Fish Fetish: Eat Your Pets

This morning on the way to have a coffee with my daughter we stopped on a bridge that goes over a drainage canal to see if we could see any wildlife. We do it often. Sometimes we see birds; a kingfisher a few times, some times of heron or similar; I saw a horseshoe crab once; there is a big monitor lizard we have seen a few times; and my daughter once saw an otter on her way back from the MRT (AKA subway or metro) in the rain. But mostly we see fish. Aquarium escapees. Some type of America cichlids []. You see them in all the drainage canals in Singapore, people dumping their fish when they get too big for the tank, I guess.

American cichlids are, or were and I suspect still are, a popular fish in the hobby trade, especially among college students, mostly male. They like them because they are hard to kill and, more importantly, they are aggressive. Many people feeding them live goldfish regularly. Many aquarium shops have “feeder goldfish” you can buy for cheep, like 10 for a dollar or something. Feeders are feed to picky fish that won’t eat dead food, like Volitans lion fish []. But the college boys would sit around stoned in their dorms or apartments and feed goldfish to their aggressive cichlids just for fun. The most common cichlid for the college crowd were Oscar [] and Jack Dempsey []. And these fish get big for a tank; Oscars can get close to a foot and a half (45cm) if your tank is big enough. Jack Dempsey’s are a little smaller, about a foot (30cm). As I remember Jack Dempsey’s were more popular due to their association with the boxer of the same name [].

On afternoon a regular, G███, came in, walked up to the counter and said, “I need a new Oscar. Small one, maybe two or three inches.”

Usually G███ came in to buy feeder fish, every week, like clockwork, to feed to his big Oscar. G███ was in his mid-50s, tanned and always with a smile, wearing Bermuda shorts and a Hawaiian shirts. He used to talk about living in South or Central America when he was younger, his dad worked somewhere there so he spent a lot of time as a teenager and even 20-something around Latin America. He knew a lot about cichlids, he’d always keep them as pets when he was a kid, catching them right out of the streams and rivers. Since returning to the US he always had a few aquariums full of them.

Before Fish Fetish opened G███ had been buying feeders from one of the local general pet store. He had no use for birds and reptiles or small mammals, so he started frequenting Fish Fetish so after we opened since we had a more and more diverse fish, including a section dedicated to American cichlid.

I was working that day, J███ was off and J████ would be in for the evening shift, “New Tank or did something happen,” I asked.

“Nah… he just got too big for the tank.”

“Oh. Tank-buster did you sell him?”

“Nope. I ate him.”

He said it so flatly, with no hesitation, it took a second to sink in. “What?”

“Fried him up with some tomato’s and lime. Had him over rice.” Like talking about fish from the supermarket not a pet he raised for several years.


“They eat them all the time down south. Fried or grilled. Every time mine gets too big I eat them and get a new one.”

“Eating your pet is weird man.”

“Don’t think of them as pets. I think of them more like chicken or cows. Just livestock.” He paused, “Like plants, some people grow roses and whatnot to look at, others grow tomato’s to eat. You can do both. I do it with the same fish. Reminds me of growing up down south.”

“It’s still weird man.” And then switching gears, “We have a 5 inch Oscar in the plant tanks, if you want”

“Nah, lets see the small guys. They grow fast.”

We started to walk towards the back of the freshwater fish section, where most of the cichlids live. As we walked G███ continued to explain, “a lot of the fish you sell here, from Central and South America, are food down there.”

We stopped in front of the cichlid tanks, 12 20-gallon tanks near the back of the freshwater aisle dedicated to American cichlids, and 4 more on separate plumbing for the high PH loving African cichlids. At the time we had, maybe, 5 Oscars, all under 2 inches and all in different tanks. Cichlids are territorial and will attack each other. The more closely related the species the more aggressive they are to each other.

If another fish is too big to eat and too small to eat them, a cichlid will mostly ignore it in the same tank, unless it looks like the cichlid, same species or close enough to have a similar body shape, even totally unrelated fish that are less aggressive, the cichlid will bully them constantly. Chasing and biting at fins, it will stress the smaller or less aggressive fish out and often kills them if they are not separated.

This behaviour is not unique to cichlids, most fish are this way… Even schooling fish, like tetras and barbs can be this way. People will buy a few to make a small school in their tank, says five Cherry Barbs. After a while only one will be left and they come back and buy a few more, but the original Barb is much bigger now and it will nip and chase the new fish until they die. Kill or be killed, nature is violent. Cichlids are just more aggressive than most, they are ass holes, it’s why the college guys like them.

