Nanoreef Build in China

  • Thread starter fishkeepinginaisa
  • Start date
  • Thread starter
  • #1

fishkeepinginaisa

Active Member
Member
Messages
89
Chinese Aquarium Markets—Chinese Aquarium Culture & Design—My Nano Reef—Chinese brands that aren’t half bad—Live rock

Chinese aquarium markets have the vibe of a silk road bazaar. You rarely see what you and I call fish stores. Instead, you see rows of vendors in underground alleys, each specializing in a specific species or equipment set. Men selling aquascaping rock, women holding up lengths of Malaysian driftwood. You’ve got your discus guys, your cichlid hawkers, and then those who deal in Asian Arowana—the last dragons in China.

My girlfriend—Shelly—lives with me in Shenzhen, and she insisted on coming to Honghu Aquarium market. She worried I wouldn’t say “有点贵” forcefully enough. (Translation: “it’s too expensive.” A phrase you must repeat constantly when haggling in China.) I speak Chinese at the level of a semi-intelligent six-year-old. So I was happy to let Shelly do the talking. She has a passion for bargaining, even on things with set prices—like restaurant menus. I once heard her negotiating the price of noodles.

Our fishkeeping brethren in China build their tanks upside down. They put the sump on top of the aquarium instead of beneath it. Generally, this sump covers the full length of the hood and doubles as a lid. Many Chinese fish keepers I know live in fear their fish will jump. That heavy sump gives them peace of mind. If a Super Red jumps, that’s a lot of money flopping on the floor.


IMG_1595.JPG



However, many Chinese aquarists lean toward the opposite extreme. They leave their tanks uncovered out of superstition—the fish might need to send them a message one day.

Every fish seller in China tells the story of the Malaysian businessman and his Asian arowana. In the story, the man and his fish share a special bond. One day, a business associate invited him to make a risky investment. The day before closing the deal, the arowana jumped out and died on the floor. He believed the fish killed itself to prevent the deal. A few months later the company he’d considered investing in folded. This story has many variations—sometimes the man is Japanese, sometimes it’s a Super Red, but the moral remains the same. The fish saved the man’s business.

Here, anything red demands a higher price. Pigeon blood discus, chili reds, red mushroom coral, even arapaima with especially vibrant tails. The color is embedded in China’s cultural psyche. During Spring Festival, people exchange red packets of money and hang red paper cuttings on their doorways. In traditional weddings, Chinese brides don’t wear white, they wear red.

When I first moved to China four years ago, I bought an upside-down aquarium. For freshwater, these are better than any Western-style aquarium. The pump pulls water from the bottom, zips it to the mini-sump, and then it flows back in. A clean and efficient system, perfect for a bare bottom tank. However, I wanted to keep coral this time and needed a Western-style setup.

Shelly finagled, bargained, and then feigned a walkaway. By the end of it, the vendor offered us a 100-liter system for 800 yuan. (About $125 USD.) It included the tank, light, stand, sump, and pump. I would've preferred a larger aquarium, but I have limited space. Shelly and I live in a studio. Additionally, I prefer glass aquariums. Call me old fashioned, but glass just feels better. But we have to carry it to the fifth floor (no elevator), so I decided acrylic was more pragmatic. I paid while Shelly told the vendor we’d pick it up next week.

Later that evening, while ambling Shenzhen’s alleyways, I stumbled into one of those rare standalone fish stores. Except for the labels written in Chinese and the Buddhist shrine in the corner, it reminded me of an American LFS. The owner—who I call Mr. Li—welcomed me into his shop. He soon offered me a great deal on a used 100-liter cube. 300 yuan—about $45—for the tank, stand, sump, and pump. When I heard the price, I wanted it. But I'd already promised my money to another. I thanked Mr. Li and left his store.

