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Western/Eastern women and the aquarium hobby

Hi, folks, I'm baaccccckkkk....

Sigh, they say that no one needs a vacation more than the guy
who just came home from one.  How very true - I need another
vacation. Wish I was there again, lying on the beach in Koh Lee
Peh, Thailand, just lazing my life away. But I promised to write
about my thoughts on the subject of "Western/Eastern women and
the aquarium hobby" so here I go again.

To Arthur who wrote:

>At the AGA convention, Mr. Amano seemed to be very
>impressed with the number of women at the convention

Arthur, as far as I know, Mr Amano travels widely and undoubtedly,
he will be impressed by the large number of women he saw at the
convention.  I'm sure, in his travels, he would have noticed the same
syndrome I wrote about - that unlike in the west, very few women in
Asia take to the aquarium hobby.  I don't travel as much as Mr Amano
so I can't say it's true for the whole of Asia.  But it's definitely true
for Singapore, the country I have lived in for the past 47 years.

To Shireen who wrote:

>KL, Singapore is a small country. The US and Canada
>collectively have a much larger population. I think that
>statistically, the female/male ratio of aquarists might
>only be slightly larger in North America. But I'm just
>guessing here ....

If the quote (35%) from Arthur is to be taken as a rough guide,
then you are way off the mark, Shireen.  The female/male ratio
of aquarists in Singapore is definitely a lot smaller than in North
America.  If a similar convention had been held in Singapore, I'm
sure the number of women who would turned up would be only in
the region of 1% or less.  Believe me, I've been in the hobby long
enough to know.

>Hypothetically, if you could assemble all the women
>of Singapore into one place and give a fascinating and
>passionate presentation about  your hobby, I suspect you'll
>have a bunch of them hanging around after your talk to ask
>more questions. The spark has been lit, and they're interested.

I doubt any woman would want to turn up even if it had been
Mr Amano himself who's giving the presentation, much less myself.
Even my wife and daughters wouldn't want to go, not unless I
chained them up and drag them there :)

But seriously, let me cite 2 incidents I have encountered in my
life as an aquarium hobbyist here which would give you an insight
into what it's like, how women here perceive the hobby -

When my wife and I were dating, she came over to my house one
day to help me do some maintenance work on my tanks.  She told me
that before she left her house, her sister asked her if that's really what
she wants to do for the rest of her life - maintaining tanks, that is.  The
way the question was asked was as though changing water and pruning
aquatic plants are some of the most undesirable things a woman should do.
Well, lucky for me, my wife doesn't think so or else I probably would still
be single.

A couple of years ago, I offered to set up an aquarium in my daughter's
school.  When I talked to the principal (a woman), she frowned and gave me
a cold stare.  Although she didn't exactly said so, I knew the look on her face
meant:  "Don't you have better things to do like helping your daughter in her
homework than playing with fish tanks?"

You see, not only that very few women are into aquariums, but generally,
most women here also see the hobby as something childish, a waste of time.
Until the internet came to Singapore and I discovered that there were many
other men like me who love tropical fish and aquatic plants, I used to feel
uneasy buying tetras and other small fish from local fish shops.  Only kids
play with small fish and aquatic plants - that was the perception I had
before the internet came along.  I remember hiding my plastic bag containing
my small fish whenever I go home from a fish shop.  I just felt so embarassed
that people would stare at me and think of me as being childish to buy
small fish.

To Dan Dixon who wrote:

>Don't feel too bad. Western women puzzle me greatly all the time and I'm a

On the contrary, Dan, I don't feel bad at all.  I think it's great that western
women take to the aquarium hobby in large numbers.  I only wish the same
is true for women here.

To Greg who wrote:

>My wife keeps stealing my tanks for herself ... and based on my
>perceptions, at least here in the Central United States, I'd say there
>are probably more women maintaining tanks than men ...

Greg, the only reason a woman would steal a tank here is probably
to throw it away.  I know a lot of married men here who are into the
hobby and generally, their wives disapprove.  You just don't know how
lucky you are, that your wife loves the hobby as much as you do.

