by Keith Addison
Hong Kong Life magazine Oct. 1994-Jan. 1996
The Valley of the Lost Decade
How to Spend 12 Weeks in Bed
Pass the Doggie Bag
If Pigs Could Fly They Wouldn't Need Cars
Stealer of Souls
On the Slow Train with a Skinful of Wine
The Neighbourhood Dragon
From 1994 to 1932 in Only Three Minutes
Singing and Laughing
Have Nose, Will Follow
Harrods to Sell Elixir-of-Life
Galahad's Secret Mission
Escape to Shangri-La
Put it in Your Pocket
What Johnny Should Have Said
The Cockroaches Went in Two by Two
A Complaint to the Inspector of Thunderstorms
Pass the Doggie Bag
Angie is Chinese. She has a clutch of overseas degrees and a top job, she's in her 30s, bright, attractive, independent, and downright pleasant company, and she has a quirky line of conversation.
___"Western dogs are no use," she was saying.
___"Why not?" I asked.
___"Well," she said, wrinkling her nose, "I wouldn't eat one, Chinese dogs are much better."
___"You eat Chinese dogs?"
___"Mmm," she said. "Dog tastes good! I've eaten dog stew in Guangdong. Would you eat dog stew?"
___"I wouldn't mind, at a good restaurant," I said. "I wouldn't eat someone's pet."
___"No," Angie agreed. "It would taste terrible."
___She's down-to-earth, is Angie. But that's what I'd been thinking too, not about the unfortunate pet -- all those special treats it had probably eaten, and I can't stand the smell of the stuff they put in the petfood cans.
___We were in a Chiu Chau restaurant eating clams, pork, liver, and bits of organ and stuff that I hadn't been too inquisitive about. She'd been complaining about the local attitudes in Britain where a Chinese restaurant had raised the wrath of the law and public outrage by serving dog stew to full houses of enthusiastic overseas Chinese gourmets.
___"I don't think they treat animals any better than we do," she said.
___This is a super-confused issue -- and anyway the point wasn't how well you treat them (I remembered a Chinese selling quail in a market, obligingly skinning the birds without bothering to kill them first) but whether you eat them or not.
___The same confusion keeps flaring up in the ongoing Asian-Western race wars in the global discussion groups on the Internet.
___An outraged Westerner rages about "half-beaten hacked-up Chinese dogs for their meat (they say it makes the meat tastier)".
___"You care more for a dog's feelings than a Chinese's feelings," says a hurt Hong Konger.
___"I have never heard of a Chinese dog beaten to make the meat tastier -- maybe you can prove it?" demands another.
___"It's all so exaggerated," says a third. "The image in the West is like every Chinese kid packs a dogmeatburger to school."
___"I do like dog meat but that was in the 60s back in Hong Kong, those days are long gone," reminisces a Chinese in San Francisco.
___Comes a calm voice of reason: "Cultural perceptions are different in China from the Western world. Household animals are regarded as not much different to farm animals. They are not exactly pets to most mainland Chinese." But the row goes crashing off into more satisfyingly emotive areas.
___"The next time you have a hamburger, just think how guilty you are in supporting the destruction of the world's rain forests for the purpose of raising cattle," accuses a slightly muddled Chinese greenie -- the signal for all the beefeaters to lock horns with all the veggies.
___Meanwhile the cross Westerner is going on about 8,000 Chinese bears he alleges are kept in "cages smaller than they are" so that their bile and so on can be extracted for use in Chinese medicine -- not to mention rhinos and tigers, he says, mentioning them. "How would you like it if the Chinese government treated you the same way you people treat the bears?" he demands.
___"But killing a pig or a bull is just as brutal as killing a rhino," interrupts a baffled Chinese veggie.
___"Don't give me the ****etc argument that because we eat beef and chicken, so you have every ****etc reason for killing and torturing these precious animals," foams the Westerner.
___"But I didn't see anyone agreeing with torturing animals," says the veggie. "The earliest, greatest protector of animal rights, Dr Meng, pointed out that it was 'Ren' -- the very essence of Chinese culture -- not to treat animals cruelly. And I'm really tired of your language, please go and wash out your mouth before you say anything else."
