Monday, September 28, 2009

More than just a noodle shop

I heard from Su Beng the other day. After returning to Japan in late June and spending many of the summer months in Japan, he is now back in Taiwan again. Renovations on his noodle shop, which is located in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo, have finally been completed. The New Gourmet (新珍味) noodle shop is now open for business, but it seems that business is not what quite it used to be.

Photo courtesy of: L. Huang

There is a temporary cook working there now, but Su Beng still needs to hire a full-time cook for the shop, so he will be going back to Tokyo at the end of the month to find and train a new cook and staff.

Su Beng's noodle shop is certainly more than just a noodle shop- as I've written about briefly here.

In fact, the noodle shop may not have come into existence if Su Beng had not been able to flee from Taiwan in the early part of 1952, when it was discovered that he had been stockpiling weapons (left by the Japanese in Taiwan after World War II) for the purpose of attempting to assassinate Chiang Kai-shek.

Since Taiwan was under martial law at the time, people's whereabouts were closely monitored. Travel within and out of the country was restricted. So Su Beng temporarily went into hiding. If he had gotten arrested, he would have been tortured and forced to reveal the names of others involved in this plot.

Eventually, he figured out a way to get out of Taiwan. Back then, one of Taiwan's major exports was bananas, so in the late spring of 1952, after months of planning, he escaped from Taiwan by hiding in the cargo compartment of a boat exporting bananas to Japan. There are of course many more nail-biting details that I am leaving out here- about how Su Beng was even able to get access to the "banana boat" and the 5 day, 6 night boat ride that he endured, hidden in the cargo compartment of a boat, surrounded by nothing but bananas.

In the abridged version of this incredible tale Su Beng was arrested for illegally entering Japan and put in a detention center for several months, waiting to be repatriated to Taiwan. In a strange twist of fate, Su Beng was released early before serving out his entire sentence.

Now given political asylum in Japan, how was he going to support himself? He only knew that he wanted to continue his work for the Taiwan independence movement. And in order to do that, he decided that he'd have to start his own business, so he decided to start off small by renting a food stall.

Initially he thought of preparing and selling Taiwanese food, but then he realized that there would be a bigger market for Northern Chinese food. Many Japanese had been stationed in Northern China during World War II and surely they missed Chinese style fried noodles and dumplings, he thought. His food stall was an instant success, since he was one of the first to prepare and sell Northern Chinese style food.

In a few years time, he had made enough to purchase the building which is where his noodle shop is today. Later he added on 3 more floors- which he used as his residence and to train underground Taiwan independence activists. It was here that he later wrote the Japanese and Chinese language versions of Taiwan's 400 Years of History, one of his most palpable contributions to the Taiwan independence movement.

Stay tuned for more photos of the newly renovated shop.

Here are more photos that one of my friends in Tokyo snapped back in July of the noodle shop:

Photo courtesy of: L. Huang

Photo courtesy of: L. Huang