Max’s first fish

Maxie's first fish - a tilapia!

A couple weeks ago, we went to my coworker and good friend’s father-in-law’s place for his new house celebration. He’d built a new house on top of the foundations of an older one at his 15 rai (1 rai = 0.4 acres) property five minutes walk from our home. There are several fish ponds on the site, stocked with all kinds of fish including tilapia, catfish, snakehead, etc.

Max was so excited about going fishing for real, he couldn’t sleep the night before. Until then, we’d been practicing for safety with hookless tackle (a rubber door stopper tied to the line) at the ponds in our neighborhood, but Max was ready for the real deal. When morning rolled around, we went out into our garden and dug up worms for bait, which both Max and Mina couldn’t believe just lived in the ground around our house…

Just before noon, we headed over to my friend’s FIL’s place and found that Max was unwilling to eat; he was completely enthralled with the prospect of actually fishing, so I pulled a couple of bass rods from the back of our car and set up with light rigs. Then:

This was actually his second fish, perhaps a bleeker, related to carp in any case. We were fishing the shallows in 1 meter deep water with fallen submerged trees everywhere, so my sliding sinker rig did a perfect job. The total for the day was five small fish between Max and his friends, and typically, they all got bored after pulling in their own fish. Max was scared to actually touch the fish, just as I remember being, so it was a good learning experience for everybody.

On the deep side of the pond we were fishing they apparently catch 7-8 kilogram catfish of various species (giant Mekong cats included!) on a regular basis; I saw some they pulled that morning in the 5kg range waiting to be prepared for eating, so I don’t doubt it. I was trying to keep the kids from being traumatized by a leviathan, so we stayed in the shallows!

max’s wittle bitty (part 2)

Getting rid of Bitty turned out to be a mistake. Max demanded to know where his pet had gone. Upon learning that Bitty had been returned to the pond (“to be with his friends…”), he threw an epic fit. It was so incredibly heart-rending and long, we all piled in the car. Destination: Pet store.

The main pet store in Maha Sarakham is five minutes from our house, but it seemed like ages with Max screaming the whole way. The last time I’d been there was a few years before, to buy charcoal for my DIY air/water purification project (mission status: Incomplete). I had been horrified to see the neglect of the fishtanks on display; a couple of them were filled with the black, rotting corpses of goldfish bobbing violently as the pumps merrily bubbled away. This time, there were no such horrors. We bought Max the smallest possible tank (ten inches by six?) with gravel and a pump, and decided on two attractively striped little bitties. We didn’t know it at the time, but this tank contained an anomalous zone with Strange Occurrences.

The best way to describe the Occurrences is with a timeline of the less than one-month span the aquarium was actually in operation, plus the follow-up period:

  • Day 1: The attractively striped bitties spend a happy night together.
  • Day 2: Daddy finds a small freshwater crab outside in the yard (they crawl over from the pond across the street, or up from the drainage pipes), and puts it in the tank.
  • Day 3: One of the bitties disappears; there is zero trace of him.
  • Day 8: The crab molts, and for a day, it looks like there are two crabs (Nam is convinced that daddy put another, immobile crab in the aquarium).
  • Day 9: The molted shell disappears, apparently eaten by the crab to stave off osteoporosis.
  • Day 20: Nanny finds a HUGE male crab with a claw the size of the entire smaller crab; we put it in the tank.
  • Day 23: Somebody puts red sticky rice in the aquarium and the water turns soupy pink. The crabs grow pink fuzz on their shells.
  • Day 26: The remaining bitty disappears, also with zero clues left as to what actually happened.
  • Day 27: Since Max lost interest in the aquarium and there are no actual bitties left, daddy makes the executive decision to let the crabs go and save the electricity used to keep the pump running.
  • Day 28: The aquarium, emptied of water and left outside, suddenly cracks as if in protest.
  • Day 35: The nanny’s hand is cut as she tries to move the broken aquarium.
  • Day 40: The aquarium disappears without a trace.

So the main mystery is: What happened to the fish? The simple explanation is that the crabs ate them. However, although this is perhaps a reasonable explanation for the second fish, the first fish was nearly as big as the small crab (the big crab wasn’t yet in the tank when the first fish disappeared). And there are other questions/factors as well:

  • Do these types of crabs eat live fish? They didn’t seem to like meat as far as I could tell.
  • The crabs did like goldfish pellets and were fed twice daily
  • Even if the crabs did catch the fish, it seems unlikely they could have eaten them entirely, leaving no trace at all
  • Daddy did look to see what was happening in the tank at least twice a day, during feeding time

The other major possibility is that the fish jumped out of the tank, but I never found them. The area around the table the tank was kept on was cluttered with baby seats and toys and whatnot, but I looked around everywhere more than once and still didn’t find anything.

Not having a satisfactory answer and not knowing eventually led me to consider alternative explanations:

  • Wormhole (did they warp away?)
  • Evolution (did they walk away?)
  • Outside predation (did an errant albatross enter my house unnoticed?)
  • Astral Travel (did they have an out of body experience so good they decided to stay there – and teleport their bodies away as well?)
  • Alien Death Ray (did ET screw with my bitties?)
  • Sashimi (did Mina dare Max to swallow them whole? Did some wasabi and shoyu disappear as well?)

I fear I will never know.

Does anybody out there have a better guess?

max’s wittle bitty

Just about a month ago, we had a big storm come in at night due to a typhoon battering Taiwan. It rained a lot more than normal, even for rainy season, and the pond in front of our house must have flowed over onto the road at some point during the night. I say must have because I didn’t actually see it happen, but found some evidence to that effect including washed up debris on our curb and a half-dead pla salit (Snakeskin Gourami). Upon poking with my finger, he wiggled a bit, so I decided to try reviving him in a spare six liter PET water bottle I had in the yard.

I filled it with water from the pond and slipped him in through the top, and after performing carefully measured agitation to stimulate oxygen transport over the gills (read: shaking it for a while), Mr. Gourami “turned that frown upside down” and started swimming around.

Thus was born the Ghettoquarium in all its polyethylene terephthalatiffic glory:

Snakeskin Gourami (Trichogaster pectoralis) aka Siamese Gourami aka Bitty

Max was delighted and immediately dubbed the fish “Bitty” (it was not until later that I realized he was trying to say “fishy,” but by then I had gotten used to calling him Bitty as well).

Bitty received due adulation from his attending 2.5 year old host, including being assaulted with long cooking chopsticks and drinking straws joined end-to-end (which daddy was using to occasionally blow air into the bottle just for the hell of it). But as cool as this fish was, and as much as Max loved him, I decided to let him go at the end of the day because I wanted him to go live with his friends in the pond. Also, I had no desire to find out which aquatic plants he could eat by trial and error – I knew he ate plants because that’s what it said in my go-to SE Asian fish book, Fish and Fish Dishes of Laos by Alan Davidson.

In addition, Max gets bored with new toys almost instantly, so we thought we could get away with Bitty just suddenly disappearing… This is how we ended up going out as a family to buy a small aquarium less than two hours after I threw Bitty back in the pond, but that’s another story.

For now, I choose only to commemorate a boy and his fish: