John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Beijing's street vendors are offering goldfish and small turtles sealed inside plastic trinkets for your amusement.
Want to carry a cute little turtle all the time in your pocket? Don't mind feeling like a depraved, steaming pile of human garbage?
Then you'll be mighty interested in these live-animal key rings for sale in China. News of this questionable urban fad surfaced last year when a reporter from Beijing's Global Times spotted a street hawker selling them outside the Sihui subway station. Each key ring is affixed to a durable plastic prison filled with colored water and one of the following: what appears to be a Red Ear Slider Turtle; a salamander or newt; or two tiny kingfish – all alive, and all struggling to get out.
At about 3.5 inches across, the bio-trinkets slip easily into pockets and handbags and make a uniquely awful fashion statement. How do the animals not suffocate? The water seems to contain nutrients that allow them to survive for weeks. How do you not accidentally sit on them and create a wet, squishy mess? That remains an open question. Animal-rights groups are trying to eliminate these key rings, but are at a loss because China's animal-cruelty laws only extend to "wild animals." That protected class apparently does not include pint-sized stream critters.
Who is buying these things? According to the Global Times, either bad people or good people:
Business was looking good Tuesday afternoon as one fish and nine turtle rings sold within five minutes.
"I'll hang it in my office, it looks nice and brings good luck, " a man in his 30s said after buying a turtle key ring.
"I bought one to free it. It looks so miserable," a woman told the Global Times.