The fish tank lies in the background.

Keeping Pets I – Fishes (1990-1996)

The fish tank lies in the background.
The fish tank lies in the background. Unfortunately, this was the only shot we had of the fish tank.

This is long overdue. I have been keeping pets since the age of 4. It began with fishes – guppies, tiger barbs, tetras, angelfishes, ‘sucker’ fishes, just to name a few. My dad believed that keeping pets was going to be an important part of my growth. I was told he wanted to have more kids even though we were in a poor state financially. My mom didn’t want to and so these pets were there to teach me responsibility over living things. To learn what it is like to care for something smaller and to embrace the little things in life. The story of my pets thus begins with fishes.



The Blue Tiger Barb

We had one main tank and it was rather large for a beginner. A few incidents are well remembered even though it has been 15-20 years ago at this point. I remember a tiger barb that was so resilient he outlived most of the other fishes. It fell sick for about 6-7 times and we had to isolate him in a smaller tank filled with medicated water. The water would turn blue or green depending on the medication we used.


It was with us for so long I felt very sad when it finally passed.


But it survived all the time. It was quite an amazing feat considering that most fishes would go after 6 months to a year. It was with us for so long I felt very sad when it finally passed. I thought of giving it a burial but my mom disposed of it when I was at school.



Silver Pair

The tiger barb was significant for the long life he lived even though it was tiny but the longest living fishes I had was this pair of silver coloured fishes. Measuring 8 to 10 centimeters, they were one of the larger fishes I kept and rather aggressive. Till this day, I do not know what their exact breed is. I kept them in the final years of my fish keeping hobby and they survived anything thrown at them.

I was told that my mom found one of them on the floor after she returned home from the market. It had apparently jumped out of the tank through a protective netting. It survived for a good 2-3 minutes without water as my mom finally managed to scoop the slippery body back into the tank. This happened once or twice. Nothing it seemed could kill those fishes.


They were one of the larger fishes I kept and rather aggressive.


It even ate smaller fishes. I was filled with guilt when I placed tiny neon coloured tetras in the tank and their numbers kept dwindling. I felt like a murderer but there was nothing I could do (we didn’t have a spare tank at this point), all of them were gone within a night. Memories like that will never be lost.

Anyways, this silver pair were my final fishes. They were still strong when I decided to stop keeping fishes in lieu of a larger pet – a cat. I decided to release these two tetras into Jurong Lake. It took time to get them adjusted to the water but the time came and the two of them found themselves much larger waters.



The Little Things

There are more memories than just these two significant ones. I remember how washing the tank was quite a chore. Transferring the fishes, making our own suction hose, rinsing the pebbles, cleaning the decorations and wiping down the sides of the tank. It was a lot of work and my mom did most of it.

I remember we fed the fishes two kinds of food. There were the small pellet-sized dry ones and also the live blood worms that were placed in an inverted cone (with minute holes). The worms were pretty gross and watching my fishes tear them out of the cone was a mind opening experience for the preschool-me at that point.


The worms were pretty gross and watching my fishes tear them out of the cone was a mind opening experience.


Angelfishes were really fragile. I thought they were the prettiest looking, so agile and majestic but they never survived past a month even when separated from the other fishes. It was probably my fault for not knowing how to take care of them. Oh well.

I always had one or two of those “sucker” fishes in the tank. They were greyish to black and never seemed to require food. My parents were convinced that having one or two around would help keep the tank clean. They seemed distant in my memory because there was never a need to feed them. They just went around their business in the tank, almost like an automated vacuum cleaner.



Growing Up

The fishes I had taught me how to care. It gave me a sense of responsibility and a desire to give the best I could for these little lives. My dad was probably right, this first pets of mine were instrumental to my growing up.┬áIt prepared me for learning to take care of my next pet – a cat.

And that, is a much longer story for another day.