Tuesday, December 29, 2009


The hotel that we're staying in has an unusual design feature; the toilet is enclosed in a glass cubicle, next to the glass shower cubicle, which is next to the bath, which is next to a large window to the bedroom. This means that your significant other can have a clear and unobstructed view of you on the toilet, whether she likes it or not.

This sensation of being trapped in an aquarium seemed only appropriate, given that we were visiting the National Museum of Marine Biology in Kenting. (Indeed, the only reason we'd come all the way south was to visit the aquarium, and to see if it was as good as the aquarium in Kuala Lumpur that we'd been to in October.) We had spent three hours the night before watching episodes of The Wire (almost up to the end of the third series now) so I was groggy this morning, and struggled to avail myself of the full array of breakfast foods on offer. At least I managed to consume four croissants and a glass of what seemed to be watered-down Ribena.

We took a bus to the aquarium, which turned out to be miles from anywhere – previous plans to hire a scooter were now demonstrated as clear folly – and once we'd made it through the ticket barrier, we discovered that there was a Starbucks on site. I'm curious as to where Starbucks will appear next, in their quest to populate the far-flung corners of the earth. The aquarium was hardly packed out with people, and nobody seemed to want to buy an expensive cup of milky coffee apart from me and my girlfriend. We're always trying to support the poor and downtrodden of Seattle, after all, and what better way could there be than for me to buy a short latte everywhere I go?

Coffee drunk, we headed as fast as possible for the aquarium itself, arriving just in time for the feeding of the whale shark. The whale shark is an awesome beast, and the photographs I took didn't really do it justice. It was followed around the tank by a shoal of bright yellow fish, while below it tuna, sharks and some rather grumpy looking groupers swam around. For fifteen minutes a man threw food into the tank, while a Taiwanese woman narrated what was going on at ear-splitting volume. Hardly necessary, I thought, given that the auditorium facing the tank was not absolutely packed with people, but perhaps everyone in Taiwan really enjoys very loud noises. And fish.

The aquarium is huge; much bigger than that in KL. In total, we spent more than four hours walking around it, looking at the different exhibits. These range from the sublime – a great selection of photography from the pelagic and benthic (fairly deep and very deep) regions of the ocean, including several different species of angler fish – to the ridiculous: a simulated submarine bridge, where you could watch fairly primitive computer generated images of fish swimming past, and vote on your preferred route.

In between, we saw a two storey high water tank full of kelp, a vast array of penguins, and a 3-D film of prehistoric sea-life. This included a huge reptile swimming straight out of the screen at us, which made me jump, and an icythysaur being eaten, complete with gouts of blood, that made my girlfriend walk away. The film was much better than I had assumed; it didn't feel like a Disneyfication of marine biology, so much as a good way of showing people what fish had descended from. (Although I learned today that whales are thought to have come from land mammals that had migrated into the sea, rather than the other way round.)

There were tiny tropical fish, and a school of tuna, swimming this way and that and being very shiny. There were three very large lobsters in a tank with a single angelfish, which seemed rather nervous, particularly as more lobsters appeared from out of the walls of the tank from time to time. And there were a lot of tunnels underneath the tanks. Although Malaysia has the longest single underwater tunnel through the aquarium in KL, the diameter of the tunnel is not as large as the tunnels in Kenting, so the visual distortion is much less – it really does feel as though the fish are swimming right above you. Which they are, except with a layer of glass between you and them.

The second group of tunnels take you through an area with a mocked-up sunken ship, with all manner of rays, sharks and other fish racing around it. There's also a tank with moray eels peering out from every crevice and yawning at you; the moray is a rather sarcastic looking eel. Then again you too might have a supercilious face if you were a supremely majestic eel.

After four hours of looking at fish, we were pretty much done for. (I include penguins and puffins among fish, because they were all in the aquarium, and for the most part in water – biology would be a lot simpler if I handled the classifications) so we stumbled back out into the light, and were fortunate enough to catch the shuttle bus back to Kenting. Our cheerful driver had the internal mirror angled so he could look up my girlfriend's skirt. When I swapped places with her, it failed to dent his cheeriness at all; he just kept offering me betel-nuts, which I had to keep on declining, because I didn't want to ingest a caffeine-and-nicotine blend and get bright red teeth. As a result, by the time we arrived in Kenting, we were both tired and sleepy from our fish-viewing adventure, which we remedied by drinking alcohol at one of the surfer-shack restaurants, and having a fairly dire pizza each as well.

I now have well over four hundred photographs of fish on my memory cards, and I'm feeling daunted about sorting out the rubbish from the good ones. Here's one for the moment:


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