As they sat there getting stupid, it seemed like Nate was Gump and John was his Bubba. But that was a film for other times. Times long gone. These were different days, hungrier days. They had not eaten in a long while, and they sat there fishing. John cut small slices of the chicken's heart and put them on the hook. He threw the line in the water and watched the float move up and down in the current of the mechanical bubbles. He sipped his Taiwan beer and thought again of the woman so far away.
"Are the shrimp biting?"
"The shrimp are not biting. It has been a long time."
"Maybe more heart of the chicken. Put fresh chicken heart on the hook."
"that's what she said."
"Yes that is what she said indeed."
He pulled the dripping flesh out of the green water. The shrimp were moving in the water beneath the surface of the pond and he could see them moving in the sand of the bottom. He could feel them there at the end of the line, wanting the bait but not taking it. This reminded him of a photo he had of himself and Abe in the Himalayas. But that was not something he could help now. That was a long time ago in the Himalayas. Abe was a good climbing partner. He liked coconut crunchies with milk tea. No one could eat coconut crunchies with milk tea like Abe King could. He had a girl from South America and they used to joke that Abe did not deserve a girl like that if he liked coconut crunchies so much. Abe was a good friend. In his photo it was cloudy and Lindsay could be seen in the background as the Tibetan herders walked by, but that was a long time ago-- a long time ago in the Himalayas.
He felt a steady pull on the end of the line and then the line jerked and went taut all at once. He felt the old feeling again. In the pit of his gut he knew that there was food on the end of the line and that if he could get the shrimp out of the water he would have enough once again. All he wanted was to have enough. When things were clear, really clear in his mind, he knew on some level that this was all he needed. He was better off without her, he thought. This was all he needed and that was clear. Nothing had been more clear for him ever than the pull of that crustacean on the end of the line.
"not too hard."
"He's on the line and I have him."
"Don't pull too hard."
"That's what she said."
Author's Note: Fishing for shrimp in Taiwan is more than enough to make anyone feel like a Hemingway hero.
From the street on the ring road you would never have known the place was there. There is a big neon sign as you drive past the non-descript building surrounded by tall ferns and palm trees. To someone who did not spend his youth memorizing thousands of Chinese characters, it would not have been apparent that the writing next to the neon crustacean on the sign signified more than just a place to eat fried fish out of a wok.
You walk in and there's a woman with teeth stained with betel nut juice who gives you a small toy-like fishing pole and a gooey organ of some kind on a cardboard platter next to a rusty razor blade. This is the bait. You are a shrimp fisherman. There is beer for sale, and you pay for the hourly privilege of dangling your stick into the murky depths of several man made pools of green toxic bubbling liquid which theoretically contain shrimp. You can't see them but you will trust that they are there just as you trust that the sustenance your catch will provide will be more than enough to cancel the effects of the beer you're drinking. Wrong on both counts. You're paying for an entertainment experience, not for food. Periodically the girl with the betel nut teeth will slosh a bucket of shrimp into the pond so that there will be at least some possibility of you catching something.
Rain will hammer down on the tin roof as the Chinese elevator music singer croons in the background from an old PA that that echoes the raindrops on tin, and together the sounds will form music. The other fishermen will be reticent but will offer advice from time to time on basic technique. There are men who have the fixed stare of someone who might have spent years of their life staring out to sea, were it not for the fact that they are currently indoors pondering the green muck.
You will feel a peculiar sensation in the pit of your stomach-- it's that childhood feeling of wonder in sensing once again your ancestral excitement in the hunt-- or maybe it's just hunger.
Quoth Nate on the experience:
We all respond to death in different ways... Some cool Canadians (blame Canada!) we met in Fulong invited us shrimp fishing. Who were we to say no? John and I proved to be lousy at it and, in a pinch, would have never fed the Donner Party off our shrimping skills, not that we'd go hungry- English majors can always eat their words.