OPINION> Patrick Whiteley
Why my moral dilemma is extremely fishy
By Patrick Whiteley (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-06-22 07:51

Why my moral dilemma is extremely fishy

The moving-home experience in China is just like anywhere else, one big hassle. Before the truck arrived and five Sichuan migrant workers stomped through my apartment, a rigorous stock-take was needed. What do you keep and what do you throw away?

I gazed at the cardboard boxes, filled with all sorts of useless little things and realized how much junk I'd gathered.

One day that marvelous, must-have, antique-looking mahjong set is treasure, the next it's another piece of trash, which was never used, despite all the best intentions.

When I first moved to China everything was interesting. It's a bit like getting drunk as a teenager. It is quite a thrill at first, but soon the buzz flattens out.

The kitschy "cultural revolution (1966-76)" posters, the framed picture of the qipao-wearing Shanghai lady gracefully holding a cigarette, the 1932 hand-drawn map of old Beijing and the spear-wielding statue of Guan Yu (that crazy-looking bearded general from the Three Kingdoms classic) had all lost their novel appeal.

And what about my gold fish and my monster 4,000-yuan fish tank?

This was by far my biggest moral dilemma.

To be or not to be, that was the question.

Getting rid of material things is an easy throwing in-the-bin exercise, but these living, breathing little friends, who had flapped around so many mornings, with hungry mouths open, calling for breakfast, were my good mates.

We've been through a lot together and they shared in my joys and suffering during every home Chinese lesson. They've heard so much Putonghua, and probably speak better than me.

I couldn't just get rid of them? Or could I? It was such a hassle to move that damn tank and questions rose in my mind like the bubbles in my fish tank.

Do fish have souls? I kill cockroaches and mosquitoes so why are fish different? Is it because I can see their eyes? So does that mean only creatures with eyes have souls? Am I a bad person for even thinking of doing this?

I ate fish in a restaurant, and somebody killed them, so when I ordered the dish I played a part in dooming those fish. What makes my pets different?

But how do I do the deed? Drain the tank, then watch them flap to death? Flush them down the toilet? At least they'll have some kind of chance. The power of life or death was in my hands.

One thing was certain. I was thinking way too much thanks to industrial-quantities of coffee, the precursor to all my box-filling and junk-sorting operations.

And of course everybody needs a blazing soundtrack to speed along the moving process and I had chosen U2's classic album Joshua Tree.

As I contemplated their fate, With or Without You began to play.

"I can't live, with or without you," screamed Bono, and I realized my madness. How could I have contemplated such a heartless action? I was just being downright lazy.

Maybe it's because I'm Pisces, but the fish just had to come to my new home.

As for the other stuff, it was a case of I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For.

(China Daily 06/22/2009 page10)