Fishy business

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

  • I spent this evening with a local couchsurfer who was showing me another night market here in Taipei. As we ambled through the market I saw an old woman sitting in front of a small plastic pool that was full of fish. Lena, the couchsurfer, told me this was a popular street market game. The idea was simple, using a small paper net you had to try to catch fish which you could then keep. It sounded easy enough and looked like fun so we sat down and started fishing.

    I quickly learned that nets made of paper fall apart the moment they come into contact with a wriggling fish. Of course, that’s the point. Each time you nearly catch a fish it escapes and so you just buy another net. As it happens, though, I am quite the skilled paper-net fisherman, and after a few attempts I ended up with five fish in my little bowl. The old woman bagged the fish for me and like a kid at the fair, I walked away with my new pet fish in my hand and a big smile on my face.

    It was only later as I waited on the platform of the subway station that I thought to myself that maybe it wasn’t such a great idea taking the fish, after all, where the heck would I keep them? As I took a seat on the near deserted night train I looked at my new bubble buddies in the bag and wondered what on earth to do with them. It was then when a young couple boarded the train. They spotted the fish and looked a little puzzled.

    “I just won them,” I said, raising my voice a little to cut through the rumble of the train, “At a street market not far from here,” I continued.

    There’s no getting away from it, this was a little weird; a white guy sat alone on a deserted late night train with a bag of live goldfish and a smile on his face. However, despite any misgivings they might have had the couple began chatting with me.

    The English names they go by are Eugene and Jasmine and they’re both studying accountancy at Taiwan University in Taipei. As we chatted it struck me that perhaps one of them would like to look after my fish. Aware that this was now stretching the randomness to the limit, I asked them a question that I imagine is rarely heard on the late night subway. “Hey, do you want my fish?”

    To their credit the weirdness didn’t seem to faze them at all. Eugene was familiar with the game in which I’d won them, and he agreed to take them for me. With a sense of relief I handed over the bag, thankful that the fish had so quickly found a willing caretaker. We chatted some more then I asked, “So where have you guys been tonight?” In unison and without a hint of irony they replied, “We went out for sushi.”