2009年5月22日 星期五

A modern day Danshui-ren's journey south

It took 19 days for George Leslie Mackay to travel 220 miles from Danshui to Tainan. Now it takes only half a day from Danshui to the southern tip of Taiwan:

東港 TungKang is now famous for its 烏鮪魚文化觀光節. The first pair of the blue-fin tunas caught each season trigger this very well-coordinated event. The fish are paraded around town first with great fanfare and then auctioned off at the fish market, for upwards of NT$ 2 Million - for the pair, sometimes for just one. So, instead of exporting to Japan on the cheap as in the past, the blue-fin tuna (toro, not maguro) is now in great demand in Taiwan. The harvest is only a few hundred each year, because the fish seem in a hurry; they migrate north from the Philippines, go pass 蘭嶼, then disappear mysteriously somewhere deep into the Pacific. Only to return around the same time next year. And they are the fattest, at the most flavorful stage, when the fish reach the outskirts of Taiwan.

Well, how to get to 東港 comfortably and see everything along the way. By car of course.

How is this done? From Danshui, you simply take the 台二高 from Taipei, i.e., the second highway of Taiwan; although the official name is 國道三號高速公路 or the No 3 Freeway (except it is not for free). There are 10 toll booths all together. NT$40 for each.

The best parts of this highway arguably are the rest areas. Very well-maintained typically with a shopping area, a restaurant, a children's play area, and a food court. Except for a lack of paper towels (true everywhere in Taiwan), these rest areas are even better than the ones in New England.

This is the 南投服務區, also known as the Lamungan (原住民語) Service Area. There is the 西湖服務區 in 新竹 before this one and another later at 關廟 near Tainan.

There is a distinct change of vegetation to the tropical varieties as you travel south. Many more 椰子樹, even more 檳榔樹. Soon after passing Tainan, you enter the 屏東平原 and the sun begins to shine. The climate is far warmer and more humid than the north.

Once entering 東港, one notices very few tall buildings. Most are lower than four stories if not less. KFC, MacDonald's and 永和豆漿, the usual suspects are all here in town.

The fishing port has a commuter boat line to 小琉球, a 30-min ride. Inside the small port, there is a large fish market. Here, the frozen fish lie on the floor waiting to be sold. Presumably, even the tourists can bid. In fact, rumor has it that one such person made the mistake of bidding on a nice looking tuna for NT$5,000 - thinking that it was for the whole fish and it turned out to be for per kg. At around 200kg per fish, he was in for a big shock.

Across from this area, there is a row of small sashimi-eating places. And the sliced tuna is almost like ice-cream, 入口即化. For lunch, the seafood restaurants here serve dishes prepared from different parts of the tuna, including two with fish eyes. There were also 油魚子 (not 烏魚子), crabs, 金針,魚翅, sakura shrimp fried rice, etc. The sakura shrimp 櫻蝦 looks almost like the whale food, the krills 磷蝦, except the former is 10 times more expensive owing to limits set by the 漁會. 東港 is the only place where the sakura shrimp thrive outside of Japan's 駿河灣. The tiny shrimp does have a very distinct flavor, kind of hard to describe.

Here in this photo, half a truckload of frozen fish, to be shipped to all over Taiwan. Interestingly, because of the much improved highway system, other fishing ports can no longer compete with 東港 . With its low wages, low costs for storage and maintenance, 東港 is now the premier supplier of fish in Taiwan. This is much like the HSR's impact on domestic airline industry, also fast and deep. An unavoidable evolution of sorts.

This seaport is similar to Gloucester in Massachusetts (of The Perfect Storm fame). The same type of ships catching the same types of fish - except the fishermen here are now mostly 外勞 (from Indonesia).

This photo shows a typical fishing vessel of 東港 . With the GPS and communications systems now widely available, even a small steel-hulled ship such as this one can sail out to as far as Guam. At the beginning of the tuna season, ships are positioned along the migration route. The first ship that catches one or two promptly reports back to the 漁會 thus preempting other claims.

It takes 5.5 hours from Taipei to 東港, similar to that from Boston to Philadelphia. In the more recent past, even by train, it still took forever. One must admire what Mackay et al did, on foot, in 1885.

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