Lucy in the sky with diamonds.

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

On the Saturday morning (prior to the 30th of March, when I started to write this), I sat down to breakfast with Maria, her mother and mother’s partner (shūshu or uncle, 叔叔). The kitchen was squat, old and wide open to the elements. As I tucked into my chángfěn (intestine noodles/rice noodle roll/ 肠粉), a small flash of brown streaked through the door and behind a cabinet. Seated mother of Maria spotted it too, she screamed, stood up and slammed the door closed. I personally would have kept the door open. In moments, her handbag was gripped alongside an umbrella, she chased the rat around the room, past me as I continued eating. Eventually it was cornered and a swift foot by shūshu ended its life. I spewed in my mouth as its brains squeezed outwards. Surprisingly, I lost my appetite. I did not finish the accompanying tray of noodles.

Whilst the weekend’s breakfast was a grim attitude towards life, it hasd to be said rats carry diseases and they make food dirty. I get why they are looked upon as little more than a hindrance. As recent as 2009, China sporadically reacted to rabies outbreaks with dog culls. Stray populations in cities were also for the grinder.

China has embraced local and international Non-Government Organisations in ways to humanly manage and apply methods to problematic dogs. By 2014, 320 staff were educated in 46 different cities. That has led to neutering and vaccination programmes, with even some cities imposing laws on abandoning or absing our four-legged friends. Charities to house stray dogs have appeared – and some are even government funded. The adoption programmed generally feature education. Coupled with media attention to dog meat festivals, animal rights have been a focus of media debates and issues. Conversation is growing. This is a fantastically non-political debate and one that may cause divide. Should we eat an animal that goes woof? Action has followed. Mindsets are opening up to debate about animal rights more and more. As each Yulin Dog Meat Festival has approached since 2014, I have seen more and more media exposure. Welfare groups, and groups of volunteers have brought this to the attention of the authorities. Some have rescued canines and felines. When people push the law to enforce the rules, this is a sure sign of positive action.

Since I moved to Houjie in 2014, I have seen the number of dog owners go from roughly, very, very few – where I would see a dog maybe once a week – to encountering dogs at breakfast, lunch and dinner, without having to go to a restaurant! They are everywhere, small terriers up to St Bernards and Border Collies. Even Yorkshire Terriers have found their way far east of East Riding. Even papers have been written in university and International Animal Law Conferences. Times have changed for dog owners here and there. Poodles, huskies, Labradors, are perfectly aligned to those who once had simpler Pomeranians, Papillons, or mixed mutts.

Dog genetics indicate that ownership started in Asia. There is far higher diversity in the gene pool. Pugs, for example, made homes in the time of Confucius, alongside the Chinese imperial household. Nobody else was allowed that little ugly doggy. Recently shepherding and security jobs have been assigned to hounds.

In Beijing, there is a strict rule, 一犬一户 (Yī quǎn yī hù – One Dog, One Household) on pooches. To Stephen King lovers’ delight, the capital city even houses a pet cemetery at Baifu. Each plot will leave your pocket around 20,000RMB lighter. But what does that matter if you invest in doggy fashion. Every pooch needs gloves, hat and a scarf in temperatures as low as 10°C right?

Over the years, I have had many pets. My dog Pup was accompanied by several Yorkshire Terriers, Nomaz, Suzie and West Highland Terrier by the name of Snowy. Pup being pure-breed mongrel, was part Labrador, Rottweiler and Kangaroo. Having looked after Charlie, a neighbour’s German Shepherd for many a year,

In the feline world, I was raised with Basil (like Jess, from Postman Pat, a black and white cat). Then there was Sparky and Tigger. Others have joined for shorter periods of time, due to Sparky not being neutered and the kittens being rehomed.

In the world of hamsters, Bright Eyes (a Syrian hamster – why does no one complain about this batch of furry pet shop refugees coming over to the U.K. taking the roles of mice!?), Stripe and Gizmo (Russian hamsters – have rodents had a Cold War?) )amongst other rescue hamsters and a whole clan of show mice.

Then, there was S.A.R.A.H. (Swift Arachnid Revenge Assassin Hybrid), a Chilean Rose tarantula.

Oh, and the Stick family, Indian Stick Insects. A skinny bunch. Pets are a wonderful way to embrace our complex world.

[The above is where I finished off on the 30th of March. I will not touch it again]


再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye

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