To Chrys Amy Dean who wrote:
>     I'm Chrys, which is a woman's name in my case.
>(My mother got creative with spelling).  I've had my own
>aquarium since I was a child.
>      Last year, I got into planted tanks, courtesy of the
>internet.  My mother and myself were amazed at the
>idea, we'd never seen actual live plants in a tank. (We
>live in a very rural part of the USA)  So now I'm an
>aquatic plants addict, and my mother is the Java Fern
>queen, due to her low-light conditions.
>      Perhaps, in Singapore, if this has been a traditionally
>male hobby, then the women have never thought to try
>it?  If they saw their fathers being interested,and their
>mothers being disinterested their entire lives?

Yes, Chrys, I do believe that tradition has got a lot to do with it.  But
reading about your experience when you were amazed at the idea
of live plants in a tank, I wonder why the women here do not react
the same way.  My sister who's single and visits occasionally, never
takes more than a casual glance at my tanks.  My moss wall, which
impressed quite a few folks here, doesn't exist at all as far as she
is concerned.

To Dave Berryman who wrote:
>Here is my reason for my wifey not being very interested and yes she is very
>liberated especially when it comes down to her opinion about my hobbies
>(fish and 4 wheeling).
>In the last two years I have spent about $3,000-$4,000 on my 55 gallon tank.
>Mostly on lights and filters that just did not cut it.  So the amount of
>money that I have taken away from the shopping that the wifey wants to do is
>the reason for her not being very interested.

You know, Dave, hobbyists here have a standard practice.  When asked
by wives about the cost of equipment or fish/plants, we move the decimal
point one place to the left in our answers.  In other words, a state-of-the-art
CO2 system costing about Sing $650 would be only $65 to the wives.  It
would be foolish, suicidal even, to let them know the true figures, believe
The last time my wife asked me about the cost of the Altum Angels I bought
and I told her they were only $5 each (actual cost $50), she exclaimed:  "Wah,
so expensive!!!!!"  I can't imagine how it would be like if I had told her
the truth.
She would probably start thinking about committing homicide, I believe :)

To Roxanne Bittman who wrote:
>But, here is a brave (stupid) attempt at answering the question as to "why
>more Asian women do not take to the aquarium hobby?"  I would hazard that
>it has to do with free time and with the perception of how much of that
>can be spent on one's own interests.  Perhaps Asian women have less free
>time and also a strong sense of duty to their families.  Gardening outside
>probably has a practical (food-related) side, though flowers could be
>grown as a sideline (wild guess) for beauty.
>What is the educational level of "most" Asian women?
>Actually, K.L., you probably can answer this question better than anyone
>here.  Perhaps others in Asia would take a crack at it?

Not really, Roxanne.  I can explain why the women here don't like the
hobby but I can't understand why it's different for someone like you.  I
don't qualify to comment on Asian women but I think I know Singaporean
women quite a fair bit. Well, I'm married with 2 daughters and I have 4
I think I should qualify. So I can safely say that it's definitely not true
women here are less educated or that they take to outdoor gardening because it
has a practical food related side.  As for free time and devotion to family, I
believe it's the same for women here as it is over where you are.  If you ask
me, I think it's presposterous to even suggest that western women are less
devoted to their families.  Don't you think so?

To Marci Seyboth who wrote:
>My best friend owns a pet store (whee! everything at cost for me!) and
>she has graciously set aside an 8 foot aquarium for me to set up as a
>planted tank.
>Most, around 90%, of the people I net fish for are female.
>The occasional male that is there for his own sake usually has at least
>a working knowledge of his hobby, but more usually knows a lot about
>it.   But he is VERY rare.

Marci, what you wrote surprised me.  I knew women are fairly
representated in the aquarium hobby over where you are but I never
guessed they could possibly outnumber men-hobbyists.  If only the
situation was the same over here, then we wouldn't have so many hobbyists
who are also bachelors.  Who needs matchmaking agencies when you
can get to meet so many women in the fish shops?

To Amy Ayukawa who wrote:
>Some, beginning with Loh himself, as I recall, wondered about the difference
>between "Asian women" and "Western women". There is really no homogenous
>entity that constitutes "Asian women". Japanese women  are very different
>from Chinese women who are different from Indian women who are dirfferent
>from Afghan women, etc. "Western women" also comprise a diverse grouping,
>but unlike Asian women, they are united by a common European culture and

I do agree that there's no homogenous entity that constitutes Asian women, Amy.
But I do believe that generally in Asia, women are less inclined to take to the
aquarium hobby when compared to Western women.  Singapore itself is made of up
of 3 main races.  Besides the Chinese, the other 2 main races are Malays and
Indians.  I know many Malay and Indian men who keep fish tanks at home but
a Malay or Indian woman in a fish shop would be a very rare sight indeed.

