Sunday, January 19, 2014

Goodbye Bubu

Last night, my beloved goldfish passed away, having lived a relatively happy life (though marked by a number of traumatic incidents).

Here are a collection of some of my favourite photos of Bubu taken at different times during his life:
 Perhaps my favourite shot of all - August 2012

Another from August 2012

Trapped - August 2011

A typical pose - October 2010

The wallpaper on my Toshiba for many years - May-July 2010

Bubu's Life
We got Bubu on Christmas Eve in 2009, along with another calico fantail from Proud Paws (now defunct) at Northlands Mall. It had been about a year since I had last owned fish (my previous trio had died a week or two before final exams for high school) at the time. This largely came about as a part celebration (for having had great results in a few papers that year, and having decided to switch to studying Computer Science instead of what I'd been doing at the time), and also a part pickmeup following a pretty demoralising/depressing music competition result (which had been significantly hampered somewhat by falling ill in the week leading up to the event). Nevertheless, a random decision to get some new fish for some Christmas cheer started 4+ years of happy times together.

In perhaps a sign of the difficult times to come, by the afternoon of Christmas Day, the calico had already gotten itself into a bit of strife, eventually dying before the end of the day. Bubu however managed to pull through - an ability which he demonstrated time and time again through the adversities thrown at us during the following few years, including several major earthquakes (one of which left him near death).

Daily Routines
For the next four years, we had many happy times together, settling into a regular daily routine of feeding/eating and waiting to be fed.

Every day around 6pm, Bubu would start getting especially active - usually reserving some of his most entertaining antics, such as energetically wiggling to and fro chasing his reflection, to making large and fast U-shaped dives (in later years), and demonstrating the ability to shoot balls of water up about an inch above the waterline onto the tank walls (which would linger there for hours at a time). This contrasted with his daytime antics, which were usually more concerned with human-watching/staring (vs tv-watching), and "big-o" yawning. As the time began to approach 8pm, Bubu would grow increasingly impatient, hovering near the surface of the water, expectantly looking upwards (and grumpily "showing the tail" when dinner was delayed for whatever reason that night).

When it was finally feeding time, Bubu would generally swim downwards, and towards the opposite end of the tank (to where my hand was), as if to give me more room to release the goodies. While earlier in his life, he often wouldn't dare to come up until I'd sat back down on the sofa (and even then, only for very short, fleeting snatching raids to grab a quick bite), by the end of his life, he was regularly coming up before I'd finished releasing his food, calmly coming up to slowly and leisurely hoover up the food (yes, instead of chasing it - which he only did sometimes if after water changes and he saw a few stray pieces falling quickly in front of him - he'd often just sit still in one place, and use his mouth to lazily suck the food towards him). Did I ever mention how much I like watching animals eating? :)

Come hither, oh juicy morsels!

Which one first?

After dinner activities would then consist entirely of searching for more food on the surface (and blowing a few more bubbles for good measure - "bup bup bup bup"), and noisily hunting/digging for more scraps that may have fallen between the ground cover. If there were any gaps/holes/lagoons left in the gravel (following a water change), this was also a prime time for Bubu to begin his productive land-moving/land-reclaimation efforts - by sucking up, chewing/tasting the gravel, and spitting it out within the holes, he'd keep plodding away hard at work (sometimes right through the night, with a characteristic "tap... tap... tap tap... tap...") until the hole(s) were no more. This routine played out daily, except for the 3 weeks or so that I'd been away on holiday during that time (when we left him with some edible plant life instead).

During the many late night writing/coding sessions during the later years of my degree, and especially during the relentless death marches of my honours year, Bubu provided good company beside my desk, curiously gazing upwards and obligingly dancing around as I watched on (though sometimes he'd also start glaring at me and making a racket when it started getting quite late).

As you spend more time with any pet, you'll generally start to get to know their personalities more.

Of the two fish I brought home initially, Bubu was the more active and aggressive one from the start. IIRC, this may have been one of the things that lead me to choose him at the store, with the staff having a bit of trouble trying to catch him at the time as he darted around so quickly.

Over time, I got to know a few more sides of Bubu:
- a slightly naughty and curious side (e.g. getting stuck behind the backdrop once, after noticing a corner/edge protruding from the gravel, violently flapping about once behind it trying to get free again, and eventually getting solidly wedged),
 Trapped... Oops!

