Even on a rainy day at five in the afternoon, Nanu, a door-to-door goldfish salesman, is hard at work.
His shoulders are weighed down by the day’s last bags of goldfish, but he sets them down for a moment to talk about his struggles and triumphs, and the kind strangers he has met along the way.
Why are selling goldfish this late in the day?
I’m still here because sales have been slow today and I’m still hoping to sell more.
How old are you and where are you from?
I was born in 1972 so I guess I’m 37. I was born in Sukabumi [West Java].
Which do you prefer, Jakarta or Sukabumi?
I like it better in Sukabumi. I’m here not because I like it, but because I need to be.
How long have you been selling goldfish? Why don’t you try a different business?
I started in 1993. I haven’t tried any other businesses because I already know this one. I’d like to try doing something else, but I’m worried about the risk. I need a steady income.
What’s a typical day like for you?
I leave my rental place in Pancoran at six in the morning, come here [a friend’s house in Benhil] to pick up the tires and the stick. Then I go to the market in Kalimati until around 10 a.m., then I walk through Palmerah, Slipi and Benhil where they are not so many kids selling goldfish.
Why don’t you use a cart or ride a bike?
Many kids like to use carts or bikes, but I like walking like this. I can go down small paths and hop on a bus when I’m tired.
What kind of fish do you sell, and how much do they cost?
I sell ikan hias [aquarium fish] and ikan kolam [fish for ponds]. The best-selling goldfish are koi, koki and memphis. The prices range from Rp 1,000 (11 cents) to Rp 1,500 for a memphis. Sometimes I can sell one for Rp 2,500. And it’s Rp 4,000 to 4,500 for one koi. I also sell ikan bayi [feeder fish] for Rp 30,000 per bag.
On average, how much do you make per day?
Well, usually I take home Rp 100,000. That’s if I make around Rp 150,000, and after I pay for things like cigarettes and food.
Where do you buy the fish?
I buy them from Sukabumi, Parung in Bogor, or from Jatinegara. I go there once a week and then store the fish in a big container at my kost [boarding house].
Do you do anything besides selling fish?
I clean people’s aquariums and pools once or twice a month. It’s usually my friends who give me work. They pay me Rp 50,000 to 250,000. I also grow vegetables back home to earn more money.
How often do you go back to your village?
I have a wife, two girls and one boy back home, so I usually stay in Jakarta for two weeks, then go home for at least a week.
Does your wife work?
Yes, she works for a garment company, but she said she wanted to quit after Lebaran because the kids were not being properly looked after. Sometimes she works until 9 p.m.
At 37, you could easily switch jobs. Do you have any ideas for other business ventures?
I want to go back to Sukabumi and do something there. I’m still thinking about what that something is. I don’t want to stay in Jakarta, but to go back for good I need the money to start something quite big there. If I only have a small plantation, it’s not worth it because it takes a long time to wait for the harvest.
What are some funny things that happen to you in this job?
Meeting a person who thinks he knows more about fish than I do, and then ends up not buying anything.
What do you like most about Jakarta?
Meeting good people. For example, there’s one guy who’s rich, but not arrogant. When he sees me in the rain, he asks me to come into his house. When I look thirsty, he offers me a drink. But there aren’t a lot of people like this in Jakarta. But I don’t think they’re necessarily arrogant; maybe they’re sick of people in the street bothering them for handouts.
What do you usually eat?
Well, I’d like good food like meat and chicken, but I have to spend within my budget, so I usually just order rice with egg or tempeh, which costs me Rp 5,000 to 6,000. I eat twice a day. With things like cigarettes and coffee, I spend at least Rp 30,000 a day.
So what do you do after work?
I go back to my place and hang out with a bunch of other goldfish salesmen. There are about 20 of us. We just chat about anything.