So, you have to separate the aggressive fish. One Oscar per tank, not shared with a Jack Dempsey’s or other similar body shape. This means we never had more than about 12 aggressive cichlids at at time. Putting them in the other fresh water tanks with tetras, barbs, guppies and what not is a no-no, they will randomly go homicidal and kill off whole schools of fish one day. Sometimes we had big cichlids, typically donated by someone when it outgrew their tank, which is why I asked G███, and we would put them in the big 60 gallon plant tanks up front or, if they were really big, in the 125 gallon tank that housed the bigger freshwater things – big catfish, freshwater rays, and so on. Really big Oscars were a menace, they would even nip at your hand when you were cleaning the tank or catching some other fish. At some point they decided that anything that moved was food.

After G███ picked an Oscar out and I scooped it up and bagged it we walked back to the front desk. On the way he pointed out the neon tetra. Neons where always in the first tank, they are the classic fish and always sell a fast so we would have 40-50 in one of the first few tanks at eye level.

G███ pointed at the tank and said, “they eat those ones like popcorn or peanuts. They fry them in pan with spices. They pop when their brains or stomach or something explode because of the steam. Spicy crunchy snack.”

“Really? You tried them.”

“Yea, a few times, street food. Everything is better fried.” He continued, “if you go to a market in rural South America, the Amazon part, you will find a lot of the fish you sell here. The catfish, discus, lot of the cichlids. If it’s not poisonous and doesn’t taste like shit, you eat what you can catch.”

“Makes sense. That’s five dollars.”

“Can I get a dollars worth of feeders too?”

Featured image includes images from: Howard Jelks, U.S. Geological Survey, in the public domain from USGS [] and Free Food Photos [].

ranting writings

Fish Fetish: The Breatharian

Oh my god. Flashback! I just cam across this article on I Fucking Love Science:

WTF is “breatharianism”? If you are not familiar:

Breatharianism, in the traditional meaning, is a belief that it’s possible for humans to survive without eating food. Breatharians claim that food, and sometimes even water, is not necessary for humans to live, and instead people can keep themselves alive with breathing and sunlight.

James Felton in Please Do Not Attempt The Breatharian Diet, You Need Food To Live []

I know this delusional bullshit from a IRL encounter with a practitioner before Instagram, before social media, in the age of dialup. I can’t believe this story is not already posted here, but back when I sold fish for s living I met a “breatharian” so here is a factionalized account of that encounter…

It was a slow weekday at the shop, the dry stock delivery was tagged and shelved and it was only two PM. By some coincidence the shop still had a full house: J████ was working. I wasn’t working but O— and I were just hanging out with J████ after lunch till it was time for him to head to work. J███ and D– were waiting for J███’s Girlfriend S—- to come by the shop and they were going off somewhere or other to play tennis or mountain bike or something because they were heard discussing “How do I choose a tennis racket?

S—- is important here so some backstory: S—- was an ex-marine, single mom who was becoming ever more obsessed with new age natural healing. S—- was cool but even among a group of liberal vegetarians we all agreed she had jumped right off the deep end into crystals and raw food diets to try and fix her hypochondriac illnesses. At this point she had been on raw food for a few weeks or a month.

When she showed up at the shop that afternoon she had a friend none of us knew with her. I don’t remember how the conversation went up until S—-‘s friend said something to the effect of “I’m a breatharian.”

J███: “What is a breatharian.”

S—-‘s friend: “It’s a movement to free us from our fear of starving and remind us that all we need is to be open to the Universes energy.”

I think D– finally said something like “what?”

S—-‘s friend: “Yea. You see everything your body, and your mind, needs for nourishment it can get from just breathing in the energy of the universe.”

Beggs: “But you have to eat. Or you’ll starve to death.”

S—-‘s friend: “No, no, no. That’s just fear. The companies and the government they teach everyone this and we all develop this fear of starving if we don’t eat. But it’s just fear. You don’t need to eat or drink.

Beggs: “That’s just not how biology works…”

S—-‘s friend: “That’s just fear and lies. See the founder of Breatharianism, he’s been living without food and water for decades. And he’s not even aging.”

O—: “That’s because he’s fucking dead.”

J████: “So, like, how long have you been starving yourself?”

S—-‘s friend: “I’ve been training for a year now. I still can’t break the fear. Sometimes I go a week without eating, I just drink juices.”

O—: “So you cheat. You should commit to it, one less crazy in the world in a few weeks.”

J████: “You really believe you can live off sunlight?”

