Something Fishy

Have you heard of the fish with two eyes on one side? Well, I just learned—okay, ignorant me—there’s indeed such a fish and it’s commonly known as a flatfish.

I discovered this piscine creature by chance. Mr. P and I were having dinner at The Aunty’s, our favourite neighbourhood haunt, one evening when I spotted a queer-looking fish on the display. Intrigued, I probed him about it.

“Oh, it’s plaa taa diao,” said Mr. P all-knowingly. In Thai, it means “one-eyed fish”, and although that’s a misnomer, the flatfish certainly looks like it has just one eye (refer to above photo) from certain angles.

With sharp, threatening teeth and tight, compact scales donning its flat, sole-like body, the flatfish looks primitive and reminds me of those deep sea species that never see the light of day. Its unusual, asymmetrical form, however, is a superb work of evolution and natural selection: As bottom-dwellers, with one side facing the seabed, the flatfish’s two eyes have evolved to be on the exposed side to maximise its chances of spotting prey or hiding from predators while lying camouflaged in the sand.

Despite its awkward-looking form, flatfish has a romantic association in Chinese. Since ancient times, Chinese poets have pay homage to the flatfish (比目鱼) with beautiful, expertly-crafted lines like “得成比目何辞死,愿作鸳鸯不羨仙,” which loosely translates as “death is inconsequential if we stay together like flatfish, and we rather be mandarin ducks than envy the gods”.

Now, isn’t it interesting that different languages and cultures interpret a fish in such myriad ways?


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