>In the case of Chinese culture -- the dominant culture in Singapore, where
>Loh resides -- it helps to recall that the aquarium hobby has a much longer
>tradition there than it has anywhere else in the world. (Japan has been
>influenced by Chinese culture, and the keeping of koi, etc. also has a
>fairly long history in Japan.) Fish keeping in China was part of a tradition
>that included keeping song birds, insects such as cicadas as well as
>flowering plants and shrubs. Evidence for this tradition can already be seen
>by the Song dynasty, of almost a thousand years ago. By the Qing
>(1644-1911), keeping fish, birds, cicadas, etc. had already become a
>national craze among gentlemen of leisure. Even today,
>if you walk around parks and alleyways in China and Taiwan, you will see old
>men taking their birds for a "walk", or tending their vats of goldfish in
>their courtyards. In China for the last thousand years it has always been
>men that pursued these hobbies.

I confess to not knowing Chinese history very well but I know what you wrote
is accurate.  Granted, tradition kept Chinese women from the hobby for the
last one thousand years, but what's keeping them away now?  It's not like they
are still shackled by a chauvinistic culture that prevents them from taking up
a hobby for leisure.  The average Singaporean woman is very aware of her
rights. She is as well-educated as the average Singaporean man, works for
equal pay, has equal voting rights, etc.  So what's keeping them away?

To Edward Venn who wrote:

>Tell mke what you look like and I'll see you there.

Sorry I miss your post, Edward.  If I had read it before I left for Thailand,
I would have tried to meet up with you.

To Dave Berryman who wrote:

>I know I will be flamed for this but remember one thing...you eat
>cheeseburgers and they eat.....what ever they eat.  All of us have souls and
>will die someday.  Most of use in large are a lot a like except for our

Dave, I am in total agreement with what you said that we are, in large, a
lot alike. Well, other than the colour of our skin and hair, there's really
much of a difference.  We also love fish and aquatic plants, right?  By the
way, we eat cheeseburgers too.  Love them, in fact.

To Catherine who wrote:

>This is certainly not true for me.  I have four children,
>My tank is pretty far down on the priority list, but I
>still get much pleasure from it.  My main motivator is just to enjoy the
>beauty of it and see everything thrive.  Maybe Eastern women find
>some other outlet of making beautiful things?

Catherine, I think you hit the nail on the head :)
Two points in your message highlight the difference between Singaporean
women and someone like you.

One, when you wrote that you derive much pleasure from your fish tank.
Two, when you said that maybe eastern women find some other
outlet of making beautiful things?

The key word to take note of is "beautiful".

What do we really want when we keep aquariums?  We want something beautiful,
isn't that what it's all about?  Singaporean men have no problems with that.
"A thing of beauty is a joy forever" - we do derive a lot of pleasure from our
fish tanks. But not so for Singaporean women.  You see, when it is beautiful,
a tank becomes competition.  Here is where the "liberated" part comes in.
Singaporean women may be as well-educated, as devoted to their families,
have less or more free time as women in the west but they are, in my opinion,
less liberated.  If there's anything that moves and is beautiful around the
house, it has to be themselves and not some fish swimming in a tank.  Last
thing they want is competition.

The truly liberated Western woman would not care two hoots about her man
spending all his free time looking at a beautiful fish but her less liberated
counterpart in Singapore will get real jealous if she's not the one getting
all the attention.  When I visited my hobbyist friend a couple of months
ago and
he was going on and on about how beautiful his Altum Angels were and how
he keeps them healthy by feeding them with his own special vitamin-rich food,
his wife turned to me, sighed wearily, and said:  "Sometimes, I wish I were
a fish". Doesn't that statement explains everything?

So, if there's any Singaporean woman reading this - If you want to be truly
liberated, don't burn your bra, go set up a fish tank :)

Sorry for the extra long post but I thought that everyone who gave his or
her opinion on the subject deserves a response.  I apologise too if my theory
on the relationship between women and aquariums offended anyone.
It's just a theory, anyway.  I'm sure everyone would have his own.

Loh K L