Chenggong, Taitung (1) Harmonious cohabitation of Hakka and aborigine - Sailfish is of the most well known product of the township
Written and photographed / Hsieh Chung Li
Chenggong Town, Taitung is a fishing port established during the Japanese Occupation. As one stroll along the main street, one cannot help but noticed the clear separation of residential areas of the aborigines, the Hakka and the Fukienese. The technique of sailfish harpooning, probably taught to the locals by the Japanese, is unique to Chenggong. Late autumn is the best season for sailfish harpooning.
Sailfish is the fastest swimmer in the sea. Every year, the north-eastern monsoon brings the migratory fish back to the eastern coast of Taiwan. A stunning tussle between man and fish thus unfold in the high sea of Taiwan’s eastern coast.
Fishermen of Chenggong, since the Japanese Occupation, have continued their tradition of sailfish harpooning against all odds. Though less productive than the nets, harpoons prevents the blood of the sailfish from coagulating within the body, thus preserving its freshness. For the sake of an art, the fishermen stand at watch on their vessel which bobs up and down like a cork in level seven waves while holding up harpoons that weighs as much as 28-kilogram. If luck is with them, they could bring in a game which weighs anything between ten kilograms to more than a hundred kilograms.
Sailfish harpooning demands precise team-work. An experienced fish-watcher is constantly scanning the horizon for a catch. Once a game is spotted, the captain gives chase while the main hunter and his deputy stand ready to take aim. The two hunters are stabilized only with two pieces of cloth. The main hunter takes the first shoot; his deputy will only shoot if the first harpoon missed its target. To add to the difficulties, they have to aim either at the tail or the head to avoid ruining the corpus. Clearly, sailfish harpooning is not for the ordinary man-in-the-street.
High quality sailfish sashimi is fatty, comparatively cheaper than the black tuna, and taste just as exquisite. Visitors can sample this delicacy is many restaurants of Chenggong.
In addition to Sashimi, a handful of restaurants also offer sailfish fish-balls. “Marustar” house is one of them. The boss, Soong Wen Yin, says that the shop have been selling sashimi for generations. After slicing the bulk of the meat as sashimi, the remnants are scrapped from the bones to make fish-balls. The minced fish meat is mixed fresh meat or dry sailfish and hand squeeze into fish-balls. Soft and supple, the fish-balls taste heavenly to the taste buds. No wonder demand often exceeds supply. Marustar fish-balls are now sold far and wide throughout the island as courier services become commonplace.
Chenggong is also well-known for its “Washington Belly Button Orange” which resembles the navel at one extreme. When it is cut opened, the small circular fruits look like a tangerine. Since the citrus is sweet, fragrant and has relatively short production time, it is literally wiped out shortly after arriving at the marketplace.
Aside from the fish market, visitors should also not miss the aquarium of the Taitung Branch of the Marine Life Experience Institute, the Agricultural Council. In the aquarium, one finds distinctive marine life of the eastern coast. The cylindrical-shape water tank located between the second and third floor is the tallest one in south-east Asia. The tank is 9 meter high and has a diameter of 2.5 meter. Visitors avail of a spiral stairway to view the fishes. In terms of size and variety of marine species, the tank far surpasses the 4-meter tall aquarium in Marine Life Aquarium in Chechen, Pingtung and the 6-meter tall aquarium of Taipei Aquarium. The Chenggong aquarium features mainly migratory and coastal fishes, among them are a good selection of coastal fishes from Orchid Island and Green Island. The aquarium recruits experts from New Zealand to fabricate the tank from eight pieces of oval shape glasses to give us the highest pillar-shape aquarium in the south-east Asia.