Sunday, March 21, 2010

Animal Farm

I’m a proud father, but have only a select few select “funny cute son” stories to bore listeners with once we’ve reached the swapping family tales zone.

To save time, here are the punch lines: “Why you CLYING?”
“Father?” “Yes, son.” “I want to kill you.”
“Dad, what’s a clitoris?”
“Skorky changed colors!”

I have no cute personal pet stories, though I’ve had plenty of them, which is all by way of backing into a blog entry about my cat. Actually, my third cat in China.

People without children who tend to substitute pets for kids evoke the feeling in me that says: “gee, if you weren’t really someone I liked, I’d urge you to adopt or engage in increasingly vigorous intercourse to spare me hearing for the 27th time about the hilarious incident when you donned your rubber gloves and hip waders to give your pony-sized “Newfy” an enema in the bath tub.” (True story).

Anyway, I’m on my third adopted cat here. The last one given to me with all her trust before she had to leave China came from a Russian woman who then returned unexpectedly a month and a half after the adoption to find I’d let it escape (by accident, I swear!) and then spent nearly a week castigating me, crying, and printing and pasting up trilingual “missing cat” notices with color pictures and dragging me out after hours to search the apartment area’s floating feral cat population and field phone calls in Chinese about possible sightings.

The search did not go well though I’m assuming he’s still on China’s Most Wanted Lost Animals list in Chinese, English and Russian. So it was out of guilt, perhaps, that about a month and a half ago I heard pitiful crying outside my window on a (strike up violins) snowy Beijing night and found a half starved long haired frozen filthy orange and white cat crouched beneath a dim light, brought her in and set her up with the left-over litter, food etc that her predecessor had left behind.

She immediately made herself at home, gained weight and became a yowling love-starved monkey cat who also began pissing randomly in my sandals at night while I was in bed to show her gratitude. And yes, I was indeed ecstatic to put my feet into a puddle of cold cat piss while trying to stumble to the bathroom at 3 am with her winding around me feet and wailing like a banshee in heat.

“Want to go back outside in the snow and starve, you thankless tub of pissing furry guts!?” I’d scream at her as I squirted pints of “Mr Muscle” house cleaning disinfectant on my feet while multitasking on the toilet.

It was only this weekend with the assistance an unusually patient Chinese cat loving friend, S, that I finally decided to haul JCat or Gato as I alternately call her to a nearby non-English speaking vet for a thorough shower, shots and neutering. I’d been to two Chinese vets before.. One in Shenzhen where the vet was apparently trained on large farm animals whose spaying technique nearly killed the cat C and I had adopted. The other was with the Russian woman in Beijing, a thoroughly modern place run by a Chinese Canadian animal lover, but unfortunately way too many kilometers away for easy back and forth feline maintenance.

So I went with the local “Beethovin Beijing ILovePet Animal Hospital” a short distance from my apartment. I’d originally discovered it as the nearest source of the Most Expensive Cat Litter on the Planet and can’t say I was overly optimistic about the chances of getting the cat cleaned, claws clipped, immunized and neutered in one shot, but had delayed long enough.

Still under the distant glow of a Boulder style vet service (efficient Dr Takashi and her faithful animal loving young assistants Tiffany and Dylan) I bundled JCat/Gato into a cat carrier and with S’s assistance flagged down a feline phobic cabbie that nearly didn’t take us. He wanted the cat in the trunk or no ride, til I finally put the box on my lap, clutching it in a near fetal position.

At the vet things began to unravel fairly quickly. The “Tiffany” in my mind had been replaced by a a 14 year old sullen migrant worker who looked as if she’s prefer to eat the cat as much as clip its nails and wash it. A 30-pound Akita stuffed into a cage for a 20-pound animal yelped and barked incessantly near us, only adding to the general chaos as S, me, and the misanthropic teen struggled to hold down the squirming terrified cat.

Long story short. After a number of mishaps, including a nasty three inch scratch that drew blood across my left ring finger and palm (“Do you want a rabies shot?” S said the vet asked me. Sure, and gimme a kilo of swine antibiotics too, please) I agreed to have JCat/Gato knocked out for her beauty treatment and shots after signing a form that said there was “one chance in a thousand that the cat will die” and I wouldn’t sue for damages.

