We don’t see the fish at first – even as we stare at the inky green water that slips and folds below our feet.
We pull ourselves up by the bamboo railing on the short bridge – hands pressed and elbows locked, we peer into the dark pool.
“No fish Daddy,” says Johnny, his round face passive with disappointment.
Dad hands out some small pieces of bread for us to toss into the pond, “Just wait and see.”
“There,” points Matt as a great silver belly breaks through the skin of water and slowly curls below again.
The water is suddenly thick with bodies, a rolling drunken mass, mouths pop up here and there, gaping at insects and gulping the sodden bread.
Light bounces brightly off the sheen of bodies just below the surface. The same colours as the fish in the markets – gold, pewter and silver – but these colours flash in the sun as they move and shimmer.
“Carp” says Tony.
I find it hard to believe these are just over-sized gold fish.
With no real place to go, the lazy shoal of fish lolls and slides, body over body. Johnny squeals with pleasure as fins flap and splash on the water and tails flay in the air.
“Which one young Miss?” A young waitress asks, her eyes as wide in anticipation as the carp.
“I like that one,” I point to a bright ruby and gold carp just before she dives back into the gloom.
“Good, good,” the waitress nods and smiles.
“I want that big fat white one,” Matt looks at a pale giant which bends the water around its bloated form.
“You can’t have that one Matt,” I remark, “Where are you going to put it – keep it in the mundi?”
“No we’re going to eat it stupid,” Matt shakes his head at my dimwitted remark.
Dad moves us along and off the bridge.
But Matt’s idea of choosing his own fish is soon put to an end.
“Let’s go inside,” Dad steps in, “We’ll let the chef choose the fish.”
Dad doesn’t want to meet his food in person either.
We cross from the bridge into the dark restaurant that sits atop stilts in the centre of the pond.
The upper half of the woven walls are propped open on three sides to draw in air as it passes and cools across the water.
At the back of the building, the kitchen straddles the pond and the far bank – its walls tarred with the smoke of the wok burners and the steam of pans.
“Jahe? Ginger? Bawang? Kuyit? Sedikit pedas?” A waiter hops to his toes and smiles as he asks for our preferred servings with the fish.
“Tidak terlalu pedas,” Mum stresses to the waiter as Matt cries “Pedas, pedas!!”
The fish arrive on wide platters steaming and oily and smelling like flowers and the sharp smell you sometimes get in the bush after rain.
“Lemongrass and ginger, this one is in coconut sauce – delicious!” Mum scoops some more of the soft white flesh onto each plate.
After we have had as much rice and fish and soft drink as we can, Matt and I make our way toward the open screen to see what’s in the kitchen.
Two men squat close to the floor and draw one squirming fish and then another from woven baskets and expertly remove the head from the body with wide cleavers hitting hard onto stained wooden blocks. The heads go into a big pot, the still wriggling bodies are laid out with more respect on banana leaves.
The fish are dull and brown and nothing like the fish in the pond at the front of the restaurant. We see a second pond below the kitchen with a fence that separates these fish from the showy Koi carp in their luminous, spotted cloaks.
“See Matt,” I say, self satisfied,”We’re weren’t going to eat those nice orange fish at all.”