Beggs: “Photosynthesis!”

S—-‘s friend: “It’s not photosynthesis, it’s not sunlight it’s more than that. The universe is filled…”

This exchange went on for some time, round and round the loony bin as we all stood around the counter. Eventually it got a bit hostile, S—-‘s friend and Owen raising their voices. As S—- was extracting her friend and heading towards the door O— had the last line, “if there was a way to live without food and water, it wouldn’t have been discovered by some nut in Australia, the Ethiopians would have figured it the fuck out in the eighties!”

D–: “You know, the more I meet S—-‘s friends the more I understand how the Branch Davidians could exist. And the more I realize there is nothing wrong with S—- a cheeseburger wouldn’t fix.”


Fred Jablonski

Fred Jablonski’s water bottle, a blue one liter Nalgene bottle, sat on his desk long after Fred Jablonski was gone. He only lasted a day. Showed up and decided that the job wasn’t for him or something, we never knew. In fact, no one ever introduced him to anyone in the the department and no one told us he was gone. But his desk was still his desk months later, the water bottle gathering dust along with the standard office supplies, pen, pencil, stapler and notebook. Fred Jablonski was The Dead Man in Yossarian’s tent. No one could be assigned to that desk the water bottle gathered dust until we moved offices seven months later. But the myth of Fred Jablonski long after the desk and dusty water bottle were left behind.

Fred Jablonski lived on because he became a kind of Spartacus for the software development department. Everyone was Fred Jablonski. See, when we changed offices we also got we one of those phone conferencing systems which asked you to record your names and then announced you when you joined the call. This annoyed everyone. So when you attended a conference call you would be met with a roll call of “Fred Jablonski”, “Freeeed Jablonski”, “Fred Jaaablonski”, “Jablonski, Fred Jablonski” every time a developer joined.  The rest of the company had no idea who Fred Jablonski was which only encouraged us for a time. Eventually the company grew and many people even in the software engineering department had no idea who Fred Jablonski was. And so, eventually Fred Jablonski faded… 


Welcome to the aged, connected society

File under story I will never actually write:

In a not so far off future, an increasingly elderly society is decimated when massive numbers of people over 65 suddenly overdose. After much investigation the culprit turns out to be a group of young political activists who seek to save their future by eliminating retired people who are costing more and more in public health expenditure while also dominating the political process through their numbers. The effect of their age and voting block is that they keep raising the taxes of younger working people to fund their ever increasing healthcare needs. How did the hackers bring about an instant change in the political landscape? By hacking into internet connected automatic pill dispensers all the retirees use…


Do or Do Not, There is No Try

This is the second of two posts based on papers I turned in for a class on Eastern Philosophy I took in 1997. This is the second paper, the final exam. For the first paper see here [], for the whole story see here [].

Somewhere between eating honey with Pooh and walking the narrow road with Basho I learned something more than eastern philosophy over the last semester. I learned how to live some of the ideals of the traditions we studied. Words spoken by the Dalai Lama now make sense beyond the words themselves. The moon is the moon and the finger the finger. So my final exam is not a retelling of the books we read in the course of the semester but a the answer to a simple question: what did I learn in Philosophy 260?

Why Worry?

“If it is fixable, then there is no need to worry. If not, there is no benefit to worrying.” These are the words of the Dalai Lama, but the sentiment is familiar to everyone: “Don’t sweat the small stuff”, “Don’t worry, be happy” and a million other turns of phrase. Though I have heard them before I have never really listened to them, until I myself said them.

…About halfway through the semester a friend of mine was in the process of getting a loan for a new car. She was hysterical about everything. Every little detail she worried over, completely stressing her out. She worried so much she was making herself sick. All I could say to her was don’t worry, if you are going to get the loan there is no need to worry, if not then worrying will only make you sick, not help you get the car. Stop. Hold the press! I sounded like some dime store version of the Dalai Lama. But, the more I thought about it the more it finally made since, in a way I can’t explain, and over the next few weeks I repeated if to myself when I worried. I works. It released me from the prison of my worry and calmed me down. The worry didn’t always go away completely but the words became a sort of mantra. My own litany against worry, like the Litany Against Fear which Paul Atreides used in Dune:

“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

A practical example of how I applied my litany against worry is the written exam for this class. Given that the written exam forms 25% of our grade I worried about it long before the semester drew to a close. Normally I would have tied myself into mental knots worrying about my grade, zapping my concentration and rendering studying a vicious cycle. Applying the Dalai Lama’s words I strove to quit worrying about the grade, I reread the materials and reviewed our class discussions. I spent some time away from studying, spending the last hours before the test discussing other things over coffee with friends, just relaxing. When all was said and done, I got a better grade on the written exam than on the paper I spent so much time on worrying about late into the night.