___The irate gweilo, his mouth as yet unwashed, explodes in furious impatience: he is only trying, he says, "to properly highlight these ****etc who cause animals pain and suffering in the name of medicine". (Oddly, nobody mentions Western science's dreadful practice of vivisection, operating on animals without anaesthetics in the name of medicine.)
___"This just shows how barbaric some of you guys are," he fumes -- since the West eats beef and chickens, he asks, why don't the Chinese just eat each other?
___"Speaking of exotic cuisine," says a Hong Konger abroad, unfazed, "my dad used to tell me that during World War 2 when Hong Kong was short of food, people were known to disappear from certain streets -- probably killed and eaten as emergency rations." But he thinks it would be too stringy for him.
___"Chinese don't kill rhinos, even though you Westerners eat beef," says another Chinese. "Using rhino horn as medicine is forbidden in China. The biggest consumer is the Middle East where people use it as sword handles. Westerners killed 90 per cent of the rhinos and elephants for entertainment. Now they blame the Chinese."
___That and more, and all over a bowl of dog soup.
___More than 200 years ago the English voyager Captain James Cook recorded after visiting Hawaii that the South Sea dog, being fed on vegetables, was, when cooked, not inferior to English lamb. But a later English traveller reported: "The idea of eating so faithful an animal as a dog prevented any of us joining in this part of the feast (although, to do the meat justice, it really looked very well when roasted)." His criterion is social status: you shouldn't eat your friends.
___In 1620s England, when times were tough, dogmeat was "a dainty dish", and so was cat soup, but generally there was a strong prejudice throughout olde Europe against eating useful working animals like dogs, horses and oxen -- Westerners not only didn't eat dog, they didn't eat beef either. English roast beef dates from the decline of the ox as a working animal, while some Europeans took to eating horsemeat as well. But dogs became faithful friends, and finally pets.
___Europeans have always had a close relationship with their dogs, as the huge range of specialised working European dogs shows. The Chinese had no such ties -- Chinese village dogs are usually just watchdogs, fed on scraps, mostly vegetables. Similarly, geese also make good watchdogs, and they're good to eat too. In fact they also make good pets. Individualist creatures, geese. Intelligent too. I've never met an animal that wasn't intelligent, except the odd spoilt pet.
___I haven't been invited to eat dog stew in Guangdong yet, but I can wait -- it's been a long time coming. Since a Saturday morning years ago, when a man named David Kelly woke me up by hammering on my bathroom window and shouting in a weird sort of manic whisper: "Hide everything -- the police are coming!"
___Police? Everything? But by the time I'd staggered to the window it was to see David and his wife Wendy escaping in their car. Their house and my house shared the same property and David, though a good friend, could be a trial. He was an artist and highly eccentric, with no patience and an evil temper -- what had he done now?
___I was sitting on the doorstep drinking coffee and wondering what David thought I should hide from the police when a police car roared up and a policeman got out.
___"Are you Mr Kelly?" he asked.
___"No," I said. "He and his wife went out. What's the problem?"
___"Are you a friend of Mr Kelly's?" he asked.
___"Yes," I said.
___"One of the neighbours has complained about him," he said. "She was very rude on the phone. Look, tell your friend to do us all a favour and be a bit more careful in the future." And he left.
___I was just finishing another coffee when David and Wendy returned.
___"David, what have you been doing?"
___"The police came?" he asked. "What did they say?"
___"They said a neighbour had complained about you and please do everyone a favour and be more careful in future."
___"They really said that?"
___"Yes, what did you do?"
___He sat down on the step. "It was the dog."
___"The little white one that barks all night."
___"I hadn't noticed. So it was driving you nuts. What did you do to it?"
___"Well, I went out and strangled it."
___I fought an urge to laugh, but failed. David looked hurt.
___"And then what did you do?" I spluttered.
___"I didn't know what to do. I felt like a murderer with a corpse. No use burying it, they'd find it if I buried it."
___"Who'd find it?" I asked. "Scotland Yard?"
___"Well anyway, in the end I put it in the coal oven and went back to sleep. But a couple of hours later Wendy woke me up and said: 'What's that delicious smell? Are you cooking something?' The whole house was full of the smell of roast dog. I panicked -- what if the police came now?"
___The two of them spent the rest of the night fanning windows and doors to get rid of the smell.
___"You mean you didn't eat it?" I asked.
___David looked horrified: "Look, I might be a murderer, but I'm not a cannibal!"
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