Saturday, May 19, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA - First customer

I went to school in USA back in the early nineties. One morning in early May, my phone rang for some time before I grabbed the receiver groggily. I had a headache the previous night and had trouble sleeping well. At the end of the line was a male voice asking for me. It was from a fellow international student named Zak, from Memphis, Tennessee, who enquired if I could to supply fish to him. I told him that he got the wrong person as I do not supply fish. He was very insistent and patient, describing a dinner that he had when he visited my neighborhood weeks ago. His friends happened to be someone whom I gave some fishes to. Tennessee is a land locked state, so the fishes they got there are mostly not freshwater fishes with catfish the most. Very few shop sell sea fish, let alone one with the heads and tails intact. Zak, who had tasted some fresh sea fish meal his friend’s house, is now reaching out to me. That was cool. My reputation as a fish giver had spread to other states!
 “Let me know if you are OK with this” Zak said. “I will pay you $5 for every fish that weigh 2 pounds (slightly less than 1 kg) or more”. I have no idea how he derived at 2 pounds cutoff. I was enticed, but there was a problem. Tennessee was some 300 miles away from the coast. “How do I send them to you” I asked. “I do not think you will want to drive more 300 miles both ways, do you?“ I continued. “Of course not” Zak replied. “How about sending it through post or courier service? If you send them by overnight ground, it will reach me the next day” he continued. “Will it still be fresh by then?” I asked again. “I am not sure myself. Is there any other way?” replied Zak. I thought for a while and then said “alright, I will enquire with UPS or US Post if they have any suggestion. If it is workable, I will send you some free fishes as trial run. Let me know if it is still fresh and the deal is on, OK?” Zak replied affirmatively and gave me his contact number and address before hanging up.
 After breakfast I set out to my neighborhood UPS store ( to inquire how to send my fish overland. The lady behind the counter was very helpful and she showed me some different boxes size and said I can use them free. When I mentioned about shipping fresh fish, she raised her eyebrow, mentioned that she had never shipped any fish before. She got up from her chair and walked over to her superior. They spoke for a while, he scribbled something on a paper before she returned to me.  My face lighted up when she showed me the paper that her boss wrote – dry ice. “Got it” I said. “Where do I buy them?” I continue. “Try grocery store that sells seafood” she replied. I thanked her and left with 3 different sized UPS boxes.
Medium size UPS box can fits in 
10 fishes

Kmart at one time was 
Walmart's main rival 
I went to Kmart ( to buy some dry ice and some ziplock bags. Kmart have some in dry ice in stock at $2.99 per 5 pound bag. I have no idea how much I will use, so I bought 2. At home I put the dry ice in plastic bags. I spliced old newspaper in between box and dry ice, and between dry ice and fishes for insulation and to avoid direct contact of fish and dry ice. Dry ice is nasty, one must not want to be in contact for long.  I pulled out 2 sheepsheads, 1 red drum and 3 flounders from refrigerator, wrapped them in the ziplock bag individually and stuffed them in the box. There was room for some more fishes, but I just filled it with more crumbled newspaper, including on the top. I finally sealed the box with clear tape and wrote Zak’ name, address and contact number. I only used 1 pack of dry ice, and kept the other pack in refrigerator.    
Dry Ice is actually solid CO2
Before lunch I was back at the UPS station to mail my box. The lady who attended to me earlier smiled as I walked in. After filling up the documents, she mentioned, “that will be 8 bucks, sir”. I did a behind the envelope calculation in my head. The medium box can fits in 10 fishes, meaning each fish will incurs about $1 in logistic and packaging cost. No bad. I paid cash and was given a tracking number. “This parcel will be delivered tomorrow. I am also curios if we are able to do a delivery that will still be fresh. You let me know, OK?” she said, handling me a copy of the consignment note. I left feeling mixed, not sure if I may be off to a first step in making someone overland happy or someone will have DIY salted fish. Talking about salted fish, I once fried some for dinner. The American couple who stayed down stair ran out of their apartment after they smelled something funny in the air and called 911. It was a ruckus but hilarious scene. Many people gathered outside, some of them pinching at their nose. I had to do a lot of explanation to the cop. That was how I get to know the couple. Salted fish rocks!
Back at home I called Zak but he was not in. I left a message and he called back an hour later. I gave him the UPS tracking number and reminded him to call me when he received the shipment. I had lunch and then headed off to library for some revisions before starting class in the evening. At the library I read about the fishes found in Gulf Coast. Then I came to a section that showed how to see sign of fresh fish. The tests: Gill test – uncover the gill cover to expose the gill. It should be nice red. Eyes test – glistening and not opaque. Finger test – poke at the fish. Its flesh should be firm and springy. Smell test – should smell of ocean with no strong fishy smell. Flesh test – translucent and one can see meat pattern. Look test – should look shine, metallic and clean, not dull or discolored patches. I still use some of the tips when I go marketing nowadays.
Red gill tell tale of a fresh fish
The call came the following night. It was Zak’s wife who called. Zak was washing the dishes but he asked her to call ahead, to inform me that the shipment arrived in the afternoon. The box was slightly crushed, damp a little but inside the fishes were OK. They cooked 2 fishes, gave 2 fishes to another family and kept 2. Since I did not label them, she retorted to describing the fishes; fish with prisoner shirt and teeth that protrude out, fish with spots at the tail and ugly flat fish. I had a great laugh.They deep fried 2 flounders (which they called flat fish) and cook a sheepshead (they described it as the fish with prisoner shirt and teeth that protruded out) in curry.  She mentioned that they still look fresh and taste good. I was ecstatic and did a fist clench with a hand down ’yes’ movement!
Moment later Zak came to the phone, thanking me for the fishes. Then he said, “Tell you what Max, I will mail you a check for $100 advance payment, OK?” I thought for a moment and then replied, “Zak, I can accept the offer, but I do not know what type of fishes I may catch, how many or when. Sometime I got no fish”.  Zak immediately replied “That is OK. Send me any fish you can get. Any edible one that you will eat it yourself will do. If you can send me the fish names every time you send me a new type, and put in a recipe how you cook them, that will be great.” he continued. “Also when the fund nearly runs out I will send you another check. You keep a tab on that, OK?” 
I received the check 3 days later.


  1. You are a good writer and this is a good read. Thanks for sharing. Keep on rolling.Go Jag.

  2. I really enjoy reading it! And good info on the sign of fresh fish. Have to remember this as u only know the first sign..:) Cant wait to read the rest!! Thanks Max for sharing !!!!

    1. Typo error.. I only know the first one.. :)