By: Michael LaRocca - Copyright 2004
Author of: An American Redneck In Hong Kong
Published in 2001, which actually contains very little about Hong Kong. It's mostly cat and dog stories.
Lemme start at the beginning.
Lunar New Year, 2003. Jan and I had finished our second semester of teaching. We'd lived in Hangzhou for just over a year, and now our home was being destroyed to widen the road.
We had a paid holiday of perhaps a month, perhaps less. My memory fails me. But right in the middle of it, we were moving. About 10 minutes up the road by bicycle, but of course we weren't moving on a bicycle. I think it was Saturday.
At 12:30, we'd been told, the movers would arrive to haul our stuff to our new home. So I'd guess at about 8, maybe earlier, we were packing stuff. When the doorbell rang at 11:30, we were ready.
Whenever we have a Chinese visitor who can't speak English, and no translator, it's always interesting. I'll just cut to the chase and say that, once again, Jan figured out what he was talking about. They'd come to take away our air conditioners. We let them. Picasso supervised from the cupboards over the bed. Jan called Harry (Huang Haijun, our fantastic Foreign Affairs Officer) so he could be sure they were taking them to the right place, which was not our new apartment.
Harry arrived about 12:00 and thought he heard the movers downstairs. So I retrieved the hidden cat carrier, scooped up Miss Picasso, and loaded her gently into the box. But nope, it wasn't the movers. It was the guy who was taking away the water heater. While Picasso yowled and howled nonstop, he efficiently took away the water heater.
Harry rang the movers several times after 12:30, and I heard a side of him I rarely hear. He was chewing butt. Their other job had run long, he calmly explained to us. Then he rang them five minutes later to chew some more butt.
Maybe the howling was getting to him. Maybe the stress of the job he was leaving in the Foreign Affairs Office to return to teaching. Maybe his father's illness. Who knows? He can sure chew butt when he wants. That much I know. I've seen him haggle over prices, and government paperwork.
At 1:00, the doorbell rang again. That silenced Picasso. She listened to all the Chinese being spoken. One guy came in and talked to Harry. Then another guy came in. Then another. Then another. Some saw Picasso in the kitchen and said "Meow!"
In the end, we had five movers. Shorter than me, but stockier. Lifelong workers. I suppose that could've been me if I'd never left that first hog farm. Or the second. Or the third. Or the fourth.
Moving was a rather rapid whirlwind of activity. Picture a big box filled with books. It's so heavy that you can barely lift it without screwing up your back. Okay, now double the weight because I'm stronger than you. Now, picture some dude throwing a strap around five of them, slinging them across his back, and walking down the stairs. Wow!
In the midst of all this, Picasso's incessant protests led her to knock the water from her cage door and spill it all over the floor of her carrier. I was tempted to attempt opening the door, scooping her out with a towel, drying cat and cage, and returning her. Jan reminded me that was impossible, so I settled for shoving socks and underwear between the bars. Picasso helped by pulling them in. She dried her floor, settled onto them, and began bathing. Ah yes, 30 minutes of silence. Then the howling resumed.
Soon after, I carried her outside. Dead silence. Obsessive curiosity. The three of us got in a taxi. Her first time ever riding with Jan. She had to look at the oncoming traffic wide-eyed, then duck her head as it blew past the window. Yeah, they drive fast and crazy here. But, she knew she wasn't being abandoned again. That cage has always meant trouble before. But now, all three of us were riding together. Purr!
The taxi got us to the right complex but the wrong building. Our language skills are limited, it's a big place, and we didn't even know our address yet. So, we walked along the street. Picasso drank in the sights and sounds and smells and was quite thrilled. Jan's memory got us to our new home, where five guys were hauling boxes and desks and a sofa on their backs.
At 3:30, I think it was, Jan and I settled down to unpack while Picasso explored every nook and cranny when she wasn't rolling and purring to express her joy. "You love me! You really love me!" Deep down, she's insecure even though she shouldn't be. But hey, aren't we all?
No need to give you the play-by-play on all the interruptions to our unpacking. Neighbors being neighborly, China Telecom popping in to install our broadband (same day service during the holiday season)... Lemme just skip on ahead to the part where Picasso vanished.
Harry came by with the former tenant, Mr. Yang. I was wiping up the spill from a broken bottle of Tabasco Sauce, and Mr. Yang walked right through it to show me how the gas works. This was his instructional bit. Here's the gas, here's the power, here's the water...
Suddenly, Jan wondered aloud, "Where's Picasso?" Oh no. Did she slip out the door when it was open and run away? All four of us were in a state of panic as we looked all over the flat.
I went downstairs and saw all the trees, bushes, and just generally good hiding places. I walked around saying "Picasso" or meowing, making the neighbors wonder if the first wei guo ren they'd ever seen moving into their apartment complex were representative of the species.
Then I returned home hoping they'd found her. Nope. I tried upstairs this time. There's a gate at the sixth floor that's locked. It occurred to me that if I were a stranger and saw Picasso wandering around, I'd take her home. I went back downstairs and looked around some more, then headed back to the flat hoping they'd found her.
No such luck, but Jan was coming down to take over for me. China Telecom had arrived, and allegedly I could tell the installer what to do, even though I speak neither techie nor Chinese. Good thing he didn't need my help.
Outside, Jan was retracing my steps. Inside, Mr. Yang was opening every cupboard door in the place looking for Picasso. Almost like a cat burglar, except that he wasn't ransacking. He was just looking for a cat. He's a very sweet man, by the way. He and Harry couldn't have been panicking as much as Jan was, because I don't think it's humanly possible, but they weren't far behind.
I was confident that Picasso was simply too clever for all of us, and was hiding somewhere we hadn't looked yet. Never mind that we'd tried every place we could think of. I'm a hopeless optimist, or maybe I just know my daughter.
I have no idea how much time elapsed before I noticed that a desk drawer wasn't completely shut. Picasso can go behind the desk, climb through a little hole, push drawers open from behind, and climb inside. I peeked into the drawer and saw two frightened little gold-green eyes. I quickly left the room.
"I found her," I told Harry. "She's in a drawer. Just leave her there." He nodded his understanding and sighed his relief. Then I went outside.
She responded from the gate at the sixth floor. I told you she was retracing my steps.
"I found her. She's in a drawer."
Jan and I entered our home just in time for me to hear Mr. Yang saying, I presume, "A drawer? Which one?" and then opening all the desk drawers until he found her.
Second from the top. The one I'll always keep empty.
Earlier, unknown to me, Jan had told Harry that whenever a cat moves into a new home, the first thing she does is find a place to hide in case of danger. How true that turned out to be. Meow!
Of course Picasso wouldn't leave us. Optimist or not, I was justified in believing that. We didn't abandon her. We're better than the people who stuffed her in a Hong Kong donation box over two years ago, and we're sorry about the three-week separation that preceded her journey to Hangzhou. This time, she rode in a taxi with us. She hasn't stopped thanking us yet. As Harry himself said almost a year ago, "She really is a part of your family."
Who Moved My Rice? was published September 30, and it's full of stories like this, the link contains free sample chapters. Because you can't eat grits with chopsticks.