drawn from its sheath, an arrow being released. Very difficult to return to the starting point.

“It is reckless to disregard the consequences of change, it only invites disaster. Moreover, we have to be like a lobster shedding its shell, before the transformation is complete, it absolutely has to stay hidden. My great uncle said, ‘Make your opponent believe you have no plan or capacity to strike back. Only then do you have a chance of success.’ If all of this cannot be accomplished, well, then to stay put is better than to move.” Elder Wu- fan calmly described how he had survived in isolated and adverse circumstances after being orphaned, his first-hand experience of how in a dog-eat-dog competitive workplace he had grown from a small to a big player. Because he did not have much book learning, almost all his words were tinged with his daily blood and sweat and evening tears, one drop at a time.

“Did you get all that?” eldest brother Yi-qin asked.

“Huh.” The other four brothers were not certain why their old man had suddenly raised this topic, but still nodded their heads in unison.

“Pa, so what are we gonna’do?” second brother Yi-wen asked.

“Going into hiding like the lobster?” third brother Yi-mian wondered. “Transformation, of course it starts with you. If you don’t change, how can you hope the world will change?” eldest brother Yi-qin asked.

“Brother, only relying on ourselves, how can we transform? Besides doing trading, we basically don’t know anything. We are powerless to even deal with those rascals, aren’t we?” fourth brother Yi-xiang said.

“That’s right. So, we need to strengthen our capacity to win. Without a capacity to win, we have no power to demand peace.”

As if on cue at the key moment, Master Tu and Uncle Green Brocade pushed open the door and appeared. “This is Master Tu. Uncle Wu-fan has spent a tidy sum to especially secure instruction for you lads in martial arts from the master!” Uncle Green Brocade announced.

The five brothers were all thoroughly roused by this decision to transform. This extraordinary act would bring what sort of transformation? No one knew. But, the Elder Hong’s heart held tight to his belief: the challenges one faces in life are all the same, no matter how thoroughly one plans or completes one’s preparations, risk will not be completely eliminated. The only wise way when hazards arise is to bravely approach them head on, honestly face them, and quickly make amends. After all, to the Hong Family, maintaining their position at Dihua Street was the key battle they faced at the moment.

“Pa! Can they bring on the food now?” third brother Yi-mian asked.

“Good. Serve the dishes. Let’s eat and chat,” elder Wu-fan said.

Thereupon, Another Heaven Fuzhou Restaurant’s most expertly prepared specialties were brought to table: Crispy Fried Marinated Eel, Seasonal Fish Head in Claypot, Curled Slices of Steamed Sea Bass, a Soup of Fish Dumplings and Shark meat balls, Fried Salt Water Snails, Fried Razor Clams, Crispy Sweet and Sour Pork Kidneys with Jellyfish, one after another were served to the table.

The above is an excerpt from Blurred Boundaries: A Martial Arts Legacy and the Shaping of Taiwan by Hong Ze-Han and translated by Christopher Bates, Publication Date November 2023, YMAA Publication Center, ISBN: 9781594399800