Hehe... I've found this awesome hiding spot where they can't see me. Hehe...   - As long as I can't see you, that means you can't see me...  

- a stubborn streak (e.g. attentively pottering away moving gravel until the holes had been completely patched over, or ensuring that all his poop and waste ended up being herded into one "dirty corner"),

- a feisty side (e.g. darting around rapidly, quickly dodging the net, jumping in and out of it with force, and flicking his tail rapidly as if it were a motorised wind-up toy while dangled in mid-air in the net, spraying water all over the TV, cabinet, tank, and owner...)

Big, long, and fancy tail...

- a slightly moody side (e.g. glaring at us and popping his eyes, hiding in a corner with just his tail facing us, or doing a "big o" yawn followed by a weird half-closed "teeth bared" expression when displeased),

 Who are you?

I'm going to eat you!

- and a cute/silly side (e.g. happily wriggling around with full wiggling tail action and left-right-left-right pectoral fin waving, making some of his trademark u-shaped turns near the bottom of the tank, or just floating and gazing around with a silly/inquisitive expression...)

What're you lookin' at?  -  About to make a turn, fins in action...


Really going for it...

And again...

Huh? What's the fuss? Can I have my dinner now?

Above all though, he was just an one all-round happy fish...
August 2012

November 2013

A chubby, adorable little big fish...

During the course of his life, Bubu lived in 4 different permanent homes, and 1-2 temporary ones.

Firstly, there was the tiny fish bowl that all the others before him had lived in:
Bubu in mid 2010 - around June or July.
"We are not impressed" - The tail...

Although he later moved on to two other tanks, he was ultimately forced to return back to this for a while after the February 2011 earthquakes which destroyed the tall tank he'd been living in at the time (the big and shallow one was destroyed in the September 2010 quake).

Return to the small bowl - mid winter (2011). Taken on the kitchen bench (illuminated using the rangehood's pretty halogen lights) around 6pm.

As it became obvious that he was perhaps outgrowing the small bowl, we started looking for alternative housing. Enter the large shallow bowl...
This photo adorns my Toshiba's desktop. I took it one afternoon, with Bubu sitting on my desk on top of a time magazine cover (i.e. the one with a panda and a deflated globe - part of which can be seen in this photo). It's still one of my favourites, since it really captures my little "emperor" fish, holding court ;)


This bowl was quite a nice home for a while, allowing Bubu to get a lot more exercise (i.e. longer loops around the outside, looking at stuff) and with more surface-to-air ratio. However, it's shallowness also proved to be a bit of a problem, as any more "significant" disturbances in the fishtank would often spill over. Nevertheless, with this, there were some interesting patterns formed on the water surface whenever Bubu would come up to blow bubbles, as the larger area allowed the waves to spread out further and interact with each other.

A few days before the first September 2010 quake, we got Bubu a larger (and much deeper tank) so that he could get some vertical exercise. Although it took a while for him to warm to it, this did end up being the source of many entertaining antics - such as his habit of holding all his fins perfectly still and just silently rising and falling at a constant rate, as if riding an elevator of sorts!

Some of the shots of Bubu in the tall tank days before the September 2010 quake. At the time, it was still halfway through the uni break (between terms 3 and 4), and a few days before I ended up visiting the camera shop to get my 7D. Thus, getting these shots turned out to be a huge struggle (mainly due to the crappiness of the point-n-shoot I was using at the time, particularly with regard to shutter lag and slow shutter speeds overall causing most shots to look crap). Anyways, the setup I ended up with involved turning out all the lights except the standing light beside my desk for lighting from above, grabbing some black jersey and wrapping that around the camera, then trying to aim to at the fish tank sitting on my desk, all the while trying to keep a fast moving fish in frame. In later shots, I also added an orange clear-pocket folder under the tank + a green clipboard (to act as a plain-coloured background). All in all, it was a very challenging exercise. Nevertheless, there were some interesting shots which arose from this.

 View from above

Pretty fish - One of the neat things about the tank was that the reflections above/below a subject get blown up. So, here we see a large reflection of Bubu, which is probably something he found rather interesting to play with.

These two shots have a kind of mysterious aura about them - if only the image quality was better!

