Photo by Tina Su
I did something crazy and completely random yesterday; I bought a puppy on the streets of Beijing.
“How are you gonna bring it back to the US? I don’t think you’ll be able to take it back.” seems to be the common response I get asked. That and bewildered looks on the faces of my relatives. My answer has been a quick shoulder shrug and a reply of, “Eh, I’ll figure something out.” Everyone else seems to be more stressed out by it than me.
The sequence of events went something like this:
Sept 23, 7:30 pm – paid for puppy in cash.
Sept 23, 7:49 pm – drove to pet supply store for food, leash, pee-pee pads, chew toys and treats.
Sept 23, 8:46 pm – went to animal hospital for details on shots and health certificates needed.
Sept 24, 8:07 am – booked puppy’s spot on the same return flight as mine.
It all happened very quickly.
How I Ended Up Buying a Puppy (in Beijing)
We were walking along the streets in the historic Qianmen Hutong area. While waiting for my uncle to return from the bathroom, a woman (let’s call her Rose) walked by holding an adorable puppy in her arms. I asked to pet him and ended up playing with him.
At that moment, a local Beijingese couple on their evening stroll stopped in front of us. The woman (let’s call her Betty) asked rudely, “How much you gonna sell that dog for?” without first asking whether the dog was in fact for sale. Culturally, I was shocked by the way she questioned this stranger. If I had asked someone that on the streets of any North American city, I’d get a nasty look or a few choice curse words.
Turns out, Rose is a street umbrella seller who will not be able to afford to keep the puppy. She said politely, “He is for sale to a good family. I’m not an expert on pet prices. How much do you think he is worth?”
Betty and her husband continued along with their rude tone and asked ridiculous questions that were both purposefully belittling to Rose and demeaning to the dog. They spent the next 5 minutes picking out all the things that might be wrong with the puppy:
- “His tail is not straight”
- “How come he is walking wobbly” (Because he’s a bloody puppy! He’s only 8 weeks old.)
- “How come he has a beige patch by his eye? Is that a disease? Will I get the disease and die?” (No. He was born that way. It’s part of his fur. I think he is perfect the way he is.)
- “The colored patches on his back aren’t balanced on both sides.” (He was born that way, the same way that one of your eyes is higher than the other.)
- “How come his ears are so flimsy? Too soft and doesn’t stand up straight.”
Turns out my relatives would later ask me the same annoying series of questions – along with commenting that I paid too much. I don’t think owning dogs is generally an accepted practice in Chinese culture. Many of the locals have the notion that dogs are dirty and that horrible diseases can be contracted from them.
It was clear that Betty wanted to and was ready to buy the dog. Yet, she was afraid to even touch the little 3-lb ball of fur. She said that she might get a disease and die. “Okay, I’ve had enough.” I thought.
While playing with the dog the entire time this took place, I became disgusted by the behavior of the potential owners of this innocent creature. It appeared that he would be going to a bad home that would mistreat him. At that moment I decided that regardless of how much Betty tried to pay for the puppy, I would out-bid her.
We ended up in a bidding war, which I won, and I took the puppy for 300 RMB (~ $50 USD). I know it sounds impulsive and irrational, but if you were there in person, you’d understand. I followed my heart and listened to my intuition. It felt like the right thing to do. Anyway, I was sure that even if I couldn’t take him home with me, I’d be able to find him a better home.
Holding the tiny 3 lb creature in my arms, and looking into his innocent eyes, my heart melted and I was now in love with the little bugger. My little family just got a little bit bigger. I hope Tommy won’t get too jealous of the little guy.
Within an hour, a tiny puppy’s destiny had changed from a lifetime of selling umbrellas on the streets of Beijing, to that of an international traveler who will soon be moving to a new home in North America.
So you’re probably wondering what I’m gonna do with Blackie (yup, that’s his new name) while I continue with my travels? Well, along this topic, more drama has unfolded. An uncle wanted to keep him while I’m traveling outside of Beijing, probably secretly hoping that he can keep Blackie in case I can’t take him with me to the US. However, I had to look for another home for him, after his wife flipped out on him (again, the assumption that their son could die from a deadly disease contracted by the puppy – silly woman).
Another relative agreed to watch him, since she is older, lives alone and has seriously considered owning a dog. So, this would be a trial run. When she came to pick him up the night before my flight to XinJiang, she demanded (literally, demanded) that I give her 200 US dollars. In a state of shock, my bargaining reflex took over and I shot back with, “Oh, you’ve gotta be kidding me. That’s too expensive.” My mistake, this remark triggered a serious of drama that I’m too embarrassed to reiterate in detail.
Turns out, she was pissed off that I hadn’t brought her a gift from the US and was demanding that I buy her something substantial. Maybe this is the norm in Chinese culture, but it didn’t sit well with me. It not only made me sad, but also made me angry. Many local people seem to think that westerners and Chinese descendents living abroad are walking dollar signs, are not very smart, and can easily and willingly shower you with money.
In the end, I didn’t give in to the cultural norm and Blackie will be staying at a doggie hotel in Beijing with a personal care taker for about 6 dollars a day.
** 11/20/08: Latest Blackie updates can be found here. **
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