They're alive! Orange and Other Orange have prevailed. They lived to see another day...and then another after that. It didn't look good for them at first - they did not come into our lives in a vestibule conducive to survival. They most likely originated from a location of unsanitary, diseased and morally vacant characteristics. I hope, at least, that our home was a step up in this regard (small children are not exactly famed for their hygiene and compassion however) . The tupperware was roomy, if sparse. The locals, i.e. Little A and Snugglepunk, enthusiastic and noisy but not, it turns out, murderous.
I will confess, it nearly ended badly...for Orange anyway. They were detained uneventfully for about 48 hours in the tupperware before the fish bowl and pretty green gravel arrived. After a few minutes in their new home, I came to the conclusion that the fish bowl was totally inadequate. Ayi did not agree, she has less interest in the comfort and spacial requirements of goldfish. Mr Oh concurred with my assessment that they needed roomier digs - he has a vested interest in the survival of the goldfish. He has no interest in explaining to Little A about pet-death...he's still a bit perturbed about Little A's extensive exposure to moth genocide.
This led to another prolonged online search in Chinese for fish accommodation, hampered by the fact that the Chinese for fish bowl is annoyingly not 'fish' + 'bowl'. Searches for "fish+bowl" (yuwan) resulted in many options, if I were in the market for a ceramic bowl with a fish painted on it. I was not - we already have six bowls with fish painted on them. Unsurprisingly (because he's essentially Chinese), Little A calls these items 'fish bowls' as well. It look a while to work out that the Chinese for fish bowl is "fish+vat" (yugang). [鱼缸 for anyone who finds themselves in a similar predicament.]
So, in the interests of keeping the fish alive, I invested in a “fish vat package with landscaping”. As is often the case when I order things online in Chinese, I am never quite sure what's going to turn up. What arrived was a medium sized aquarium complete with lighting system, internal filter and pump, live plants that arrived chilled in soil and skillfully suspended in a styrofoam box by toothpicks (a set-up that's hard to convey in words so I'll just stop now rather than spend the next three paragraphs describing the plant delivery method), three types of gravel, a piece of Japanese driftwood that I had to boil first, as well as enough food, apparatus and environmental stabilizers to set up an Irish national aquarium in Shanghai. I was mildly surprised it didn't come with fish.
It look me twenty minutes just to fill the thing with water. I really should have decided where I wanted it to be located before I filled it with water, plants, gravel and driftwood. Another hour and a half later it was both filled with water AND where it should be. The floor was pretty wet and Snugglepunk had to be sanitized.
Orange and Other Orange, who seemed pretty happy in their rather traditional-looking fish bowl, were a bit resistant to the move but I caught them with my fish net and they didn't really have much say in the matter. The Shanghai branch of the Irish National Aquarium was open for business and I was very pleased with how everything worked out.
About three hours after the official launch, I was walking past and took a quick glance into the tank. I saw Other Orange but didn't immediately see Orange. I stepped a bit closer, thinking he might be behind a plant or under the driftwood, but there was no sign. Just to get a better look, I got really close and peered over the top of the tank down into the water to see if I could locate Orange. I heard a faint smacking sound and, in horror, I realised what had happened.
Screaming "Help me, somebody help me" in a totally hysterical and melodramatic fashion (as is my way), I frantically pulled the writing desk, upon which the tank stood, back from the wall. I now must apologise to my friend, Jill, who up until then had been sipping tea in my living room and, at that moment, possibly thought that I'd lost an arm rather than just a fish judging from the way she leapt off the sofa.
As the desk was pulled back, Orange came into view, wriggling and dusty on the floor with fear blazing in his eyes. Ever calm and cool-headed in emergency situations, I continued to shriek and wail loudly while scooping Orange off the floor in the net and flopping him back into the tank where he retreated to a corner, pulled all his fins in and sat stonily, looking deeply traumatised and still draped in cobweb. Jill was not optimisitc. "I don't think he's going to make it", she said. I gave her a withering look but did concede that it was probably the fish equivalent of jumping out of an eternity pool on the 83rd floor of a luxury hotel onto the pavement.
I then did what any decent, fish-loving person would do after such a trauma...I put a magazine over the top of the tank and went out to lunch. When I came back, Orange was still alive. He even looked a bit more chipper although he was still draped in strands of cobweb - lest we forget.
