Yes, fish eye-lifts exist. As do fin jobs and tail tucks. The operating theater was a mall in Jakarta, Indonesia, where a pet expo was under way. As for the patient, she survived, her formerly droopy eyes now bright and perky.
A good thing, too, as this was no ordinary goldfish but rather an Asian arowana, the world’s most expensive aquarium denizen, rumored to sell for as much as $300,000.
In Chinese, the creature is known as lóng yú, the dragon fish, for its sinuous body plated with large scales as round and shiny as coins. At maturity, the primitive predator reaches the length of a samurai sword, about two to three feet, and can be red, gold or green.
A pair of whiskers juts from its chin, and its back half ripples like the paper dragons in a Chinese New Year parade. This resemblance has spawned the belief that the fish brings good luck and prosperity — that it will even commit suicide by vaulting from its tank, sacrificing its life to save its owner.
Protected by the Endangered Species Act, the Asian arowana cannot legally be brought into the United States as a pet, though a black market thrives from New York to Los Angeles. As early as the 1990s, one Wall Street banker broke down in tears when authorities confiscated the illegal pet fish whose dark-alley appeal he couldn’t resist.
The breeder of these ghostly mutants, a Malaysian entrepreneur named Alan Teo, claimed that a prominent member of the Chinese Communist Party had recently bought one for $300,000. He said another had sold to a Las Vegas casino baron who requested it be shipped to Canada, where, unlike in the United States, the species is legal.
Still, rumors persist that Chinese tycoons pay huge sums to dine on the endangered species. Helping investigate these claims, an interpreter in Guangzhou could hardly keep a straight face while requesting the fish at a seafood restaurant.
“It’s like asking to eat something inedible — like an iron,” explained the giggling young man, whose favorite dish was dog.