I tried to forget the cube. It was heavy, impractical, and didn’t come with a light. But it was glass, high-quality, and perfect for a nano reef. Shelly messaged the vendor in Honghu to request a refund. When they returned my money, I went straight to Mr. Li to purchase the cube. That trip became the subject of my .


fishtank corner.jpg



Afterward, I collected all the bits and bobs needed for the setup. Mr. Li ordered the light—a Chinese brand called Sunpolar. It’s a fine piece of equipment with this quirky thing called “lightening mode." Hit that button and it flashes like a strobe light. I ordered the rest of my gear off Taobao, China’s equivalent to Amazon. I ordered a Sunsun powerhead, an Aquasyncro protein skimmer, and a heater. I'm unsure what brand —it's in Chinese. People hate on Chinese made stuff, but everything I bought, especially the protein skimmer, was top notch. It fits perfectly in my five-gallon sump. As for the powerhead, you get a lot of flow for $3. When was the last time you got a powerhead that cheap?


protein skimmer.jpg


After filling it, I visited Mr. Li to buy live rock. (I had installed a RO/DI filter under my sink and used a Chinese brand of reef salt.) Mr. Li sold cured rock for about $1.25 a pound. I purchased ten kilos in total. When I told Shelly how much I paid, she said, “just for rocks?”

To me, an aquarium—especially a reef tank—signifies stability. After a few messy years, I finally feel ready to put down a tank. Also, I want to be involved with the fish keeping community. So I joined here, Fishlore, and Reddit. I also made a youtube channel as a creative outlet. I’m playing the youtube game, I’ve got my gimmick to make the videos fun. (I’m going to train fish.) But what I’m writing here is the soul behind my aquarium.

Thank you for letting me be part of your community.

Nathan Smith

P.S. Shelly enjoys our little aquarium. And she only complained a little when we carried it up the stairs.


Coral—Long Spine—More Coral

A tank watched won't cycle. It felt like forever, but my cube finally readied itself for livestock. I rushed off to see Mr. Li. Before this build, I had always scraped together pennies for the cheapest coral and the smallest frags. I started the hobby in high school when all I had was a part-time job. Later, I worked as a youth minister before I came to Asia. These days, I'm a bit more comfortable financially. Walking into the fish store with the freedom to buy whatever I wanted (within reason) felt so strange.


I've continued to document my progress in my youtube series. Before youtube, I never used social media. I didn't have Facebook, Instagram, or Chatsnap. So I reactivated my Instagram and made a Reddit. (I'm still staying clear of Facebook.) Day one on Reddit, I watched the mob tear into a guy for keeping a betta in a 1.5 gallon instead of the recommended 5 gallons. Horrifying. However, my youtube journey also helped me find Fishlore. And I love being part of this sort of community. Except for my best friend, I've never been connected with others in the hobby before. We weren't meant to reef in a bubble.

I started with some GSP, a green hydra, and a red mushroom coral. I'm a man of simple taste. The shroom grew quickly and is my favorite coral. I also purchased a long spine urchin. I'd seen them while snorkeling in Borneo and thought they were fascinating. I bought it without doing any research—or even thinking. Later, I read that they tend to strip small tanks clean of algae and starve, so I began feeding it. It quickly became a problem, but Mr. Li couldn't take it back.

The long spine bulldozed coral, scared the star polyps, and no matter where it was, it was in my way. If I needed to adjust the powerhead, it was curled up next to it like a porcupine. If I needed to set straight a coral it had knocked flat, it moved toward me. Thankfully, Mr. Li helped me find it a new home. (After I'd filmed this video and the next.)

I wanted more coral, but this time I went to Honghu. I was in the mood to browse, and the vendors keep more in stock than Mr. Li. I went a little overboard and purchased a green goniopora, a green toadstool, a hammer coral, and some polyps. When I took the photos, some of the corals hadn't fully opened, but now they're thriving. Some of them—especially the red mushroom coral—seem to have doubled in size.

I'm delighted by the coral, but frustrated with the liverock. It's still not stacked to my satisfaction. Before putting coral in, I piddled with it constantly. Even now, I can't get happy with it. For my next build, I'll use a mold. I'd never seen one stateside, but here, they sell molded dry rock with little ledges for your coral. Once you fill them out, they look like perfected nature. I'll try to snag a photo of one next time I go to the fish store.

