Every Wednesday afternoon, the U.S. Consulate here in Chengdu hosts English language lectures for the public. This outreach and cultural exchange service is provided for local Chinese of all ages who wish to improve their language skills by interacting with native speakers. Any topic from a native speaker will do just as long as the talk is at least 1 ½ hours, including a question-and-answer period afterwards.
Because the Consulate is only a 15-minute walk from my apartment, I have gladly given several of these lectures. I’ve done “Dog Care in China”, where Little Flower made a guest appearance in the Consulate lecture hall, “Halloween: Customs and Traditions,” “Winter Holidays: Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Christmas and New Years,” and “International Women’s Day.”
Another great reason for Chinese or others to visit our U.S. Consulate is the library. The Consulate has a small, yet ample, library of cultural books, daily US and world newspapers, timely magazines and journals, as well as 3 computers with Internet access. The library is located inside the Consulate and is open Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. All that is required is a picture ID card (for the Chinese) or a passport for others. Of course, there is also the necessary security check before entering but other than that, it’s a very easy process.
I really wasn’t up for visiting the Consulate on Thursday, April 10th. I was tired and it was a rather nasty day outside. We had had rain that morning and the temperature had dipped to 60. It was a perfect afternoon to stay inside, put on a movie and enjoy a great cup of coffee or tea while sitting on the couch with my dog. However, a phone call from Li Tao, one of the U.S. Consulate staff in charge of scheduling lectures, reminded me I needed to sign a form for my last lecture in order to receive the bonus that comes with giving talks at the US Consulate: money! That $45 certainly comes in handy, especially as it pays for my monthly swimming pool pass as well as a few other splurge items.
I debated waiting another day but the Consulate was nearby. I could be there and back, including the walk and security check, within 45 minutes if I hurried.
“Best to get it over with,” I thought to myself.
But once at the Consulate, I lingered in the quiet, cozy library. I flipped through Time and Newsweek. I scanned The Washington Post and The New York Times articles. I cruised the stacks for any cultural material that might be useful to know about for my teaching next year. Finally, my money in hand, I left rather late, at 4:30 p.m.
Already, rush hour had begun along the street in front of the U.S. Consulate. Cars, taxis and public buses whizzed by. The sidewalk was full of students whose classes were dismissed and adults going home from work. Sellers were visibly manning their shops in the hopes of enticing passersby with their window display products.
I was in just as much of a hurry as anyone else to return home. I took the opposite side of the street that I had come on because it wasn’t as crowded. My pace was determined and fast. I was happily zipping along the sidewalk at a steady clip, soon to be home in a matter of 10 minutes.
That is, I was zipping along until I heard the mewing.
In both America and China, I’ve dealt with many animal pity-saves and they all start with the same thing: a lost critter crying pathetically, looking for mother or anyone familiar, always in distress and always (in my eyes, anyway) presenting a heartbreaking picture.
This one was a tragedy case. It was a tiny white kitten, about 1 week old, crawling shakily along the sidewalk with people briskly walking over and around it. Its desperate cries were bringing no one to its aid. It was just a matter of time before it was stepped on, or would stumble over the nearby curb, into the street, where the rushing traffic would put an end to its short little life.
I glanced at a nearby shopkeeper and asked about the kitten: Does it have a mother? How long has it been here? Does it belong to anyone?
The answers were not encouraging. It was already there in the morning, around 7 a.m., when she had opened her shop. She had never seen a mother or even knew of a cat with kittens around the area. She had put out a box for it but it kept climbing out so she just let it be.
“Do you want it?” she asked.
Too late. I already had the kitten cupped in my hands, holding him close to warm his small body. This little white puffball, ignored by the Chinese public as if invisible despite all his frantic wailing, was coming home with me. In fact, so much like an unseen, troubled soul he seemed that I gave him the name Xiao Gui (she-ow gweh), or Little Ghost.
Little Ghost has now been here for 10 days. After searching the Internet for instructions on how to raise motherless kittens, I found several excellent sites that gave me the proper information I needed to do a good job. I was fortunate that a nearby veterinarian clinic, Harmonious Pet Hospital, had a French brand of powdered milk formula for kittens, as well as feeding bottles. It wasn’t cheap at $12 a small container but with my payment from the U.S. Consulate, money wasn’t a problem.
Little Ghost (LG) spent the first two days sleeping. He was obviously exhausted. All that crying and crawling around had done him in. But by day three, things were looking up and he was a bit more energetic.
Already the purring has started (non-stop). All he wants is to be held instead of stuck in Little Flower’s old carrier which I have placed next to the portable floor heater for warmth. Feeding schedules have been around the clock, which is a bit tiring for me, especially at 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. And I still have Chinese classes to attend, my daily swimming at a local pool, Little Flower walks and playtimes, and homework to do, but I’m surviving. Fortunately, Little Ghost now mostly sleeps through the night so that an 11 p.m. feeding will last him until 6 the next morning, which is certainly a blessing for me.
While kitties are cute, I’m merely fostering. Having one pet in China is enough, especially as I will be moving to different areas of the country over the years. Traveling with Little Flower is hard enough without adding a cat. And Little Flower isn’t exactly very keen on sharing Mother with a kitty cousin. At present, she sulks in her bassinet or on the bed in the other room whenever LG comes out of the carrier for comforting or feeding. She will have nothing to do with this houseguest and most likely will be doing cartwheels (or rather dogwheels) when it’s time for LG to go.
In the meantime, Jalin (my neighbor girl) and I are working on finding a good home for LG when it comes time. I’m guessing this little kitten will be about the friendliest, most loving Little Ghost anyone will ever have inhabiting their home.
In the meantime, I am thoroughly enjoying having a little one once again in the household. And don’t worry about Little Flower. Despite her indignant bravado, she actually came to sit on the couch with LG and me yesterday evening. We might very well win her over yet!
As we say in China, “Zai Jian!” (Bye!)