Sun, 21 May 2000

Fishy, fishy, fishy... bring me luck!

By Kafil Yamin

BANDUNG (JP): The Chongs feel they have everything it takes to be a successful family. They run a corporation, own a luxurious mansion, fancy cars and five koi fish.

Chong, 34, was interested in koi because of their variegated colors. He also believes they bring luck to his life.

"The whole family believes that," Chong said.

Koi, originally from Japan, have a growing number of admirers in Indonesia despite their remarkable cost.

A two-kilogram koi is sold for Rp 3,000,000 (US$350).

There is, however, no standard or fixed price with the koi. In the end, it all depends on the decision of the owner. This is not a market commodity, after all. One isn't buying a car or pair of pants. One is buying a fish.

If the owner sets the price at Rp 500,000,000 (US$58,000) for a koi, and the buyer agrees, then the transaction will take place," said Wahyudi, a Koi admirer in Bandung.

But there is a common yardstick used when it comes to naming the price of a special koi.

If a fish wins a koi festival or contest, its worth will increase tremendously.

"Once there was someone who was willing to buy a contest- winner for one billion rupiah. I couldn't believe it," Wahyudi said.

Admirers commonly say that the beautiful colors that garland the fish are what make koi so special. They call the fish "swimming jewelry" or "king of garden fish."

"If you look at koi long enough, you will see a mosaic of sinuous, hallucinatory colors. It's hard to explain. Just look at them," said Chong.

Dare we?

"Koi move so elegantly. Anyone who watches them will experience peace of mind and quickly establish a bond with this creature," said Johny Wong, another Koi admirer.

There are those who believe their koi bring them good luck, but Wahyudi has given a logical explanation for this superstition: koi admirers are still limited in terms of their numbers. And they tend to be rich, because ordinary people cannot afford to buy the expensive koi.

Due to the limited number of koi owners, when they get together it is more like a family gathering than anything else. And because they are all rich people who run their own businesses, it become much easier for them to find business opportunities," Wahyudi said.

Just like other newcomers to the koi community, Apen feels his social and economic status improved after he began to associate with other Koi admirers.

"They would come to see my koi. They would compliment me on how well I took care of them. This can do a lot for a man's social status, believe it or not," Apen said.

Apen is now one of the 50 members of the Koi Lovers Club in Bandung. He is involved in the association's activities, such as discussing the best ways of taking care of koi, new products of koi food and organizing social activities.

He is also engaged in business lobbying, from which he often receives new opportunities.

"The other day a member of the association invited me to a cafe for a cup of coffee. He asked me if I could supply a certain amount of furniture for his new restaurant. That's great. Furniture is my business. I got a big profit from the order," he recalled.

He has also seen increased business because a similar club also exists in Surabaya.

In the capital of East Java, the number of koi lovers is on the rise. Such clubs are linked to the central koi admirers association in Japan.

For now at least, the association network is still confined to Asia with Japan as the epicenter, encompassing Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Regionally, the number of koi lovers has continued to increase significantly.

"We have at least a regional meeting once a year. Each time I attend the meeting I find new members," Chong said.

Fifty koi admirers and breeders from Asian countries -- Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Taiwan and China -- took part in the Indonesia Koi Show held in Lembang, near Bandung, earlier this month, followed by a series of multi-million valued transactions on the winning fish.

There are about 1,000 koi admirers in Indonesia, mostly in Jakarta, Bandung and Surabaya. In Bandung alone there are some 300 fans of the fish. Surabaya has a similar number.

Wahyudi said that not all koi lovers join the club.

"Maybe because they are too busy in their lives to take part in this sort of gathering."

Asked how koi admirers here have maintained their expensive hobby during the prolonged economic crisis, Chong said there are those whose indulgence and enjoyment have not been troubled by the crisis.

"If one can afford to lead a life of his own, no matter how much it costs, why not?" he argued.