“Pet” is not a word in Chinese a language learner would know unless he or she had one.
When I first acquired Little Flower as my pet, I had to look up the word so I could tell people she was mine. Imagine my surprise when I found out the literal translation of the Chinese characters for “pet”: “chong” (spoiled) and “wu” (animal) which becomes “chong wu,” or spoiled animal.
Talk about hitting the nail on the head!
How many of us pet owners joke that our animals are sometimes treated better than we treat ourselves or even our own children. They get special food, special toys, and special health care. They get walks, playtime, bed and couch privileges, and treats. They get attention and cuddling, feeding and grooming. If we are truly responsible, loving owners, then chong wu certainly describes our pets to a T.
My little dog, Xiao Hua (Little Flower), is certainly no exception.
My students at Luzhou Vocational and Technical College have already proven that. Visits to my campus apartment were supposed to be to get to know the foreign teacher better and practice language skills. Instead, my college kids came to visit the dog. They brought her presents for Christmas and her birthday. They gave her treats off the table. They kept her busy by happily tossing her toys about for her to fetch. And they spoke more English to my dog than they ever did to me.
“Little Flower, do you want a piece of candy?”
“Little Flower, go get your toy!”
“Little Flower, do you have a boyfriend?”
The last always threw everyone into fits of laughter, but even more so when LF landed herself on a male student’s lap, wagged her tail and gave him a big lick right on his face.
“You see?” the girls would say. “Little Flower has good taste. She chooses the most handsome boy in the room!”
“No, no Little Flower! You are wrong,” another male student would reply. “I am the most handsome. Come here! Come here!”
Then he’d entice her over with a piece of candy.
Ah, the fickleness of females.
Of course, my chong wu has more stuff than she needs.
Little Flower has a dozen different winter outfits but she refuses to wear a single one. I can get them on her but then she won’t budge. Her ears flatten and her tail dives between her legs. Nothing I do will get her to go outside until the clothes come off.
This was especially a problem during the past December to February, when our temperatures dipped to a rare 30 degrees for over a week.
When these chilly months hit, LF shivered, shook and quaked while taking a walk. It was embarrassing because all the Chinese glared at me, the bad chong wu owner.
“Your dog is too skinny,” they frowned. “She needs clothes. Look! She’s shivering! She’s cold!”
In defense of myself, I replied, “I know she’s cold, but she hates to wear clothes. I have lots of clothes but she won’t wear them.”
Naturally, they didn’t believe me.
LF looked so pitiful that their next move was to give her whatever they happened to be eating: a piece of cake, a cookie, meat scraps from their dinner bowls. The shop keepers around our neighborhood started grabbing things off their shelves. They opened up wrapped, ready-to-eat hotdog sticks when they saw us coming. These they gave her for free, wanting to fatten her up.
No doubt about it. During the winter months in Chengdu, Little Flower was definitely the happiest spoiled animal around.
But now it’s another chong wu who’s getting all the attention. It’s Xiao Gui-gui (she-ow Gway-gway, or Little Ghost) who has moved into the “spoiled animal” spot in the apartment complex.
My neighbors are always keen to see Little Ghost. They ask for me to bring her outside so they can hold her and inspect her progress. They gently pass her from hand to hand, play with her on the sidewalk and feed her bits of dried fish. They laugh over her kitten antics and admire her cleanliness. After having such a hard beginning to her life, deserted on the street when barely a week old and struggling with health issues for weeks after that, she deserves to be spoiled a bit.
And Little Flower?
I wouldn’t feel too sorry for her. She still gets her fair share of special chong wu care on our daily walks. A visit to the International Food Store yesterday gave her plenty of Frisbee chase time with the staff who then sent her home with a belly full of blue cheese chunks, bits of gouda and shavings of cheddar.
Yeah, that’s my chong wu for you, living up to her Chinese label: “spoiled animal.”
From Chengdu, here’s wishing you (and your special chong wu) “Ping An!” (Peace)