My pilates instructor showed me a picture of her dog last week. It's a great dane - lab mix, 100 lbs, has a head like Mocha's, the coloring of a hound and the body of a dane. I love big dogs; they're great companions and very huggable.
Thinking about dogs got me thinking of my folks. Then again, I was thinking of my folks before then -- it's the start of the holiday season, and family is always on my mind about now. Probably because I only see them every three years or so, and everyone thinks about their folks around this time of year.
Mom started with one cat.
A cat made sense. We needed a low maintenance pet. There were already too many people -- Mom, Dad, Grandpa, KC (bro), the housekeeper and myself -- living in our apartment overlooking the heart of HK.
We had had other pets, but with little success. There were the tropical fish in a ginormous aquarium. They weren't very interactive and needed a lot of care, so once we tired of them, Mom donated the whole kit and caboodle to my high school Biology department.
There were the birds. They were smaller than my palm and came in shades of yellow and white with the occasional peep of green. Like most small birds in HK, they lived in tiny cages that could be moved from room to room whenever we wanted the company. However, we never took our birds for walks like some of our neighbors.
The birds brought color and song into our red silk and gold brocade, rosewood, lacquer, glass and porcelain Chinese home. They were there to greet the mahjong players on the nights Mom or Grandma hosted. They kept Grandpa company in the early light of morning and fading hours of the afternoon when he sat on his small stool on the balcony overlooking the harbor, cultivating clippings he'd collected on his daily walk and pruning plants so they grew into tiny, graceful, perfectly shaped bonsai trees. Afterwards, he'd perform his daily tea ritual. Those were my favorite moments with Grandpa. Since I can't speak Chinese and he can't speak English, tea was the one thing we could do together.
Then, the birds were gone. The cage doors had been left open while they were on the balcony. Mom feared the birds would die unless we got them back right away -- they weren't bred for the wild. We left the cages on the balcony with the doors open and feeders full, hoping the birds would come back, but we lived on the 18th floor of a 28 floor high rise apartment building. Birds smaller than my palm can't fly up that high. Eventually, Mom gave up, and we gave the cages away.
So, none of us protested when it became two cats. We put up with cat hair all over our clothes, the occasional cat "accident," the frequent cat poo in the tub (a nasty habit), the unexpected and traumatizing scratches and the hissing catfights that broke the silence of the night whenever two or more cats encountered each other while prowling the dark rooms of our home. We put up with it because we knew it made Mom happy, and we wanted her happiness.
Eventually, we had five cats.
After the Asian financial crash in the late 90s when Dad was let go from his joint venture (and joint ventures in southeast Asia fell out of favor for a long time), Grandpa had passed away and KC left for college, Mom and Dad moved to a duplex in the suburbs (New Territories). They had a garage for the car and a small yard where Dad grew papayas, mangos and lychees. To keep him company in his free time, he got a dog. After all, Mom had five cats.
I went home over Thanksgiving three years ago, and Dad and I went hiking, sightseeing in China and hung out at home while Mom was at work. We spent countless hours walking the dog, playing with the dog, and occasionally, we'd water the plants.
So, it came as little surprise when I got a call from my mother a few months after I had returned to New York, "Your father! That man! He spends hours with that dog. He's spent so much money on toys for that dog. He comes home from walking that dog and acts like it's a contest between his dog and other dogs, saying things like, 'Guess what, our neighbor said our dog was the best looking one in the neighborhood. Even better looking than the Chu's dog down the street.' He treats that dog better than his kids!"
When Dad got on the phone, I teasingly feigned offense and jealousy, "Hey Dad, how's the dog? I heard you treat him better than you treat your kids. You got him toys and you play with him a lot? You never bought us toys or played with us when we were growing up."
There was a moment of silence. Then, "Well, I didn't know you liked dog food or I would have gotten you some years ago."