The next morning, I took the magazine off and brought the water level down by another two inches. I fed the fish, spoke to them and had a peek into the tank every 20 minutes or so to check that Orange hadn't had another go. By the end of the day, I felt confident enough to step down the suicide watch. By the following morning, Orange had managed to lose his trail of cobwebs and was back to looking relatively healthy and content.
It just goes to show, large aquarium cannot buy fish happiness. I'm pretty sure Confucius said that.
It was Children's Day in China yesterday. I'm always suspicious of these types of 'festivals'. It usually means Little A will come home from school with some kind of unusual gift. I was not wrong. Yesterday, when I picked him up, I was presented with a bag of decorative face clothes and two goldfish. I don't think the two were connected. I preferred it when they gave us insect repellant.
The fish were housed in a small, lidless jar - pretty cramped and precarious living conditions, even by goldfish standards, which I imagine is a low bar anyway. The problem of how to get them home seemed to be the first of many fish-related hurdles I was going to have to face that day. Unless, of course, I fell at the first hurdle after which there would be no further hurdles…apart from the explain-to-the-almost-3-year-old-about-death-hurdle. Yikes.
Given that I was in charge of carrying Snugglepunk on my back and pushing Little A in the pram...the welfare of the fish was left in the shaky and whimsical hands of a fickle pre-schooler with a penchant for pouring water out of things. It was a slow journey home, punctuated by cries of "I wanna kiss the fish" and "Ooops".
The pavements of Shanghai are no place for goldfish. There are whizzing motorcycles, loose paving stones and unexpected slanty parts - not to mention a large wide-eyed child threatening to drink your environment. At one point, Little A buckling under the tedium of responsibility, quietly reached his arm out over the side of the pram, lowering the jar towards the pavement where he presumably planned to abandon it without fanfare or ado somewhere between the Bank of China and the KFC. Thankfully, I was alerted to his plan by the fact that he had not threatened to pet the fish in several seconds and was able to whisk the jar out of his hand just before contact with the ground was made.
Little A, unmoved by my daring rescue, looked up lazily and said "Mama, you hold fish" as he spent the rest of the journey home lounging in the pram with his hands behind his head outlining the various things he expected me to procure for him that afternoon..."Ice-cream, two cakes, some Peppa Pig, a bicycle, three hugs and wine".
I spent the rest of the journey pretending I was a contestant in The Crystal Maze - holding open-water fish in one hand, pushing a pram with the other while a 10kg creature with teeth alternates bouncing, squealing and biting on my back and the 18 kg creature in the pram uses his feet against the wheels to cause the pram to veer sharply in one direction and then the other. The air was humid. My hair was in my eyes and I was running low on affection for both child and fish.
On arrival at home, Snugglepunk scampered off under a table in search of dropped crumbs of Play-Doh to lick off the floor. Little A headed off into the kitchen in search of wine. I should perhaps note at this stage that we have convinced Little A that prune juice is wine and he has become quite the connoisseur with the added advantage of regular bowel movements. I'm sure that this is atrocious parenting but I'm not sorry....although I do wish he would stop demanding wine from people in restaurants and shops. I think they just assume we’re French.
Anyway, I found myself standing alone in the living room holding a jar of goldfish and with no notion what I was supposed to do with them or how I was supposed to feed them. I filled a tupperware container (the one I usually use for Corn Flakes, but will probably no longer use for Corn Flakes) with water and slotted the fish and their temporary hostel into the bookshelf. I'd like to think it's out of Little A's reach but that would underestimate his ability to pile stools on top of each other and climb on top of them. I have yet to find anywhere in the apartment that is actually out of his reach.
I spent the next hour frantically trying to buy fish food and a fish bowl online while dinner went uncooked and children went untended to. By the time the bowl and food get here, the fish - who Little A has named "Orange" and "Other Orange" - will probably be dead and I will have an unwanted fish bowl on my hands. Maybe I can use it to store Corn Flakes?
On waking this morning, I went to check on Orange and Other Orange. They're still alive, surprisingly. Little A spent five minutes tapping on the side of their tupperware and shouting "Hello fishies" at them before he left for school so I doubt they're long for this world.