10 years anniversary of the fish face

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I recently had another session for my organizational psychology course. Usually we go out for class dinners or group dinners to debrief the day after a full day’s lecture. Those who stay on campus residence tend to linger around at the bar after the class dinner for a drink. I have never joined the drinks: have always been mentally and physically exhausted for different reasons and wanted some alone time.

As we walked back from the bus drop off towards the residence elevator, a classmate and I stepped into the opening doors to head to our rooms whilst a few others strayed over to the bar counter.

One classmate urged us, “just 5 minutes”. I knew it would not be 5 minutes. I was tired. But as the comrade next to me stepped out and agreed to join, my ambivalence dissipated, and I murmured to myself, “Why not?”

I strolled over to the bar, chanting to myself “just 5 minutes, just 5 minutes…” Everyone ordered drinks. I do not tend to drink much, nor was I thirsty, so I simply lingered around.

Could not remember how it started, but a few classmates started to pull funny faces. We all tried to mimic but I could not twist my hands to coordinate. So we tried and tried, and burst into hysterics.

An unknown force draped over me – I asked if anyone could do the fish face. I bloated up my cheeks, bulged my eyes, and pursed my lips open and close like a fish in the water.

In a circle of about 8 adults, I gave the mechanical details of how to pull a fish face — everyone practiced in laughter. A few others joined us and we spread the contagion of funny faces until our cheeks cramped.

It was midnight, 2 hours after my promise to myself that I would only stay 5 minutes. But it did not matter: it did not matter I would have panda eyes the next morning, it did not matter I was sleepy, it did not matter we must have looked like a bunch of weirdos to the outsider. Because, I was having fun.

The next morning in class, I recalled a doodle I used to draw: my version of a fish face on, scribbled in black for I was teased about my tan complexion when I was younger, for Hong Kong valued the pale white skin rosy cheeks, and I was anything but that.


The doodling flashed memories across my eyes. 10 years ago, I started a 2-month residential training with my company. The campus was in the middle of nowhere in the UK. After class, all graduates gathered at the bar for fun. Being the nerd I was, I went to bed early so I could concentrate in class the next day, plus I was still catching up on my sleep since I spent my last two years of university having only an average of 4-5 hours sleep each day because of the workload I took on.

The class bonded, and I felt left out. Towards the last few weeks’ of the training, one fateful evening I went to the bar with a classmate for “5 minutes”, and stayed the whole night. I taught everyone the fish face. The subsequent days, all hell broke loose: I would surreptitiously doodle them on classmates’ notes, the blackboard, files… We had fun.

A decade has gone by since then. Life challenges, broken relationships, relocations, marriage, baby… Yet the feeling was the same as I performed my fish face: an yearning for what the future would bring, a thirst for learning, and an unparalleled excitement for I had found that peace of mind, even if temporarily.

When I stopped having fun at work or with certain friends, I drifted away; I became desperate and found no meaning in life. The worst trough was clinical depression, though it taught me more about myself.

Finding this fun again, be it in my writing, my bears, or simply smiling at my own reflection, is an enlightenment.

To have fun, at whatever age, is essential. Having fun brings to us creativity, laughter, bonding, and most importantly: hope.

The fish face, to some, might be silly. To me, it symbolizes the liberation of my inner child once more, a curiosity for life, and however much in flux and overwhelming it might seem, a hope for the future.

Plus, it is not so easy to do as you think, the key is keeping the cheeks puffed up whilst you open and close your mouth. Go on, try it!

I am me. I am fish face.

One Response

  1. […] Color. The way I learned to find my cheekbones was to suck my cheeks in, like the fish face thing. Smile at the same time. Surefire way to get the apple of your cheek. that's what you want to […]

about Noch Noch

Enoch Li, (pen name: Noch Noch) was born and raised in Hong Kong and Australia. She has also studied / worked / lived in the US, France, UK, Japan, The Netherlands, China, and has travelled to more than 40 countries. She loves travelling and her curiosity in foreign cultures and languages has led her to enjoy her life as an international executive in the banking & finance industry. However, she was forced to take time off work in 2010 due to her illnesses and after spending time in recovery, cooking, practising Chinese calligraphy, reading and writing – in short, learning to take care of herself and letting out the residual work stress, she has transitioned into a Social Entrepreneur and founded BEARAPY to help corporates make workplaces mentally healthy, and support executives to become more resilient.