And then, the day after I'd bought my new camera (and before I'd gotten a chance to retry this shoot with my new equipment), the September 2010 quake struck, and changed everything. That night, Bubu was sitting as usual in his tall tank on top of my desk... After the quake, he was luckily unharmed (the whole tank was still practically where I'd left it). More water though had splashed out of my cup instead, soaking everything around it. Nevertheless, for safety (due to the ongoing aftershocks), from that night onwards, Bubu's tank was permanently moved to ground level to prevent any further "accidents" (especially since the old tank was one of the things that had ended up falling onto the floor during the quake, a loud glass-smashing sound at one point when I feared that some of the windows had burst).

My desk in the morning/aftermath of the quake. Note how although there was only a bit of leakage from the tank, the area around the cup was much worse off (including my camera manual!). Seen here is the copy of Time that featured in my wallpaper image...

Ultimately, despite staying on the ground ever since then, that hasn't stopped disaster eventually striking, with the TV falling onto and destroying this tank.

After a few months in the small bowl, we eventually got him a much larger tank, with proper gravel and a plastic plant! (Later on, this would break down, and eventually be replaced during holidays with some real plants).

As usual, one of the things Bubu loved doing in this tank was chasing his reflection using my favourite "wiggle-dance" - where he'd wiggle his tail, flare the "feet" fins, and wave his pectoral fins in a broad left-right-left-right motion, all while shuffling from side to side...

In this tank, Bubu enjoyed several Christmasses with us. For two of these, I set up a tree, complete with lights, and brought him to sit in front of it for a few nights. And more recently, we brought a tree to him!

 What is that?!

Death and Near Misses
I'd just gone to have a shower at the end of a long day, and when I came back out, he was already dead. Apparently, while I was away, he still tried to put up one last fight to stay alive - to keep himself upright, alive, and lively - but in the end, it was one hurdle too many. The last time I'd seem him alive, he'd been weakly bobbing his head above the water surface, leaving a small circle on the top of his head between the eyes (much like a Jewish skull cap) sticking out over the water surface, slowly opening and closing his mouth. Looking back, it's sad to think that this is perhaps the last time that I really saw him alive, especially given how at the time he was just looking at us in a strange-but-cute way, head up just staring in our general direction and perhaps saying goodbye.

Bubu floating dead in his favourite Big Blue Bucket

Although I'd already been preparing myself for the possibility that he might not pull through today after his condition started going downhill rapidly the previous evening, it's still a shock to find that he'd actually died. Especially considering how many times he's knocked on death's door over the years.

Near Misses
1) On 22 Feb 2011, the devastating 6.3 earthquake ended up toppling the TV, smashing his tank, and leaving him lying on the living room carpet for a few minutes, gasping for breath until I could make it out from my room and fill up a large bowl/dish - one that's usually used for serving up dishes for dinner on - with enough water. This was quite a challenge, as the water pressure after the quake was almost non-existent, slowly dribbling into the dish. For a few tense hours, as aftershocks continued to rock the house and our nerves, Bubu struggled to stay upright and recover from the trauma. This was not helped by the aftershocks causing half the bowl's water to splash out everytime a jolt came along), causing him to instantly flip over onto his side and struggling back on square one all over again.

Following that incident, Bubu was forced to move back to his original (small bowl), since both of the other tanks we'd used had all been broken in the quake.

2) A few months later, there was another accident whereupon Bubu ended up lying on the carpet, gasping for breath. That time, the vacuum cleaner hose had snagged behind his tank (or perhaps it was the temporary ice cream container at the time) and caused it to flip over (while trying to catch a spider in a hard-to-reach corner), once again pouring the contents of the tank onto the living room carpet. For the second time in as many months, I ended up having to carefully scoop him off the carpet with my bare hands and get him back into some water ASAP.

It's not really a nice feeling desperately trying to scoop an immobile goldfish lying on its side on the carpet back into water to rescue it - invariably when you start feeling just how slippery they are when they suddenly come back to life about halfway between carpet and container, threatening to throw your rescue plan off track.

3) Then there were the incidents of mishaps when cleaning his tank/during water changes. For instance, there was that time when I inadvertently using water that turned out to be far too warm (NOTE: this was in mid winter, the normal "cold" water was absolutely freezing, and I couldn't really feel my fingers anymore at that point having spent some 30 minutes scrubbing and rescrubbing his tank when I put in the new water), so warm that I was probably accidentally boiling fish soup! Seeing Bubu flying around the tank (i.e. in the blink of an eye, he could shoot from one end of the tank to the other, then back again), violently bouncing off the walls (with loud violent thuds) was quite an eye opening and scary sight. Fortunately, he recovered from that incident with few ill effects after hour or two in some nice cold water. Nevertheless, I learnt a good lesson that time about not being too complacent about these things...