When I got rid of the long spine, I felt I'd gotten my house in order. I'm still dissatisfied with the liverock formation, but I'm not sure I've ever been happy with a saltwater aquascape. I've always wished you could scape salt into the well-manicured perfection of a freshwater display. But liverock tumbles, corals grow in the wrong direction, and anemones never settle where you'd hoped. However, my coral is happy, which is what's most important.
 
  • #2

BigBeardDaHuZi

Active Member
Member
Messages
418
It's pretty cool that you have a lot of saltwater options down there. I've found one place in Jilin that still sells saltwater, and I think he is closing :(
What are your other tanks right now?
Jilin is a pretty small city. Only 4.5 million people. You'd think there would be some kind of a market for salt here. Happily, I have found at least a couple places here that specialize in Africans. And maybe a non-shady place to get them on Taobao. His setup looks pretty nice.
You'll have to let me know if you find brands that you like. About the only one I recognize here is Sunsun.
 
  • Thread starter
  • Thread Starter
  • #3

fishkeepinginaisa

Active Member
Member
Messages
89
This bad boy is all I've got set up right now. I'm wanting another, but my girlfriend doesn't want to surrender more of the apartment. Shenzhen is great for its selection of fish and coral. I can find anything I want really. Have you got an aquarium set up here? Can I see a photo?

fishkeepinginaisa said:
This bad boy is all I've got set up right now. I'm wanting another, but my girlfriend doesn't want to surrender more of the apartment. Shenzhen is great for its selection of fish and coral. I can find anything I want really. Have you got an aquarium set up here? Can I see a photo?
Only one tank is up right now. A 14 gallon planted betta tank. I am trying out a window tank right now. Probably foolish, but so far I am winning.
I have a 170 gallon tank ordered. It should be here in a few weeks. I have been researching for an African Cichlid tank ;)

BigBeardDaHuZi said:
Only one tank is up right now. A 14 gallon planted betta tank. I am trying out a window tank right now. Probably foolish, but so far I am winning.
I have a 170 gallon tank ordered. It should be here in a few weeks. I have been researching for an African Cichlid tank ;)
That's stunning, I can't wait to see the 170 gallon.
 

Attachments

  • Moderator
  • #4

smee82

Moderator
Moderator
Member
Messages
6,445
800rmb for a 100l tank is expensive and your extremely lucky to get your deposit back that's never happened to me here.

We have a few aquatic market here and a big street one every Wednesday that sells wholesale. It works out cheaper for me to buy in bulk and give away the extras i dont want then buy at the fish shops.
 
  • Thread starter
  • Thread Starter
  • #5

fishkeepinginaisa

Active Member
Member
Messages
89
smee82 said:
800rmb for a 100l tank is expensive and your extremely lucky to get your deposit back that's never happened to me here.

We have a few aquatic market here and a big street one every Wednesday that sells wholesale. It works out cheaper for me to buy in bulk and give away the extras i dont want then buy at the fish shops.
Really? It seems to be a pretty standard price here in Shenzhen. I wouldn't think Shenzhen is more expensive than Tianjin because Tianjin seemed almost as expensive as Beijing when I visited last. I also wasn't clear about the light it came with. If the price had been just for the aquarium, I'd agree with you, but it came with a pump, sump, and reef LED lighting (wasn't familiar with the brand, but it was like looking into the sun. That grade of lighting is expensive wherever you are!) My girlfriend and I shopped around and the other vendors sold similar aquariums at comparable prices. She's Chinese and felt confident we were getting an honest deal. (Though she's no expert on aquariums! haha) I've got a feeling half the price was tied up in the light.

I know foreigners tend to be overchanged in tourist places, but most of the vendors and shopkeepers I've met in Shenzhen have been really honest. I also speak a smattering of Chinese and that helps. But these days I just take my girlfriend a long and she makes sure I get a square deal.

I can't imagine the deals you get buying wholesale. I'd love to visit a market like that.

There's a ton of people on here who live in China. I never would've guessed. Everyone one seems to be up north though. What do you keep? I'd love to see your aquarium.
 
  • #6

A201

Fishlore VIP
Member
Messages
5,147
Very informative thread. So interesting to read how fish
keepers function in China.
 
