A collection of correspondences, spanning August 23, 1884 to June 22, 1885, appeared in "la terre illustrée" (Illustrated Earth magazine, 1890-1891), under the heading of "Le mousse de l’amiral Courbet: Campagne de l’Indo-Chine - Fou-Tchéou et Formose" [The Apprentice of Adm Courbet: Indo-China Campaign - Foochow and Taiwan]. They were letters written by a young French sailor to his mother and one of his buddies back home in Paris. This man seemed to be in the close proximity of Adm Amédée Courbet (1827-1885) and was quite knowledgeable - he was able to record in great detail the people and places of northern Taiwan and was privy to the high-level discussion involving the battles of Keelung and Danshui.
In one part, he wrote: "Donc le 30 [septembre 1884], c’est à dire avant-hier, nous sommes arrivés devant Kelung, une jolie plage, dominée par des collines. Au-devant, un peu sur la droite, une île qui a exactement l’air d’un hippopotame." ["So on the 30th [September, 1884] or the day before yesterday, we arrived at Keelung, a beautiful beach dominated by hills. In front, a little to the right, there is an island that looks exactly like a hippo."] That puts him on Courbet's flagship, Le Bayard [see here]. In later reports, although unlikely yet he appeared to be present at the battlefield in Danshui with first-hand account of the confusion and the hand-to-hand combat on the beach.
He was apparently fascinated by tales of the sharks in Taiwan. The ones with the head of a human female and evil eyes, and those that eat birds.
Another passage in particular catches our attention: "On dit encore - mais j’ai besoin de le voir ou plutôt de l’entendre pour le croire - que dans une rivière appellée Tamsui, il y a des poissons qui chantent." ["They say, but I still need to see or rather hear it to believe it, that in a river called Tamsui, there are fish that sing."]
Let's see, there were/are tiger sharks in Danshui River and they did bite teenagers who swam in it. These sharks of course don't sing; neither do they possess a woman's head, nor would they leap out of water to catch a flying bird.
And there are so many different fish in the River, too: 豆仔魚, 烏魚, 小金錢仔, 小花身, 黑格, 海鰱仔, 大成仔丁... [For much more, please visit our 登峰魚丸博物館Fishball Museum on 117 Chung Cheng Road in Danshui.]
Wait, the 金錢仔, known locally as the "kim-tsîn-á", do sing!! They sound like male frogs looking for mates. And we have always thought that they were just voicing their displeasure when caught.
Too bad this gentleman did not get to see and hear the fish, or he'd have known more about them:
Chinese name: 高背鰏
English names: Slimy, Slipmouth, Pony fish, Common ponyfish
Nomenclature: Leiognathus equulus
Other local names: 三角仔, 狗坑仔
Dasnhui could have ended up a French colony and the French could have then even caught and eaten the fish. Of course that did not happen. Merci, mon Dieu (or Ma-Zu, for that matter).
These little 金錢仔 are still plentiful; unfortunately, they and other fish from Danshui River are no longer fit to eat as the River has long been polluted.
Additional message from 登峰魚丸博物館: the nomenclature of fish should be italicized: