Why Pay for the Aquarium When You Can Go to China Town Instead?

Toronto's got a fancy new aquarium that costs $30 per person to walk around inside of and stare at sad fish who are depressed and essentially floating in suspended animation. In contrast, China Town is free to visit and features an even more...

Nov 29 2013, 5:45pm

Photos by Aaron Wynia.

When it was first announced that the Ripley's aquarium was coming to Toronto, I reserved the naive hope it would be something entirely different, I mean, this was the same Ripley from Ripley's Believe it or Not!—a man who used to wow the world with interesting facts before the internet was around to call bullshit on everything and everyone. I naturally imagined that the aquarium would house all the mysteries of the planet’s water: mermaids, mermen, the Loch Ness monster, the Loch Ness monstress, and so on. Whether anything was real or not wouldn’t even matter since the disclaimer of, “Believe it or Not!,” would preemptively warn patrons that whatever they’re looking at is completely up to their level of delusion. However as I've learned from making a Christmas list every year, getting your hopes up will only lead to shattering disappointment—and the Ripley's aquarium turned out to be just another place to observe all the animals who were banished to the ocean because they weren’t cute enough to live on land.

Not only is Toronto’s newest and only aquarium without a kraken, they also charge $30 for you to not see one. You're almost better off staying home and watching BBC’s Blue Planet, where at least nobody will tell you not to tap on the glass of your flatscreen TV. I would be ready to vouch for that as the best alternative if it wasn’t for a magical place called China Town, where you can quite easily observe some of the weirdest, most unbelievable shit in the world and all for the low, low price of zero dollars. Which is exactly what I discovered on a recent trip. Come along now!

I started things off at the downtown pet centre, a shop found in the depths of Dragon City mall that's mostly populated by homeless people looking for a place to crash. The unassuming shop boasts a permanent gallery of fascinating creatures—and the plus side is you have the option of purchasing everything to take home if you'd like. Take this porcupine urchin for example, known for their fierce loyalty and inability to make any decipherable form of excrement. They make a perfect, low maintenance pet. No wonder there's only one left.

Until it moved, it was impossible to tell if this was in fact a lungfish or just an old man’s sock stuffed with pool balls. Even then I wasn’t sure whether I was looking at a fish or a surgeons general warning on a cigarette package.

Only once they finally get a button on the cash register for “Fish with testicles on head” will this be available for sale again.

Very rarely are safe distances measured in centimetres, but evidently this shop is proud to be on the metric system. I can’t imagine why such a miniscule distance needs to be kept between one’s self and these fish tanks, unless it’s just a matter of keeping customers from seeing how unkempt they are.

I arrived just in time at the Hua Long supermarket down the street for when the eel trainers do their nightly show. During one of the more family friendly bits of the act, a trainer folds the eel into a prop moustache right before brandishing it in front of your face and screaming fun facts about how much it costs per pound.

Just like at Ripley’s, there's 'touch tanks' here where you can get right up close and personal with the animals. Here's a moon fish, whose name is derived from humans naming things whatever the fuck they want because we are human and that's how things work.

This is a Raven fish. Usually, Raven is a sweet name exclusively given to badass, switchblade wielding renegades and/or kids who have rat-tails. This is a pretty serious legacy to live up to for poor ol’ Raven fish who looks like he was created for the depths of the ocean and was never meant to be viewed under fluorescent lights.

There was a tub of jellyfish hiding under one of the tanks—but don't worry, a jellyfish’s naturally enemy is urine and these appeared to be submerged in piss, which made the whole experience very safe. While cartoons like Spongebob Squarepants would have you believe jellyfish are friendly, goofy, animated creatures, in reality they look more like a heap of grey matter simply waiting to die.

The Big Head Crap is native to many of the world’s sewer systems and is best served steaming hot.

To shed some perspective on what it would be like if marine life existed outside of the sea, biologists assembled this bouquet of squid to remind viewers how important it is to preserve the world’s oceans as a place to keep these terrifying creatures. Nothing on land has tentacles, and that makes me pretty happy on a daily basis.

Down in the look-a-like gallery was this specimen noted for its similarities to Steve Buscemi in Con Air.

It's not unusual for lobsters to fight, but when they both support NDP, it does feel a bit confusing.

On a bustling Friday night these aquariums stay open till as late as 9pm! Make sure to stop by the gift shop located on lower Spadina on your way out. It's printed on a piece of plywood and contains the number for a reliable “hamter,” rabbit, and turtle dealer.

The China Town aquariums are open 7 days a week, are not wheelchair accessible and are self-guided. Since no dolphins or whales are harmed there, you can hold your dorsal fins high and enjoy a guilt free visit on any occasion. Enjoy!