In Hong Kong, my friends and I spent an afternoon hunting for pineapple buns, also called sweet buns/bo lao bao. We’d been promised they would keep up raving for days, and that turned out to be true (it’s been weeks and I’m still not over them).
An almost-brusque-but-not-quite-off-putting woman guided us to a booth, which she indicated would soon be unoccupied. She accomplished this for us herself by forcing the two guys sitting there move to the next booth, shoving another couple into half of the space they had just been occupying. We sat down a bit gingerly. My friends felt so awkward that they almost convinced me to leave, but I was determined to have my pineapple buns and would not hear of quitting the restaurant.
We had so much incredible food in Hong Kong, but it was the pineapple buns from Kam Wah Cafe in Kowloon that won. Hands down. We ate, we drank, we were conquered by Kowloon.
That’s all set up for my favorite part of the afternoon though.
Right outside the restaurant was an open air corner store that sold fish. No, not the kind you eat. There was a wall full of air tight bags of live fish all trapped in their own little bubbles. The goldfish and mollies I recognised, but there were so many more that I didn’t, each hanging from a wall in their own neat little bag-world. I was thrilled. There were so many different kinds and colors, and I just wanted to stand and stare at all the frantic little creatures.
My friends laughed at me for just standing and watching the fish, some exploring every corner of their tiny habitats and some just seeming to watch us quite nonchalantly. I felt like a little kid at the zoo, wishing I wasn’t travelling so that I could take one home with me.
I have always loved animals. But I think that was only part of my fascination with what was, by any local measure, a pretty standard stand. In the states, the pet stores are fun, but they are so much more isolated and impersonal, full of huge tanks with unindividuated blocks of fish in them. Here there were singly wrapped little lives saying ‘pick me! take me home and love me!’ And they were just dropped in your way.
I loved this stand for the delicacy of it all. There was me, full and content, and there was this wall covered in all these bright little lives. These little dependents who would die without care (sure not if they’d been in the wild, but that was probably many fish generations ago?). I loved them for their fragility, and I loved that the stand was both crowded and only one of many such stores. I loved what it said about the crowd of people also looking over the fish; that they cared about these little lives. Apparently goldfish are good luck in China, but still.
It’s probably silly, but I couldn’t help thinking that anyone who elected to care for something as pointless and beautiful and fragile as a goldfish couldn’t be all bad.