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SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - During these tough financial times, some Asians are seeking solace in faith. Others are pinning their hopes for a turnaround on their pet fish.
In the Chinese culture, owning a fish is considered a good investment because the Mandarin characters for fish and water are associated with wealth and plenty.
And a Singapore-based firm which exports more than 500 species of ornamental fish to 65 countries around the world says its business appears to be recession-proof. It even expects to turn a profit this year.
"In tough times, you tend to believe in religion even more, but you may also keep some fish," said Kenny Yap, executive chairman of ornamental fish breeders and suppliers Qian Hu, one of the biggest in Southeast Asia.
"Many different types of fish are about luck."
One of the most auspicious fish species in Chinese culture is the arowana or dragonfish, which is believed to have the power to bring luck and prosperity.
Some Chinese believe they are descendants of a mythical dragon and place high value on dragon symbolism. The red and gold arowana variety are especially prized, as their colors are seen as being traditionally lucky in China.
Yap said arowanas contribute 60 to 70 percent of Qian Hu's total sales volume of ornamental fish in China, its major market.
A typical high-grade silver arowana, measuring 15-18 cm costs between $1,400 and $2,000, but some bigger, rare fish can fetch tens of thousands of dollars. The fish can live up to 25 years and can grow up to one meter in length.
Toh Wee Kai, who owns a printing shop in Singapore, said his business has been doing well ever since he put an arowana on display some seven years ago.
He had since bought eight more, as well as five large stingrays, which cost 12,000 Singapore dollars ($8,200) each.
"My first fish attracts a lot of customers. So after one, I started to get more," Toh said. "Most Chinese businessmen believe breeding arowanas will bring them good luck."
Qian Hu's Yap said the firm aims to distribute tropical fish in India in two years' time to tap into the country's expanding and increasingly affluent middle class.
"In India they have not formed a particular preference for a fish type, but the trend is they like slightly more expensive fish," Yap said.
"I think the new rich actually like more expensive things than the old rich."
Editing by Miral Fahmy