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Army vet sells 'Paradise'
at tropical fish store

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Benny Hoang can think of two reasons to own fish.

Reason No. 1: "Fish are relaxing."

Reason No. 2: "Everyone wants their own zoo."

He's standing in the middle of Paradise Tropical Fish, the store he owns in Forest Park, and there are full fish tanks on every wall, tanks stacked up higher than his head.

The whole place is filled with the sound of water falling, and in one tank, schools of small, orange fish swarm in some sort of synchronized spasm, while in another, a hulking predator paces from side to side.

"I got my first fish when I was, like 6," says Hoang, a California native. "I had a 10 gallon tank, I think. I'd go catch fish in a pond, and put them in there. Anything that swam was in it."

Hoang used to be a hobbyist, but now, after retiring from the Army, he's professional. He doesn't even have fish at home, and he has an iPod plugged into his ears on Wednesday afternoon, blocking out the fish tank sounds, until a customer comes into the dark store.

He's owned and operated this place at 4726 Jonesboro Road for the last three years, every since he got out of the Army on disability.

He came to Georgia with the Army, and was stationed at Fort MacPherson as a transportation specialist. When he got out in 2000, Hoang says he decided to stay here, and he used the money he had saved to open a tropical fish store.

He says it was partly a business decision, but it was also the most affordable way to keep up his hobby.

"I wanted to get a lot more fish," he says, "but I couldn't afford to pay retail prices."

Now, he has schools and schools of fish. Now, he has encyclopedias of them -- "that one's like the cousin of the piranha," he says, waving at one tank as a tail fin turns away -- and he spends his day feeding them, cleaning tanks and talking to customers.

His own, personal favorite is the white arowana, which is popular, in part, because it's considered lucky in Asian cultures.

Hoang says he likes the long-bodied arowana because, "there's a lot of Feng Sui behind that fish," making "life and business and everything come to ease."

Which is, he says, Reason No. 1 for owning fish.

But the arowana is also eerily pale, and when it's turned a certain way, the arowana looks like it just swam out of a sunless sea in the lower Lochkovian era. And that's the other reason the fish is popular, Hoang says, because "everybody wants their own monster."