2007年11月22日星期四

Crimson Fins


As I seated myself by a nicely decorated table, on the surface of which a crimson tablecloth took its place, I couldn’t help wondering at the delicate atmosphere those Cantonese had meant to create: soft lights, finely-made utensils, and a lavender-tinged aroma. The very proper atmosphere for savouring shark fin soup.

This had been good, but not for long. When my own serving of delicacy was brought right in front of me by a waitress, who was dressed in crimson identical to the tablecloth, I had the first ever image in my life of what shark fin soup looked like. In a bowl of fine china was a jelly-like, auburn substance, in which slender slices floated: shark fin slices.

The slices tasted crispy and, with the subsidiary of stewed chicken broth and other ingredients, wonderful. This nightmare of the sea was about to fill up my belly, or more precisely, satisfy my appetite.

Although it might seem too abrupt for me to sympathize with the sharks, a sudden sad mood for those vicious carnivores did come to me when I looked into the soup. After all, they didn’t launch attacks on human beings deliberately. Quite the contrary, it was we intellectual governors of the nature that should be blamed, either for provocations or for intended brutality.

I had unintentionally come upon a picture which was about shark-hunting. In the picture was a mother shark that had been caught by shark-hunters, her body thoroughly cut up. Among cast-out internal organs and blood were wriggling babies stranded. I knew her fate. She would be thrown back into the sea, finless, and would endure the gradual process of decay. People would just want her fins.

From somewhere above me a few strands of soft light tossed themselves upon the rim of the chinaware that held the fin slices. I could by no means convince myself that what lay before me came from a beast. I saw no fangs. I saw only the most precious thing a shark needed to survive in the ocean. There were a hundred million sharks killed for their fins each year. And I believed they had died as painfully as the mother shark in that picture.

Those cartilaginous slices ran by my taste-buds. They provided a perfect sensation. But shark fins had very little flavor of their own. It was the ingredients in which the fin slices were soaked that provided the wonderful flavor. Moreover, fins were even less nutritious than an egg, in accordance to scientific research.

Then, why were people so eager to have a taste, since no substantial nutrition would be found in fin slices? ‘Because it is a symbol of wealth and high social position,’ some would explain. My eyes were settled on the crimson tablecloth, then to the waitresses dressed in crimson, the colour that resembled wealth and authority, especially in China.

That was exactly the colour of blood, as well. Sharks did kill, and they killed for life. Humans killed either, yet they killed for vanity. I found myself lost in thought, which was elicited by that exquisite delicacy on a crimson tablecloth.


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