I was walking down the street last night after a post-work detour to the market, and taking in all the sights and sounds that are still very much an exciting new experience for me. The street vendors yelling loudly about their cakes and fast food; the restaurants with their huge tanks of fish outside; the overwhelming array of neon lights and signs; the elderly, straw-hatted men with hand carts; the old women sitting on mats shelling peas; the leaves falling like yellow and red snow from the trees.
I passed some vending machines on the street, which is very common. I hadn’t paid much attention to these particular ones before, simply because they’re everywhere here, stocked with everything from canned coffee and cereal bars to Hello Kitty merchandise and electronics. But I was somewhat startled when something moving caught my eye as I walked past. I stopped to investigate, and realised that it was one of those arcade games with the robotic arm – you know, the ones where you press the arrows to position the claw above a prize, hit the button, and watch anxiously as the arm descends and the claw closes over that teddy bear only to drop it at the last moment as it rises again.
But this machine was not filled with oversized cuddly toys. No, it was filled with lobsters. Live lobsters. Just sitting there in a shallow layer of water at the bottom, waiting for someone to try their luck at the game.
I mean, what the heck would you do if you won a live lobster?! I asked Alex later when I was telling him about it. How would you carry it home? Would you try to brain it against the wall first so that it wouldn’t get away? Would you get a leash and walk it home?
Maybe you’d just go into the market and ask one of the fish stall guys for some kind of live food container, suggested Alex.
But… but… what about the poor lobsters? I asked in some distress. Sitting there in an arcade machine all day and all night. Does anyone feed them? And won’t it be awful for them, seeing a big metal arm descending from above, and having it pick them up and drop them down a chute?
Alex pondered this. I dunno, he concluded, I mean, those things are gonna struggle. You’re even less likely to win one than you are with the cuddly toys. I reckon it’s a surefire money-making scheme for the machine owners. They’ll never have to pay out, they’ll just collect the money.
I sniffed disapprovingly. What sort of person is actually going to play that game, though? I asked dismissively.
He raised an eyebrow at me. Look, seriously, who are you kidding? You know perfectly well you’re going to try to win a live lobster before you’re here very much longer, he said with the air of One Who Knows.
Damn. I hate that he’s probably right.
(But I’d keep it as a pet.)