An unceasing ritual along Tamsui River

By Dominic Dietrich

I was on a balcony overlooking Tamsui River. It was evening and fishing boats were curling along the water. They were hidden in the darkness but for a constellation of moving red lights. Their engines filled the air with an inconsistent splutter.

At moments they would flash into clearer, if still vague, sight. A crewman would turn on a strong light and scour the water’s surface. Nets would be tossed in. A residue of light would sketch the boat’s contours. The light would then just as quickly cease. Dark again, but for the bobbing red bulbs. Earlier, with the sun only moments from the horizon, I had watched the water’s motions. The balcony hung above a small artificial bay along the river’s edge. A thin cement pier near fully enclosed this tepid section from the muscular river on which the fishermen worked. The tide was out and the river bed showed. A few empty vessels sat still in the mud. Each tilted lazily to one side. It was a rare sight: perfectly motionless boats.

Near the bay’s entrance, diminutive waves lapped at the mud. The tide was arriving. With every new moment, a minute strip smothered. An imperceptible, conquering motion.

A small cafe was also situated aside the bay. On its second floor patio, students from the nearby Aletheia University sat under soft lighting and sipped coffee and talked of the day and reviewed their lecture notes and looked across the water, their gaze reaching out to the river mouth which rushed into the Taiwan Strait.

They had finished their day and strolled from the hillside university to the river shoreline. They will later go home. Some may board the MRT. Others will walk or join the current of scooters along Taipei’s roads. They will sleep. Wake. Again the MRT, or their feet, or a scooter. They will climb the hill. Sit in class. Finish and return to the river.

The fishermen will again be on the water. As the dark arrives, they will be known only through the motions of the red lights. Occasionally, a flash here and there. Then, again, darkness.

All the while, the tide will arrive and depart. Arrive and depart.

An unceasing ritual for all.