  • #7

Koneko

Active Member
Member
Messages
58
I really enjoyed reading your post and watching your video. Looking forward to seeing more posts/videos.
 
  • #8

BigBeardDaHuZi

Active Member
Member
Messages
418
I got a 20 gallon / 75 litre with a full built in sump on the back for 380 RMB last week (a bit over 50 bucks). No light. No stand. Nice tank though.

My monster tank is drilled - with a full sump - stand and hood (but no lights or pump), delivered and installed for a little under 6000 RMB. Less than a thousand dollars. Although I have no idea what the exchange rate is these days. Honestly, I don't know how that compares to back home. Although it is a custom size, to fit in my living room.
 
  • Thread starter
  • Thread Starter
  • #9

fishkeepinginaisa

Active Member
Member
Messages
89
A201 said:
Very informative thread. So interesting to read how fish
keepers function in China.
It's so interesting to me to see how a different culture keeps their fish. Whenever I find a difference, or a new type of setup here, I'm always fascinated

Koneko said:
I really enjoyed reading your post and watching your video. Looking forward to seeing more posts/videos.
Thanks so much! It's been a really fun learning experience for me. I am glad to be able to share.

BigBeardDaHuZi said:
I got a 20 gallon / 75 litre with a full built in sump on the back for 380 RMB last week (a bit over 50 bucks). No light. No stand. Nice tank though.

My monster tank is drilled - with a full sump - stand and hood (but no lights or pump), delivered and installed for a little under 6000 RMB. Less than a thousand dollars. Although I have no idea what the exchange rate is these days. Honestly, I don't know how that compares to back home. Although it is a custom size, to fit in my living room.
I've seen large tanks for around that price. I think in America, you'll never find something that size for that cheap. Can't wait to see that beast!
 
  • Moderator
  • #10

smee82

Moderator
Moderator
Member
Messages
6,445
fishkeepinginaisa said:
Really? It seems to be a pretty standard price here in Shenzhen. I wouldn't think Shenzhen is more expensive than Tianjin because Tianjin seemed almost as expensive as Beijing when I visited last. I also wasn't clear about the light it came with. If the price had been just for the aquarium, I'd agree with you, but it came with a pump, sump, and reef LED lighting (wasn't familiar with the brand, but it was like looking into the sun. That grade of lighting is expensive wherever you are!) My girlfriend and I shopped around and the other vendors sold similar aquariums at comparable prices. She's Chinese and felt confident we were getting an honest deal. (Though she's no expert on aquariums! haha) I've got a feeling half the price was tied up in the light.

I know foreigners tend to be overchanged in tourist places, but most of the vendors and shopkeepers I've met in Shenzhen have been really honest. I also speak a smattering of Chinese and that helps. But these days I just take my girlfriend a long and she makes sure I get a square deal.

I can't imagine the deals you get buying wholesale. I'd love to visit a market like that.

There's a ton of people on here who live in China. I never would've guessed. Everyone one seems to be up north though. What do you keep? I'd love to see your aquarium.
Ive been here since 03 so ive seen a few changes since i first got here.

Im not sure what i paid exactly for my set up becsuse they never brought the right bulbs around but i think it was supposed to be 2500rmb in the end and i didnt pay the last payment of 800rmb so i paid 1700rmb. That was for a 110g tank + 50g sump with solid wood stand custom made + abosea aquasoil substrate + wavepoint 4xt5h lightfixture + chinese brand heater and pump.

I got a huge discount on the stand because it had a chip in it and told them i wouldn't accept it but because they sub contracted the construction to someone else they where out of pocket as they had already accepted it as is so i think i got it for a bit more then cost.

Another Rule number 1 in china is always find the defect so you can pay a lot less then its sold for. I love taobao, tmall and jindong i get stuff delivered every few days and am always getting discouts because somethings not right.
 
  • #11

BigBeardDaHuZi

Active Member
Member
Messages
418
My
smee82 said:
Ive been here since 03 so ive seen a few changes since i first got here.