4) About 2 years ago, he started outgrowing the ice-cream container I'd been using as a temporary holding tank for my fish during their water changes. He was over 2/3rds of the width of it (when parked up alongside the sides of the box). How do I know this? Well, during one water change, he started developing pressure/stability problems - getting limp and starting to float to the surface, before struggling a bit and righting himself. Fortunately, a change to one of two big new buckets (firstly a smaller solid-grey one, which he didn't really like that much - probably since it was like a dark isolation chamber - followed by a large translucent blue one with large bubble patterns on the sides which he immediately loved very much, perhaps even more than his actual home) quickly solved that problem. But before that point, he probably ended up struggling on the brink a few times - sometimes worse than others - until I realised the cause of the problems :/

5) Perhaps the most hair raising incident occurred last September (IIRC). About 30 minutes after a routine water change, he started behaving oddly - stalling in mid water, sitting, standing vertically, etc. Within an hour, his condition had started to deteriorate, with obvious swim bladder issues - a floating tail dragging him upwards, spinning along his main axis as he struggled to right himself, and other oddities. Shortly after, he started having problems staying upright at all, starting to flip up onto his side involuntarily, and being practically pinned to the water surface by his buoyancy issues.

That night proved to be quite a sleepless night, as I ended up sleeping with the light on to try to keep an eye on him to prevent him from falling into "the long slumber". That's because, as long as he was still "awake" (or when awoken), he'd quickly realise that he was in a bad way, and would immediately start trying to swim again, in the process righting himself and manging to get back down into the water. This would manage to alleviate the symptoms for a few seconds to a few minutes, only for the problems to start again when he relaxed, with him being dragged tail-first back up to the water surface.

By the time I woke very early next morning (around 6-7 am, having perhaps finally passed out completely by 4am), the situation was not much better. In fact, when I initially saw him, I feared that he had already passed away, as he was up near the water surface and did not respond until I directly tapped the tank (and quite firmly too). By late morning, he was going belly up. Literally belly up, and basically swimming backstroke, with his plump white belly pointed skywise, and pectoral fins paddling away with a rather helpless look in his eyes. It was quite a sad sight.

Seeing him in such a condition, we began to suspect that it was perhaps something in the water - perhaps something in the water supply that hadn't been there previously (and which may still be there). Hence, we decided to move him over to some bottled water, in the hope that some time in some "clean" water would do him some good. Somewhat fortuitously, it turned out that we didn't have enough bottled water to fill up the bucket, but rather just to fill it up about an inch or so. Although I had some doubts at the time, it turned out that this shallow-water treatment in the bucket was instrumental in allowing Bubu to gradually resolve whatever internal issues he was having without the stress that deeper waters would place on him.

In the meantime, a trip to the pet store to get the water checked out turned up nothing, though we did stock up on some stuff for the bubbles-on-body/tail problems that had also started appearing in the late morning. For a few more tense days, we carefully monitored his condition to ensure that things kept on getting better. After a few close calls, I eventually figure out that it was actually the old gravel in the tank that was causing all the problems. Turfing all that out, and then giving the tank a good and thorough wash + dry down solved all the problems...

6) Unfortunately, this situation repeated itself in mid November, when his tail once again got coated in heaps of small bubbles, and he started having some stability problems, culminating in being found floating on his side at the top of the tank 10/11am one morning. Fortunately, that time we managed to save him by applying some of the same tricks that had worked previously - namely, immediately switching him over to a shallow amount of pure distilled/bottled water, along with a course of treatment for the bubbles threatening to destroy his tail again.

7) Perhaps somewhat weakened by events in recent months, Bubu once again succumbed to health issues after a water change on Friday night. Initially he seemed fine, but about 2 hours later, he started doing the "vertical stall" and "falling over sideways while sitting" behaviours. Initially I'd hoped that this would be just one of those temporary episodes, but by the time I half-woke at 10am Saturday morning, it was obvious that things were quite bad. For starters, I found him, gasping very slowly and limply on the water surface in a corner, surrounded by heaps and heaps of fluffy bubbles, and covered in many more patches of tiny bubbles.