The Bisy Backson

What is a Bisy Backson? In The Tao of Pooh a Backson is described as a person who goes through life always searching but never finding happiness. The Backson is so obsessed with saving time that they have none to spend and in the end has wasted all their time. This sounds familiar.

I go to school to learn so I can get a good job and make money. Why? So I can buy things to save me time so I can enjoy life. But in the meantime I waste the here and now. Trying to get ahead I take too many classes and work as many hours as I can in between. A quad-shot latte to start the morning is a necessity and it’s never shared over conversation and camaraderie. Drink it on the way to class. Finish the next assignment while eating lunch. More lectures and a six-hour shift. Sleep and repeat. Not allowing any time for myself, for life.

On the other hand I see people I go to school with who are wasting their money, or their parents money. They seem to be here to party. Their textbooks always fetch the highest trade-in at the end of the semester, mint condition, never used. Halfway through the this semester I sought middle ground. I missed, too far to the fun side and I know it. Last year I burnt out because I never did anything but work and study.

Somewhere between the Backson and the Hedonist is a better path that I will aim for. Hopefully I can find this path between the two extremes and walk it to success and happiness.

The Finger and the Moon

One koan from or studies of Zen this semester took on greater importance to me, the koan of the finger and the moon:

All instruction is but a finger pointing to the moon; and those whose gaze is fixed upon the finger will never see beyond. Even let him catch sight of the moon, and still he cannot see its beauty.

At first I dismissed this as just another formulation of the familiar “missing the forest for the moon”, and a silly one at that, how could anyone mistake a finger for the moon it points too? But that’s not quite it. Slowly over this semester I have come to understand the koan through my experience with our mid-term paper. I mistook the grade for the assignment.

Instead of trying to learn something I focused on writing a paper that would get me a good grade. I tried to impress my teacher instead of writing a paper. In doing so I fixed my gaze upon the grade and by fixating on it I lost sight of the assignment. It was only after being called out on this by two of my classmates outside of class that I was able to see the mistake I had made. Only now, too late, have I understood that the finger is a necessary tool but that it is the moon itself that is the point. Now I am applying this lesson and a paper on what I learned rather than just writing an “A” paper.

The Big Lesson…

The biggest lesson I have learned in class this semester was not something I got from a book or a poem or a play or a movie. The biggest lesson I learned came from myself. When I registered for this class I anticipated an easy ride. Because I had already taken Religions of the World and Eastern Religions I assumed I would sit back, read a few books, write a few papers and collect an easy A.


My problem was I started the semester with no intention of putting into class anything like the amount of effort that is necessary to learn. At the start of the semester it was clearly stated that we could “only take away from this class what we put into this class”. Other teachers have said it before but I always did well even when my effort was less than what it could have been. In fact I was “awarded” the “Einstein Award, for the student who knows the most an applies themselves the least” in tenth grade biology. That year our grades were 25 percent homework and 75 percent tests. I got at 76, because I got some extra credit on the tests. I never even took my book home, never looked at the homework. I thought that class was easy, too easy. so I just cruised along. Despite knowing how the grades were calculated I somehow assumed I would be ok. It caught up with me that year but I never really learned the lesson. In high school the grades really didn’t matter, now in college this attitude had it caught up with me again this semester. I put minimal effort in and will get a minimal grade out and, for me at least, the GPA here counts for much more than it did in high school.

This is a lesson more valuable to my life than any lesson I have learned in any other class. It is a lesson more valuable than any skill or facts I could learn. More than knowledge it is wisdom. Wisdom I will remember for the rest of my life: don’t ever do anything half-assed, do it right or don’t do it at all. As Yoda said in The Empire Strikes Back, “Do or do not, there is no try.”

In closing

In closing this examination, of myself for this class, I can say that Study of Eastern Thinking has been one of the most informative experiences in my life. One that I hope will be a transformative experience in my life. I have learned simple lessons; about worrying, about losing sight of what matters. Lessons that I hope I can apply to all aspects of my life now and in the future.

As with the essence of Zen, what I have learned I cannot express properly in words in a way that will make someone understand. It can be summed up in a words or a phrase, but slogans don’t make understanding. It is a feeling, and feelings must be felt personally to be understood. I am satisfied that I have, only now in the end, accomplished the true objectives of this class, from it to it and everything in between.