Im not sure what i paid exactly for my set up becsuse they never brought the right bulbs around but i think it was supposed to be 2500rmb in the end and i didnt pay the last payment of 800rmb so i paid 1700rmb. That was for a 110g tank + 50g sump with solid wood stand custom made + abosea aquasoil substrate + wavepoint 4xt5h lightfixture + chinese brand heater and pump.

I got a huge discount on the stand because it had a chip in it and told them i wouldn't accept it but because they sub contracted the construction to someone else they where out of pocket as they had already accepted it as is so i think i got it for a bit more then cost.

Another Rule number 1 in china is always find the defect so you can pay a lot less then its sold for. I love taobao, tmall and jindong i get stuff delivered every few days and am always getting discouts because somethings not right.
My Mother-in-law laughs at us and says we should be a taobao receiving center for all the packages we have coming in.

That's a fantastic price for a 110
 
  • Moderator
  • #12

smee82

Moderator
Moderator
Member
Messages
6,445
BigBeardDaHuZi said:
My
My Mother-in-law laughs at us and says we should be a taobao receiving center for all the packages we have coming in.

That's a fantastic price for a 110
Other then buying fresh veggies on the street and beer all my shopping is done online now. I just sold my place and are planning on going back home next year and have no idea how im going to get used to not being able to pay with my phone or get groceries delivered within an hr of ordering.

From my understanding most cities here will have a district or town nearby for making stuff and you can get almost anything custom made. All my furniture is solid wood (its not great wood) and i paid on average 1/4 of what they charge at a shop.

I found a few dodgy photos of the street market from a while ago and a couple of partial tank shots
 

Attachments

  • #13

BigBeardDaHuZi

Active Member
Member
Messages
418
smee82 said:
Other then buying fresh veggies on the street and beer all my shopping is done online now. I just sold my place and are planning on going back home next year and have no idea how im going to get used to not being able to pay with my phone or get groceries delivered within an hr of ordering.

From my understanding most cities here will have a district or town nearby for making stuff and you can get almost anything custom made. All my furniture is solid wood (its not great wood) and i paid on average 1/4 of what they charge at a shop.

I found a few dodgy photos of the street market from a while ago and a couple of partial tank shots
Haha. Yeah, I never even carry my wallet anymore, unless I am driving.
I love taobao. A huge number of options. And I especially love not having to bicker about the price.
Where are you moving back to?
 
  • Moderator
  • #14

smee82

Moderator
Moderator
Member
Messages
6,445
BigBeardDaHuZi said:
Haha. Yeah, I never even carry my wallet anymore, unless I am driving.
I love taobao. A huge number of options. And I especially love not having to bicker about the price.
Where are you moving back to?
Moving back home to australia. 17 years and 2 kids is long enough for me and ive saved up enough cash to buy a house and small business when i get home.
 
  • #15

BigBeardDaHuZi

Active Member
Member
Messages
418
smee82 said:
Moving back home to australia. 17 years and 2 kids is long enough for me and ive saved up enough cash to buy a house and small business when i get home.
Nice one :)
 
  • Thread starter
  • Thread Starter
  • #16

fishkeepinginaisa

Active Member
Member
Messages
89
Trip to the Fish MarketNew FishMeet BingBingQuestions about how to improve a fish's quality of life

Me and Shelly went to Honghu to browse. I'd received many suggestions for fish to train. Species like six-line wrasse, saddle Valentini puffer, and Midas blennies. But really, I needed something with spirit.


You must be careful in assigning human emotions to animals. Have you ever caught your dog stealing something then yelled at it? Don't they look guilty? In How to Tame a Fox, Lyudmila Trut writes about an experiment where a dog's owner tells it not to eat a treat and then leaves. In some cases, researchers removed the treat, other times the dog ate it. In both scenarios, the dogs exhibited the same guilty look. It seems dogs don't actually feel guilt, they simply don't like being chastised.

However, I think we can agree that some fish, even within the same species, have more personality than others. Fish with personality tend to be quicker on the uptake with feeding schedules. And they learn to recognize their owners. I've also noticed a link between aggression and personality. For example, dovii keepers swear they are the most interactive fish in the hobby. They'll also murder anything you put in the tank.

