Fri, 12 May 2000

Koi lovers flock to Lembang for contest

By K. Basrie

LEMBANG, West Java (JP): The weather was chilly last Saturday afternoon in the mountainous area of Lembang. The drizzling rain and the heavy mist that covered the peaks added to the wintry mood.

For locals the atmosphere was not unusual, having long become used to it.

What was puzzling that May 6 was the continuous flow of shiny luxury sedans and jeeps, mostly Mercedes Benz and BMWs, passing by their houses as they headed up into the hills for the vast Istana Bunga villa complex.

Judging from the license plates, most of the cars were from Jakarta and Bandung.

"I've never seen as many cars as today. It used to be so lonely up here," commented Suprapto, a worker at the complex.

Inside the sports center at the villa complex, three elderly Japanese along with some Singapore and Hong Kong nationals -- all attired in dark brown waistcoats -- were busy with the colorful creatures moving gracefully beneath the crystal-clear water in dozens of deep-blue containers.

The host, Edi Sukamto Josana, a noted businessman in West Java who also owns the complex, was busily flitting around the room, expelling unauthorized visitors, including some journalists.

"Out, out, out," he shouted pushing the interlopers out of the hall.

"Hey, guards," he shouted to his security guards. "Do your job correctly!"

The chastened guards sprung to attention at this, rushing to follow the boss' order, escorting the intruders out and slamming the door shut to make sure they did not come back.

According to Edi's assistant, Acong, the organizers did not want the foreigners disturbed. And, most importantly, he said, the hall was housing some 600 precious creatures.

"In terms of money, it could reach at least Rp 20 billion," Acong told The Jakarta Post.

He was referring to some 600 dazzling koi entered by their owners in the First ZNA Bandung Chapter International Koi Show Indonesia.

As the title indicates, the event was authorized by Zen Nippon Airinkai (ZNA), the Japanese Koi Lovers Association.


The large number of cars heading to the sports center apparently belonged to the owners of the entered fish and numerous koi enthusiasts, who wanted to get a look at the fish and guess at the eventual winner, which was announced later in the evening.

Like Edi, Acong was not eager to talk to the press about the event. None of the Japanese judges were even allowed to speak to reporters.

"A koi collector in Surabaya found his fish missing from his pond shortly after the local media ran a story about his business," Acong said and walked away, effectively putting an end to the conversation.

Acong and Edi might have a good reason for their reticence. In June 1998, for example, Singaporean David Lau filed a report with the police on the island about the theft of his two S$5,000 koi.

Later, a Singapore court sentenced two Thais -- Rathchata Mangkorn, 24, and Samart Setraksa, 22 -- to three months in jail for cooking and eating one of the 5-year-old koi from Lau's pond.

Lau told The Strait Times he reported the case simply because he felt as if he had just lost his children.

Owners of the koi entered in the May 5 to May 6 competition had the same familial feelings about their fish.

"Other people might not understand our passion for this fish. It's a hobby," said O. Darmawan from the Jakarta Koi Center.

Koi collector Bolly A. Prabanto, a financial general manager at a leading company in Jakarta, said: "It's just like paintings for others. There's an interaction between the collector and the painting."

"That's why it's difficult for non-koi lovers to understand the unreasonable price of the fish. There's no written rules or price list for them, it's just a matter of appreciation," said Bolly, who did not enter his fish in the contest but attended dinner and a seminar held in conjunction with the contest.

What a price!

According to some koi collectors who entered their favorite fish in the contest, the fish in the event could have fetched between Rp 200,000 for a young koi and Rp 1 billion for an adult koi.

But many of the fish, including those put up for sale in a bid, had a price of between Rp 2 million and Rp 5 million.

Like in many international koi contests, the Lembang competition -- the first such event held in the country with overseas contestants -- strictly followed the standard ratings for color, pattern, variety, shape, performance, cleanliness and healthiness.

"The contest did not accept any 'local' or mixed-breed koi, such as the hirenaga-goi," participant Ayau of the Bandung-based Hanura Koi Center said.

At stake in the contest were 137 trophies plus fish food, along with certificates issued by the Japanese koi association.

The large number of trophies was in line with the number of different categories for color and size.

There were six color categories contested in the event, namely kohaku (white koi with red patterns); taisho sanke (white koi with red and black patterns); showa sanshoku (black koi with red and white patterns); bekko/utsurimono (white/black koi with yellow, red and white/black patterns); kinginrin (koi with silver scales); and mixed color.

Each color category was divided into seven sizes, that is from 10 centimeters to 19 centimeters (called baby koi); 20 centimeters to 29 centimeters; 30 centimeters to 39 centimeters; and so on.

Trophies were also given to grand champions from each color category.

The organizers charged the owners of the between Rp 200,000 and Rp 400,000 for each koi they wished to enter.

Accompanied by trainee judges from Singapore and Indonesia, the official judges carefully took each koi from its container with a large fishing net and brought them out of the hall into an the open space to examine them thoroughly.

When the winners were announced during the dinner on Saturday evening, many visitors expressed disappointment that most of the grand champion trophies were grabbed by the host: Edi.

"It's unfair! But everybody here already predicted he would took all the grand champions," a participant said.

When asked to comment, Edi laughed: "This is a contest and I didn't pay for the tickets for the judges, just for their accommodations and meals during their stay here."

Standing at the podium, Richard Tan, an executive of a koi association in Singapore, asked the foreigners in the audience not to support Edi's plan to hold a similar event for Southeast Asian countries.

"Okay, okay? Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong ... okay. We won't approve it. It's no use to participate and bring our fish from our countries to Bandung if all the trophies only go to Edi. Okay?"

But Edi simply said that Tan was just joking.

Traditionally, the price of a fish that was initially worth, say, Rp 250 million, could rise to Rp 1 billion if it grabbed the grand champion title at an international contest.

Koi are believed to have originated in East Asia and were later developed by Japanese breeders. Formally, the Japanese call the fish nishikigoi, or the "colored carp", and it is considered their national fish. But around the world the fish is known as koi.

Koi is also considered the king of the freshwater fish due to its size, which can reach over a meter long, and its ability to live for up to 125 years.