Beautiful things ... ink-sticks are

David, Jun-Tien Chen & me at Da-You the ink-stick making house in the Sanchong District of New Taipei City.

 This wooden ink-stick mould is one hundred years old. The wet ink lays in the mould until slightly hard then it is turned out to dry, turned every day until fully dry.

The two sides of the same stick.

Ink-sticks drying.

Hanging ink-sticks drying.

Some of the stick I purchased.

This stick bears the hand print of the maker Chen, Jai-De

The story:

While on holiday in Taiwan last week I visited the ink-stick house where a father and son team work to keep the ink-stick making business alive.  Jun-Tien Chen the son, seen here with David and me operates the factory outlet while his father Jia-De Chen strives to keep up with the demand of their main clients on mainland China.

Taiwan is an island off the south east coast of China proper, an hour and a half by plane from Hong Kong.  The island is half the size of Tasmania and holds a population equal to Australia, 24,000,000.

I was very fortunate to have made contact with Miss Ongong Pan prior to my trip and as our hostess Ongong was very generous, kind and giving.  I asked her if she knew of any ink-making places and so she had arranged with Jun-Tien for us to meet.  We had a great day together going to the ink house, the Japanese “old house” and the art supply shops making good use of the MRT to get around.  We have now forged a solid friendship. 

The ink-stick house is in the Sanchong District of New Taipei City. As we were weaving our way through narrow alley-ways hosting all manner of produce and fare (and people) I could smell the ink house Da-You well before we got there. It was that overpowering sensual aroma of ink and Chinese herb.  I wasn’t surprised when Ongong said we were nearly there as it was already in my nostrils … I soaked up the lovely smell … just as I do when I use my ink-sticks.

Two of the sticks held a particular interest to me. One, a short squat block cast from a wooden mould of over one hundred years old.  Here is the mould and the stick showing both sides.  The other was a round stick which bore the hand print of the ink-maker Jia-De, the father.  All sticks carry the maker’s name and are a rich black fine ink when ground, allowing for the finest of fine strokes.

Jun-Tien was delighted ... and I think a little amused, that I was so keen to know everything there was to know about his work.  I was like the proverbial child in a candy shop. I had decided to purchase some precious sticks from Jun-Tien so I bought five and an interestingly carved ink-stone. Jun-Tien then very generously gave me a few more for good measure.  One of which is still drying!

Da-You is the last of the traditional ink making houses in Taiwan … a sign of things to come perhaps.


ronnie said…
this is stunning gems! oooo I can almost smell it from your descriptions.... I do hope that business continues to be good because it would be a crime to lose such a valuable craft from our world wouldn't it? hey - next time you head over to taiwan, you should take an extra bag and bring back stick ink for the nation!
dinahmow said…
What a wonderful trip! And yes, ink is lovely. Years ago, I bought some in a funny little shop in Covent Garden and the man popped int into a hand-labelled paper sack (which I kept for years!)
Gemma Black said…
Lovely story Dinah!

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