I’ve been spending most of the last couple of weeks running around like a headless chicken trying to get everything in order for our long-awaited trip home (nine days and counting!). In particular, due to visa renewals and other assorted paperwork, this involves a lot of contact with the USCIS, renowned, of course, for their comprehensible policies, quick turnaround times, and outstanding customer service. Vis-a-vis one’s feeling of control over one’s life, they serve much the same function as Douglas Adams’ Total Perspective Vortex. There remains a small but not inconceivable chance, if they’re as, er, helpful as they are threatening to be, that Mike might have to ditch the trip home entirely. I am endeavouring to remain positive. For one thing, the Evil Blonde Studylink Lady who manned the University of Canterbury office during my time there (ask anyone who was a student from, oh, 2005 through 2008, they’ll know who you mean) now seems practically benevolent, despite the roadblock she presented to me paying my rent and being able to eat. See? Perspective.
It’s also been – for what Americans term the first two weeks of summer, since they start their seasons late – impressively hot, with daily highs in the high twenties up to the mid thirties for the last week and a bit, and likely to last until we leave the country. This has only been mildly challenging here in New England, but positively miserable in the mid-Atlantic states, who are having the same power-outage problems we had last October after a series of severe thunderstorms. Given the choice, I’d take the cold anyday – we can huddle around the gas heater, but life without air conditioning or even fans with temperatures in the mid-to-high thirties is no joke. I am grudgingly coming to terms with our possession of an air conditioner, in the same way that most of New Zealand only grudgingly accepts that we have a winter and might need some form of heating.
In an effort to distract ourselves and spend some time in someone else’s air-conditioned space, we ducked into the Grand Opening of a local chain petstore this last weekend. It was a positive cornucopia of Things That Make MAF Biosecurity Tear Their Hair Out; ferrets. Snakes. Cane toads. (And rats and hamsters and parakeets and kittens and so forth, but I was distracted by the cane toads. Those things are huge. And not being sold as pets, I add…at that particular store.) Mike got to see and touch his first ever real live snake (I forgot he hadn’t been to Australia, or, come to think of it, any zoos in the US). I made cooing noises about genetics at the mice. (I’m a biologist, OK, I’m constitutionally incapable of looking at white mice and not wondering which gene they’ve had knocked out.) We were hopeful of restocking our fungus-and-snowstorm stricken fishtank, until we turned a corner and found the bettas.
Bettas are very popular fish; they’re colorful and active (and can’t be kept together or with many other fish, as they will fight each other, anything significantly smaller than them, and will have their long fins nipped by anything bigger.) I used to have a couple in a divided 10-litre tank, which is about the minimum size they can be kept in.
In their natural habitat, they often end up in shallow pools in the dry season; this measn they’ve developed the ability to get some oxygen from the air. This ability has led the pet industry to conclude it’s a brilliant idea to put them into tiny, unheated cups (they’re from Thailand, which is just mildly tropical), where they can stew in their own waste. I know it might be a bit strange to pick fish living conditions as my moral line, but there we go: I’m not going to buy anything from this pet store, because every time I went in I’d have to look at hundreds of bettas in miserable, cramped, underheated conditions. Stores do not have to keep bettas like this. The good fish and pet stores I’ve been to in the past don’t. They keep them in reasonably-sized tanks, or with other fish that they won’t bite or be bitten by. I won’t even get into proper tank sizes for goldfish, but how anyone can look at these fish in their tiny little cups and think this is OK is beyond me.
But, then again, in nine days we’ll be on a plane with about the same amount of relative room as the bettas – probably less. The difference being that home is going to be at the end of it.