Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Plague of Fishes

Have you ever literally not been able to believe your eyes? This happened to Pipi yesterday in Shanghai. We were waiting for a cab at our hotel when Pipi saw what she wanted to believe was a falling leaf. But something about the color, the speed at which it fell, and most of all the way it seemed to be flopping around in the driveway all suggested something else. So Pipi went over and took a look and discovered that, sure enough, a fish had just fallen from the sky.

It was a small fish, about five inches long. It was flailing helplessly as people walked dangerously close, most of them not even noticing. We stood there watching it for a moment, a little warily, in case the one drop was followed by a full fish squall. Finally we realized that it had come from an outdoor tank on the second-story patio of an apartment building next to the hotel. (The photo above, advertizing the upcoming Shanghai Special Olympics, happens to show the row of tanks.) That solved the mystery, but how to solve the problem?

We pointed out the flopping fish to the head doorman. I didn’t expect him to be too sympathetic to two foreign ladies babbling about suicidal carp, but to my surprise, he was quite concerned. He picked up the slimy fish with his bare hand, gave a few practice pumps, and heaved it up over the balcony. Frankly, his form was not great—a little elbowy. I pictured the fish either slapping back down to the ground, or else flopping around unseen for hours on the patio, but miraculously, we all heard a splash as the little fish landed back in the tank. Pipi and I and all the other doormen cheered. “Hao qiu,” I told him, using a phrase I’ve heard Chinese sportscasters use to describe an especially skillful play. “Well,” he said bashfully in English, “I am really good at basketball.”

We’ve just arrived in Hangzhou, and so far it’s okay, but nothing that Felliniesque has happened to us yet. Something tells me we’re not going to top that random moment on this trip.

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