Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Singapore, 1960s – Guppies and Tetras (by Tim Light)

Back in England, the idea of keeping tropical fish never entered our minds. Occasionally we would come back from a fun-fair with a goldfish in a plastic bag, as a prize from some side show.  I feel sorry for those goldfish.  In my experience they had a life expectancy of a few days.  If they were lucky.

In Singapore, our first fish was also a little goldfish, won by my brother at the school fair.  We didn’t have anywhere to keep it, so my mother put some water in a fruit bowl and the fish at least had somewhere to swim.  For a couple of hours, anyway.  That’s how long it took for a chit-chat to spot it, scurry down the wall and gobble it up. 

Living in Singapore we were exposed to the idea of keeping fish in an aquarium.  There were tropical fish shops everywhere, and a lot of our friends – especially the Chinese – had aquariums full of colourful fish.  It wasn’t long before we had a small aquarium, complete with air pump, gravel and plants, awaiting their first fish.  My mother took us along to a tropical fish seller near Newton Circus.  My brother chose a pair of Guppies.   I chose a pair of Neon Tetras.  These animals immediately fascinated me.  The Tetras weren’t that exciting in terms of their behaviour, but their colouring was hypnotic.  The horizontal band turned to different shades of blue or green, depending in the direction they were facing.  One of our friends had a tank with 20 or more Neon Tetras, and the display was spectacular.  I waited patiently for them to reproduce, but they never did.  After a while I lost patience and bought a few more.

Guppies are one of the natural wonders of the world.  The females are relatively dull, but the males have the most amazing colour schemes.  The most remarkable thing is that every one has a different design – rather like the human fingerprint, no two guppies are the same.  Unlike the tetras, guppies are not ashamed to breed in captivity.  Once they get going, they will produce about 30 babies per female per month.  At that rate you would have thought that they would have taken over the world by now.  Fortunately (for the world) they eat most of their own babies, so the population stays under control. 

Another remarkable thing about guppies is that they mate in the same way that mammals do, unlike most other fish.  As a nine-year-old boy watching all this going on, I asked my mother a lot of embarrassing questions, and received reasonably straight answers.  So I was ahead of the pack, as regards sex education.

The other un-fishlike behaviour of the guppies was to give birth to small baby fish, rather than to deposit eggs.  The life expectancy of a newborn guppy is just a few seconds, because if its mother doesn’t eat it, one of the other fish will.  Nevertheless, a few of the babies lived long enough to escape into the plants where they kept a low profile until they grew too big to be swallowed.  In just a few months, our fish tank was too small for the Guppy population, and the snobby Tetras were complaining about being squeezed out.  We bought a bigger tank, just for the Guppies, and just like the road system, the guppy population grew to take up the available capacity.

Disaster struck when we moved to our new home on Whitley Road.  The removal men let the tank slip.  It crashed onto the floor, and there were no survivors. 

Chun See continues ….

As a kid I too liked to keep guppies. Coincidentally, I too bought mine from an aquarium near Newton circus. I used to study at the Anglo-Chinese School and often walked to Newton Circus to take Tay Koh Yat no 9A to my home in Lorong Chuan. I even bought a small book and read up about how to breed the guppies. We also bought fish food flakes to feed them.

As far as I can recall, the aquarium was located along this stretch of Bt Timah Road, next to the flyover and Kampong Java Rd. The Newton Post Office as well as a very famous fried kway teow stall were located here.

We also had a small fish tank. Below is a 1969 photo of my mum using the phone which was next to our fish tank. Besides this, I also bred them using small salted vegetables urns. Sometimes, the guppies fall sick and die en-mass. I read that the chlorine from the tap water could be the culprit, and so I used water from our well instead.


Lam Chun See said...

Tim. In case you are wondering, the aquarium that I went to was located along Bukit Timah Rd. As you exit Newton Circus and proceed towards Serangoon Rd, it was along a row of shops on the left.I might have a recent photo. Let me check.

peter said...

Is that lady making a call to the bookie?

Zen said...

Peter - You could be right. My mum was not only good at remembering numbers-especially tel.nos, she was very lucky with them. She subsidized my father income substantially (through such means), so that two of her children could get an university education.

peter said...

Zen, the means does not matter because the cause is worthy. I saw the facial expression similar to someone placing bets!!!!

Betting is because we want a better future!

peter said...

any idea whether of the Lam descendents kept that table in pic? Nice carvings.

Zen said...

Maybe the 'heavenly deities' took pity over my mum anxiety over her children education, hence gave her a helping hand. My grandparents brought these furniture from china when they migrated here from kwangchow. Apparently my grandma didn't place much value to these antic furniture and later sold them to those 'garang guni' chaps who scavenged around the kampong.

Glare said...

Awesome post of Guppy in those old days....

I do keep guppy when i was young. Recently I re-pick up again the same hobby by keeping the higher grade guppy.

Guppy is awesome fish :)