After an initial attempt to neutralise whatever it was in the water failed, we moved him back to the bucket with shallow water and medication. He responded immediately to this treatment, and for the entire afternoon, was a happy-as adorable little fishy once again, happily wiggling around (and finally being able to poop too, as the patches of bubbles disappeared). In fact, he was probably in one of the happiest states I've seen him in for a while.

Seeing him back to normal, we tried moving him back to the main tank when we got home from dinner. At first, things looked promising, and he proceeded to have dinner normally (though slightly slower than usual). Within an hour though, he started standing/stalling vertically (head up). Concerned that it was probably too soon to have tried moving him back (since he was obviously struggling with some pressure issues), we tried to moved him back to shallow water. But by that stage, it was probably too late, and within 2 hours he was dead :(

Analysis of Life and Last Moments
In retrospect (after writing all that out), in many ways, I am probably a terrible fish keeper. Taken out of context, some of that sounds very much like unwitting torture :(    Nevertheless, I'd like to think that for the majority of his life, it's fair to say that Bubu probably had a good time. Perhaps I can take solace in the fact that we'd ultimately spent so many happy years together, and that before he died, he did so on a full stomach, in a place he loved (in his big blue bucket, while watching TV), and having spent his last afternoon happily. I just regret a bit that I couldn't have been in the room when did finally pass away.

One of the things I have been wondering is whether I'd ended up making a few wrong calls regarding how we tried to manage his condition. Was it too soon to have tried moving him back to the main tank? (In the incident back in September, I'd eventually ended up leaving him in the shallow water for a day or two to build up strength again). Did I end up over-medicating/overdosing his water? Should I have really been trying so hard to scrape out some of the algae stubbornly lodged in the corners of his tank (eventually resorting to using a toothpick to loosen some of that, and perhaps also inadvertantly releasing some of the residual toxins from the old gravel problems) during the fatal water change?  The implications do somewhat haunt me.

Perhaps though, it was simply a case of "time's up". Like the popular saying that cat's have nine lives, Bubu had probably used up all of his too. With a bit of loose/creative accounting, you could say that by the time he was struggling to stay alive, he was really using up the last of his nine lives. And on that occasion, the balance just didn't sway in his favour.

In a way, Bubu's death comes during a period where quite a few notable people have also died recently. These include TVB's Sir Run Run Shaw (107), Professor Kuan Meng Goh (78) who we knew, and one of dad's former retired colleagues. As with Bubu's death, these were just as shocking. In particular, Professor Goh's death had quite an impact on mum, who was quite shocked and surprised that someone who was so fit and healthy - in many ways in much better shape than many people decades younger - would have just died so suddenly. All these recent events highlight one thing: how fragile life can be at times. Poof! And it's gone.

Final Resting Place
Unlike with previous fish, I didn't want to just unceremoniously dump him in the trash (or down the toilet). Instead, I decided to bury him in our garden under one of my favourite trees. Originally, my plan would have been to have used one of the two big pines trees we got growing in our garden (descended from the tree big pines I grew up with surrounding the house, and which I also dearly loved), and to have placed Bubu in a small wooden box (perhaps with some water) under one of those two.

However, in the end, it turned out that the soil in those two pots was just far too solid and caked with roots (making it quite inhospitable), while I hadn't come across a suitable box yet. Further complicating things was the fact that there was a heat wave that day (32 deg C - the hottest day this summer yet), which meant that it wasn't a good idea to just leave Bubu just lying there in the open like that. So, I ended up settling for burying him in an empty pot (golden), in which I'll plant some new pines (or if I come across a suitable rata/bottlebrush, that instead - since the silvereyes love those).

 A fish-sized hole

Here, Bubu can be seen with one of his more adorable looks in later years - his chubby cheeks are so cute!

The actual burial unfortunately turned out to be a bit "rough" due to some "technical difficulties". It was quite a sad sight seeing his plump, limp corpse in the little hole in the soil - such a beautiful and brilliant reddish orange and yellow fish (like a ball of shimmering flames), covered in/spoiled by sooty lumps of dark brown soil.

 All said and done.

Closing Words
Looking back at all these photos, it's quite amazing seeing how Bubu has grown from being a small little goldfish, to being such a big chubby and adorable one. It's been great reflecting on our time together, even if it ended so abruptly.

Rest in peace, Bubu. You've been a great and a dearly loved member of the family.

1 comment:

  1. That's a beautiful fish. Sorry to see it go.