In the lively fishing village of Danshui (more commonly known as Tamsui to the locals) a lengthy boardwalk summons its strolling visitors to slow down a notch; to look left at Taiwan’s Danshui River, and right at the flashing arcade games lined up in blinking rows. For the residents of Taipei a mere 40 minute ride on the metro can provide an escape from a city of over 2.5 million. A bike path serves as a more scenic route, and was in fact the mode of transportation I chose to make my way from Taiwan’s capital to Danshui.
During the week, the small town’s residents haul their crafts and seafood to Taipei, hoping to make a decent profit. On weekends, however, the journey is made in reverse. Just as New York City has its Coney Island, Danshui thrives as a playground of games, sumptuous food, and a safe haven from the everyday grind of city life.
At the southern end of the boardwalk, a barrage of shouting voices can be heard through megaphones. Each shop owner has one and uses it to their fullest advantage. Yelling “Guaning, guaning (welcome)!” they persistently try to entice onlookers into restaurants, souvenir stores, and arcades. The arcades are worlds within themselves, with Chinese versions of Pac-Man and Whack-a-Mole facing the sea and their constant swirl of lights flashing in sync with each arcade’s own theme song.
On weekends, an influx of school children flock to Danshui in groups; money in hand they weave among tourists, fishermen, and older couples, anxious to hand over NT$20 per game (at NT$30 to the US$). Some take the opportunity to approach foreigners in order to practice their English; a few teenagers came up to my family and me with a small hand-held video camera. “For our English class,” they explained pointing to the camera; and for five minutes we bantered back and forth about ages, our purpose in Danshui, and whether or not we had tried the three foot tall soft-serve ice cream (we had not).
Across from the stores and arcades lies the placid Danshui River which opens out into the Taiwan Strait just beyond the boardwalk’s end. Small fishing boats and kayaks are neatly lined up perpendicular to the dock, where their owners stand at makeshift booths selling the day’s catch. Danshui’s residents frequent the fishing boats as they would a local supermarket pointing to the various bins of sardines, eels, and soft crab to make sure they get the freshest catch of the day.