The Boat Girl and the Magic Fish


Written by Dean Barrett

Illustrations by Tomaz Mok


The Boat Girl and the Magic Fish has been reprinted in a new edition and is now available at on-line bookstores such as as well as in Hong Kong and other countries.  Click on cover for larger image.


S the huge bag-shaped net full of fat, thrashing fish slowly emerged from the dark green water, eight-year-old Lai Kum-choi ran hurriedly to the side of her father's junk. She grinned with excitement as she looked at the many familiar forms and colors before her: the red sea bream with the red swellings between their eyes, the beautiful golden thread, the lizard fish with their strange mouths lined with teeth, horsehead and red snapper, red goatfish and sole. As the net opened, hundreds of fish flapped across the teakwood deck of her father's trawler like brightly colored leaves in an autumn wind. And, as always, her dog, Lucky, began barking loudly at the jumping fish.

Kum-choi stepped between the fish and began to play a game in which she jumped as they jumped, first in one direction and then in another. Although she was careful not to step on the fish, the junk swayed a bit in the swells of the sea (as junks are wont to do), and Kum-choi's feet often landed in a spot different from where she had intended.

"Ouch!" cried a small but deep voice. "You've stepped on my tail three times!" Kum-choi looked at the deck and there beneath her feet was one of the most beautiful fish she had ever seen. Its body was a blue as splendid as the sea itself on the sunniest of days; and on its body were patches, almost the shape of diamonds, in the same crimson shade as the sails of her father's junk. Its sparkling tail reflected the sunlight and, even as Kum-choi watched, it seemed to change from a blue-green to a deep purple and then to all the colors of the rainbow. From head to tail the fish was almost two feet long. And what fascinated Kum-choi most of all were its eyes. Never had she seen a fish with such intelligent eyes.

"Don't be afraid," said the fish. "I mean you no harm. It's just that you've been stepping on my tail."

"I'm sorry," said Kum-choi, as she took a quick step backward. "I jumped the wrong way. But how is it that you can talk?"

"Oh, that. You see, I often grow tired of swimming about all day and sometimes I stay in shallow water near the sides of all the vessels in the harbor of your floating community. And I listen to the fishermen and their families. I have swum quietly beside the purse-seiners, the gill-netters, the long-liners, the deep-sea trawlers and even alongside many of the sampans. I have learned about the ways of humans and also some of the words they use to speak to one another."


The Boat Girl and the Magic Fish continues