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風聚源起: Yun Hai Origin Story and a New Daily Almanac
plus 15% off and this season's holiday gift bundles
This is Yun Hai Taiwan Stories, a newsletter about Taiwanese food and culture by Lisa Cheng Smith 鄭衍莉, founder of Yun Hai. If you aren’t yet a subscriber, sign up here. If you’re one of the many subscribers we gained from our substack feature last month, welcome! Read more about us here.
This month, I have lots to share but not enough space to do it. I just returned from a long overdue trip to Taiwan. My mind is refreshed, belly full, and suitcases stuffed with things to share. You’ll be hearing more about all this in the coming months, right here in this newsletter series.
Today, it felt right to go all the way back to the beginning, the moment Yun Hai emerged as an idea. I also introduce a new, limited-run calendar by Five Metal Shop that celebrates the archetypical almanac in daily use in Taiwan.
But first, it’s that time of the year, and we’re running our annual holiday sale. Please use discount code XIEXIE15 for 15% off through November 28th (midnight PST). It’s a delicate time for Taiwan; thank you for gifting these Made in Taiwan products this season.
On January 10th, 2017, I flew home with my husband on flight EVA32 from Taipei to New York City. I was so enthralled with everything we had experienced in the two weeks we had spent in Taiwan on our honeymoon, that I used the 16 hour flight time to pen a business plan. I titled it Yun Hai, even way back then. Sharing Taiwanese culture as an entrepreneur was something I’d wanted to do since teenage years, but I was never able to give form to the idea. I simply didn’t know enough; I was too far away.
Yun Hai is named after a phenomenon in the high mountains of Taiwan called Sea of Clouds or 雲海, which occurs when clouds settle down into the lower mountains, driven by wind and temperature differentials. When viewed from above, the peaks appear as islands, and the clouds as the ocean. But I experienced this effect most vividly from within, when we drove through a thick, white, endless mist in the bamboo and conifer covered mountains of Nantou in Central Taiwan. We learned that 雲海, which occurs mornings and evenings, is important to tea farming, cooling things down and protecting the delicate crops. The sum of it all is so beautiful it hurts.
I chose this name because it embodies the atmospheric beauty and delicate ecosystem that I had recently witnessed in Taiwan—an important aspect of its terroir. But, it also captured how I felt about being in Taiwan, my motherland but not my home. When I was in it, I was deep in it. And when I was gone, it became so difficult to recreate the whole of it in my mind. The actual feeling. I think that’s why I so feverishly typed it into my laptop while my fellow passengers dozed. I was worried my thoughts and understanding would escape me, whipping away in the headwind.
Yun Hai was built to bring home at least some of that actual feeling, to help with the recollecting and sharing of these visceral memories. It’s a way to keep Taiwan with me, but also to create close-as-they-come Taiwanese experiences for those who can’t travel there or are wholly uninitiated.
A few days ago, on November 14th, it was a comfort to, yet again, take EVA32 home, after a trip to Taiwan three years delayed, and to feel equally enthralled by everything I had learned. I stayed awake working through new ideas for Yun Hai which has, like magic, manifested itself 6 years later, more or less as written.
Thank you for everything you have done for Yun Hai, for reading this newsletter, and for sharing news of us with your friends and family. I’m so proud of our growing team (Feng, Cat, Jeremy, Emma, Jason, Yozen, and welcome, Luke), thankful for my business partners Lillian Lin and Ivan Wu, and surprised by all that we’ve been able to accomplish with your support. The past (almost) four years in business have challenged us, stretched our capabilities, and brought exciting opportunities our way. I’ve continued to deepen and refine my understanding of Taiwan. It’s been a delight, and I’m grateful for it all.
To celebrate another holiday season, here’s 15% off, valid through midnight (PST) November 28th. Combined with our bundles and gift sets, take up to 27% off. Just use the code XIEXIE15 at checkout to apply.
The discount is also available at our brick and mortar store starting today, 11/23 through 11/28. Hope to see you!
Taiwanese Daily Almanac
For me, tangible objects brought straight home in the suitcase helps extend “actual feeling.” I think many would agree; it’s why everyone traveling to Taiwan seems to know (down to the cubic centimeter and factoring in possibility for density increase) exactly what their take-home capacity is. And I’ve met many an overseas Taiwanese that own digital luggage scales (p.s. on my xmas list).
Memories are most visceral when triggered by every sense: the taste of a Leng Tih Tong biscuit, the papery feel of the lightweight hand stamped sandwich 三明治 wrapper i flattened and saved, the watery sound of a battery-powered om box purchased at a mountaintop temple, and the warm, spicy smell of hinoki incense mixed with the memory of rain.
This trip, I was fascinated by the everyday objects all around me, from the generic red and green mailboxes to bespoke night market cooking tools. These humble objects are the vapor particulate that make up our daily sensations and ways of being. Full of spirit, creativity, and the beautiful ghost of time past.
Flash the traditional daily almanac, made from shimmery trace paper, printed in bright opaque inks, and stocked with useful information like the 24 solar terms; the lunar calendar; local and national holidays; sunrise and sunset times; and whatever other advice may be fit to relay for the day. The spent papers are reused as scratch paper, oversized memos, wrapping paper, or folded up into little origami paper trash bins for fruit peels and toothpicks. The passing of time is folded into everyday life. The graphics of the calendars become worked into the environment, and feel so familiar and precious that every time we get a crumpled up sheet of calendar tissue, I unfold it. Opening it reveals a day in time, an action taken, a personal history, a sense of connection. I write my memo on it and pass it to the next recipient.
So yeah, I did bring you back something from Taiwan: a very special limited edition run of Five Metal Shop’s 2023 Calendar Project, a modern take on the traditional daily almanac. They are a group of designers in Taiwan that have taken the old archetype and updated it with a new aesthetic. They’ve kept the solar terms, lunar calendar and other information intact. And most importantly, they’ve worked meticulously to preserve that paper thin format while printing with metallic and pastel Pantone inks. It’s a calendar, an advice column, a 365 page artist book, a technical masterpiece, and a year’s worth of wrapping paper.
From Five Metal Shop:
A calendar where you tear off a page after each day ends is a typology unique to Asia. Traditionally in East Asia, a calendar contains the date, month and year but also the date in the lunar calendar along with various information pertaining to the ‘wisdom’ of that particular day, such as indications of good days for moving, farming and ploughing, getting married and so on. As well as a calendar, it served as a daily guide with tips for what was then a mainly agricultural society.
We have always admired this typology and the important social and functional story behind it, so we decided to revisit the design and update it for today. The Calendar Project by Five Metal Shop is an experiment to see how an almost obsolete object with a quiet cultural significance might be brought back and made relevant again in a modern context by using modern printing, papers, illustrations and design. We tried to keep the design honest and refrain from over-designing it. We made minor tweaks to the typeface and the layout but the DNA of the calendar remains the same.
And, as always, we’ve put together great gift bundles to help you shop (and save a bit too). This year, we recommend the Tatung Electric Steamer, our Dried Fruit Gift Set, the Taiwan Terroir Soy Sauce Box, the Ban Mian (Noodle Sauce) bundle, the Empress Taiwan Origins hot sauce set, and a pair of Meastro Wu knives (make them give you a dollar for it, see caption below). Visit our site to learn more about each one. Don’t forget to use code XIEXIE15 for 15% off.
And with that… well, what can I say. I’m working the store today, so I gotta run. Deep in that dense white cloud that is holiday season.
Foggy-brained and misty-eyed,
Lisa Cheng Smith
Editing and content support by Lillian Lin and Yozen Chen. Photos by Lisa Cheng Smith, unless otherwise credited.
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