“Foreign or Chinese knock out medicine?” was the next question.
What’s the difference? Chinese is 30 yuan and it takes them longer to wake up. Foreign is 100 yuan and they wake up faster. I took the foreign option, she got the needle and then lurched around on four splayed quivering legs hissing at imaginary dog demons until she collapsed, just as a new customer came in with an unleashed lap dog that began sniffing and barking at her hairy prone carcass.

Come back in an hour, we were told. S and I repaired to a nearby Chinese fake German tavern that played bad synthesized Irish music and had some drinks while she told me about two friends of hers who had lost animals to bad vets – in the United States.

“Time to go back,” I finally said.
“Aren't you worried she'll be dead?” asked S.
“If I’m lucky, yeah...” I muttered still clutching a bloody napkin to stem my bleeding palm.

She wasn't dead but I did get an unexpected shock. The vet talked earnestly to S for what seemed like 10 minutes and then both laughed.

“It seems your 'she' cat is a he,” S told me. “Can't you tell the difference?”

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"If you gotta warrant, I guess you're gonna come in"

Getting to work efficiently at about 9 am is never a sure deal from where I live. The nearest subway stop is about a mile away and taxi service is spotty at best. When I moved in about two years ago, there was a harmless, makeshift cab stand outside the apartment complex, but it was -- in classic inexplicable Chinese decision making style designed to make daily life just a little bit harder -- shut down about four months later.

I've since cut a deal with a group of three wheeler cab drivers, as in: "I pay you an ridiculous transportation fee to further the stereotype of foreigners as gullible rich suckers in exchange for one of you being out here between 9-9.30 am to take me to work in one of your rickety sputtering, wobbling death traps."

That works about 70 percent of the time. It didn't this morning and I'd already surrendered one taxi to a cranky granny and her grandchild. "Yeah, sure," I said when a slick black Honda pulled up and the passenger window rolled down to reveal another foreigner asking if I wanted to share his illegal ride to work.

The driver, a young chubby Chinese guy said 15 yuan (usual taxi rate is about 10-12) and I climbed in the back.

Similar to the old NYC gypsy cabs, unlicensed "black taxis" are rife in Beijing and were outside my Shenzhen apartment too. They generally charge a little more and I've used them many times with no problems, until today. Most of the car owners aren't from Beijing, but from small villages outside the capital who have bought the wheels with communal funds gathered by their relatives and friends to whom they remit most of what they make to pay off the loan and support their families.

About 15 seconds after I closed the door the driver began to turn to get towards the main route - bam!
A white sedan stopped in front of us, blocking further progress. No collision but the "bam" came from four plainclothes cops seeming leaping outta nowhere and hitting the black cab's hood and truck with their palms. Doors were opened without our assistance and we were rousted out. Me and the other passenger weren't in trouble, but the driver was.

He and I watched as the cops began flashing IDs and jabbered sternly at the melancholy driver, who I imagine was already saying goodbye to his livelihood and cool ride -- undoubtedly to be confiscated and turned into an "official" cop car or as a gift to the chief to give to his mistress or superior -- and wondering how he was going to pay whatever the hefty fine would be.

A cop came up to me, flipped open his ID wallet and barked: "I am police!"

"You are?" I asked, pretending to scrutinize the photo and Chinese characters. "I don't know. I cannot read Chinese."

"This is not taxi!" he said, his finger jabbbing at the Honda.

"I know," I replied, thinking on my caffeine-deprived feet. "He's our friend." I pointed to the driver who was surrounded by three other cops, looking resigned. "He takes us to work every morning. All of us work in the same area, right?" I looked at my foreign comrade and he nodded.

"Yes. Our friend, he's our friend," he said. "Our ride-to-work friend."

"FRIEND?" the cop replied. "What is 'friend's' name?"

I had to give him some points for that and began rummaging through my tattered mental Rolodex. "Uh..Li! Mr Li!" I replied giving him the most common Chinese surname. He went back to the driver, conferred for a second and damn if his name wasn't Li.

The subterfuge didn't last long, however. Further improvisation on my part failed to square with my old pal Mr Li's answers and my commuter impaired companion and I were left to find another way to the Central Business District.

"Damn," he said. "I just wanted to get to work."

"Maybe we should've just offered the cop 30 yuan to take us," I replied.