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And Then I Kill My Kid’s First Pet

I tried to be a normal dad and gave my kid a pet fish. It didn’t work out so well.

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I’m away from my family often, and it seems to make everything go a little smoother with my daughter if she knows that daddy is out somewhere in China looking for a present for her rather than hanging out in near empty cities asking fool questions to anyone who will reply. I was recently out at Nanhui and China Medical City, and it was the night before my train back to Xiamen was about to depart.

“Shit, I  have to get the kid something.”

I used to ask her what she wanted me to get her, but I stop when her requests kept getting weirder and weirder. I still don’t understand why the kid wanted me to bring her home an alarm clock from Beijing. I understand less how it became her favorite toy. So I was on my own.

I looked at the puppies at the train station that had strips painted across them to look like tiger dogs — apparently these sell better — and knew that it would be a bad idea. But my discretion failed me when I went into a toy store and saw a fish tank. It was specially made for kids and had a little button that they could press to drop food  into the tank and everything. I bought it. I returned to Xiamen, and the next day bought the kid a gold fish. She named it Silly Fish. Every day after school she would rush home to check on him.

This gift came with the fail safe that fish die fast — it would be flushed well before we pack up the apartment and move on. What I didn’t take into account was how fast it would die, or the fact that I would be the one to kill it.

Silly Fish’s tank ended up being a turd. Americans who jest about the low quality of Chinese goods can only imagine how low the quality is in China. Unfortunately, these uber-junk consumer items are often far more expensive than they are in the West. The Chinese double-sucker their own people — and any foreigner dumb enough to buy things here. Needless to say, the tank held water but nothing else worked. The filtering system was a push bubble powered plastic suction rod that vacuumed up water just to deposit it right back in the tank without any sort of filtration.

By day two Silly Fish was swimming in brackish water.

By day three it was getting difficult to see him.

By day four he disappeared.

“Daddy, I can’t see Silly Fish anymore, you really need to clean his tank.”

I was taken off guard. I just took it for granted that my wife would clean the tank like she does everything else. She said no way. I said I would clean the tank the next day.

I didn’t do it.

Silly Fish couldn’t wait that long. He croaked.

To my credit, at least I allowed the tank to get so dirty that my daughter couldn’t see through the muck and gander at her first pet’s floating, peeling, stinking corpse.

I’m not sure what my angle was getting her a fish anyway. Funny what your emotions do when you’re away from your family and miss your kid. You start buying pets that you know you’re too busy/ lazy/ thoughtless to take care of just to see them smile.

The kid got home from school today I and cued her up with the, “Honey, I have something I need to tell you,” bit. She looked a little worried. I let loose. Her face froze stiff, her eyes strained, and then she said, “I didn’t see it.”

She wanted to see the dead body. I convinced her to settle for the empty tank. She looked sad for a moment, I said sorry.

“Does this mean I get a new fish?” she asked hopefully.

“How about a toy one?”

Filed under: Family, Travel Diary

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3703 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

4 comments… add one

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  • Rory January 9, 2014, 7:27 pm

    Was the tank in a window or was she dumping lots of food in? That seems really quick no matter what! You assumed Hannah would clean it hahaha

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    • Wade Shepard January 9, 2014, 9:32 pm

      It was a small tank and too big of a fish. Hannah loves cleaning!

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  • Bob L January 12, 2014, 9:54 am

    Maybe you should have gotten her a glow in the dark pig from CMC.

    Bob L

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    • Wade Shepard January 12, 2014, 7:16 pm

      Yes, a glow in the dark pig for the kid and a tiger stripe puppy for the wife 🙂

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