A Fish Out Of Water

In early September, Horatio, Harold and I ventured to the nearby Bei Dong outdoor goods Market, where we bought some house plants and took the plunge to buy a saltwater fish tank. I’ve always coveted reef tanks, and as they are more affordable here, than in the US, we seized the opportunity to fulfill my small dream. Before we made the purchase, we asked several vendors, multiple ways, if keeping saltwater fish is difficult and were told, “no,” by each one. Of course the conversations were in Chinese, so some aspects might have gotten lost.  As this is China, we were able to arrange for the shop keeper to come to our house to assemble and set up the aquarium for us two days later.

Placing the rocks and coral.

Placing the rocks and coral.

Adding Water

Adding Water

Of course, each and every one of the sea life vendors misled us. Keeping a saltwater tank up and running is challenging, but it is worth the effort– if the fish live through the learning process.  In addition to regular feedings, maintenance requires adding water every few days in order to maintain the correct salinity level, as well as cleaning the protein separator every other day so that the tank remains clean.  One also must add liquid coral food to the water every three weeks, and turn off the protein separator for four days immediately following the coral feedings.

img_0606 img_0898


We had some fish deaths, early on, but got through that phase and the tank thrived. I began to research reef life and decided to get a starfish, both for its beauty, as well as its ability to help to maintain the health of the aquarium.


When I went to see my “fish guy,” he told me that I should get a heater for the water, as the outside temperature in Beijing is steadily dropping. I asked him to come back to my house to set up the heater and to check the salinity levels of the water. Two days later, he came back to my house and did just that.  He explained to our helpful ayi, Xiao Lü and to me, what he was doing and why, and she translated, into more simple Chinese, the fish care lingo for me.  It was a scene to behold: two people speaking to me in Chinese, one trying to translate, for me, what the other was saying, but in the same, foreign, language.

In the process of checking the tank and adding salt, unbeknownst to me, the fish guy slightly unplugged the oxygenator. Slightly, though, is the same as completely, when it comes to plugs, and for about 18 hours, the water was not being circulated. By morning, two of the remaining fish had died and by the next day, our hardy clown fish had also died. All that remained is the starfish and the large coral.


I sent a message to my fish guy and told him what happened. At first, he denied having unplugged the essential piece of equipment. I turned my phone over to Xiao Lü, though, and had her explain, in detail, the accidental unplugging. She was very stern in her wording.  She was as upset as I was about the fish deaths.  Eventually, he accepted responsibility. I took some accountability, since I didn’t notice the mistake, and had Xiao Lü tell the fish guy that I want four new fish and will pay for just two. He agreed to the deal. (Horatio is pretty sure I’ll just end up paying double for the two fish I pay for, but, ever the optimist, I don’t think that will happen.)

Now, I am awaiting arrival of new fish. I’ve given the tank more than two weeks to adjust to the new temperature and salinity and am hopeful that I can get the habitat up and running again so we can enjoy its beauty.

About Commander in Chief At home

Erin is a military spouse and, sometimes temporarily single mom to 4 boys. She's a writer, editor, teacher, and (Autism) mom.
This entry was posted in Living abroad, military family and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Fish Out Of Water

  1. Louise Rovak says:

    Tank is beautiful and I love that someone else is managing it. Keeping fish is a tough job, but worth the work because they are so beautiful and peaceful.



  2. Rick says:

    The comment above says it all.


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