So I wasn't looking for one species in particular, just something with big, curious eyes. I needed a fish who took interest in me. As I moved from tank to tank in Honghu market, none of the fish even noticed me. They kept swimming or hid in the corner. Finally, I came to a maroon clown who approached the glass as I neared.

Maroon clowns are an aggressive, territorial fish. Many hobbyists have maroons that nip them when they put their hand in the tank. I'm reluctant to assign human emotion to animals, but this fish didn't seem aggressive. It just swam over to see what was up.

My system is about 25 gallons, and I've read about lots of people who keep them in 30. However, for a full-grown maroon clown, I'd prefer at least 40-55. For the time being, he's perfectly content in the cube. I plan to move him to a larger tank when I lease a bigger apartment in May.

Also, I'm training him and I need to be able to get his attention easily. In a larger tank, he'd get lost. One of the questions I'd like to explore is if training a fish actually improves their quality of life. Many animals benefit from a relationship with their owners, I want to see if the same holds true with fish.

I'm not sure how to test this. I think after he's trained, I'll continue working with him, but offer less reward or even no reward. By measuring his attentiveness and enthusiasm, I might be able to guess at whether or not he actually enjoys swimming through hoops. Let me know your thoughts!



On the taxi ride home (you can't take live animals on the subway in Shenzhen) Shelly said, "let's call him Bingbing." It's a nickname for little kids here and I liked the sound of it. So I'm delighted to introduce you to BingBing! He's already making progress. (I know regardless of his gender, he'll become female unless I get him a mate, but I've taken to calling him "him.") In the following updates, I'll share his training routine. Even now, after five days in the aquarium, he's learned to follow the training rod.

He's a good little fish.
 
  • Thread starter
  • Thread Starter
  • #17

fishkeepinginaisa

Active Member
Member
Messages
89
I just thought I'd write up a little update. BingBing and I had our first major breakthrough. I am so pleased with his progress. He has learned to strike the training rod, and I am now teaching him to swim through a hoop. I'm proud of this little guy. I also got some great photos of him.

He wants an anemone so bad he can't stand it. He's been trying to host my flowerpot coral and he's stressing it out. I really think he's going to love it to death, but I can't force myself to be mad at him for it.

I have had a lot of inspiration lately. I'm going to try to use training in more practical ways, like with picky eaters. For example, my next project is going to use conditioning to get a mandarin fish on frozen food. Let me know if you have any suggestions for ways fish training could make tricky species easier to keep.

 

Attachments

  • Thread starter
  • Thread Starter
  • #18

fishkeepinginaisa

Active Member
Member
Messages
89
Hey all,

I’ve made so much progress with BingBing I really appreciate your support and the words of encouragement you’ve shared. I am really touched that you enjoy the videos.


With BingBing, we had some early success with the hoop, but I hit a snag. When I tried to use the kalimba to issue a command, he associated the kalimba with getting fed. After that, he refused to respond to my commands. After working with him, I again got him reliably striking the rod.

This week I had new ideas. I want to use fish conditioning in practical ways. In addition to the hoop trick, I am going to work on teaching BingBing to swim into a net. (I won't pull him out of the water unless I actually need to move him.) This would be something really practical that a lot of us could use. Imagine you have a reef and need to get one pesky damsel out. Instead of removing all your rock, you could teach your fish to associate the net with food then scoop out the troublemaker.

Big things are happening in my small fish corner. I'll be adding a new tank and fish. I am going to hook a second thirty gallon into my system to increase the total volume to about 60 gallons.

Also, I'll use conditioning with picky eaters and demystify mandarin fish. I'll use conditioning (just like pavlov did with dogs) as a reliable way to get mandarin fish on prepared foods. Feeding is what makes them a tricky fish.

To diffuse aggression, I'll put BingBing in a breeder box while the mandarin settles in. (This will be another video about how to manipulate fish behavior.) If BingBing refuses to leave the mandarin be, I’ll put the mandarin back in the other thirty gallon.
 
Top Bottom