I usually know I’ve landed myself in really foreign territory when the dogs I run across won’t respond to my friendly gestures. That has happened to me more than once in China, but through my travels there, I’ve learned over time to communicate with the Middle Kingdom’s canine population.
Before going to China, I had never thought before of the country being a particularly doggy place. Most of the tales I’d heard about dogs in China usually involved them appearing on a plate. I’d never stopped to think about the origins of some dog breeds being in China. The Shih Tzu (now generally spelled “shi zi” in modern Chinese phonetic systems, meaning lion) and the Sharpei (“sandy skin”) breeds both wear Chinese names, and the Pekingese is hailed by the city of its origins.
Small wonder, then, that I have found friendly canine faces on the streets of Chinese cities as I traveled there.
More than once, I’ve stumbled across puppies I would have gladly taken home. The first, out in the lonely barren grounds of rural Sichuan, accompanied me while I sipped a hot cup of tea. The winding roads traversing through the mountains had left me a little woozy when we stopped for a short break. With a typical doggish sensitivity for the soul suffering discomfort, the little mutt snipped at my gloves as I sipped at my cup, bringing a smile to my temporarily green-complexioned face.
A pair of Sharpei puppies, one on each end of that vast land, have likewise captured my heart and settled into my travel memories. One, on the streets of Kunming, the City of Eternal Spring, peered at me from out of his owner’s embrace. He was the first Sharpei puppy I’d ever seen so close up, and he seemed to be on his best behavior, as if to leave a good impression on me as his owner placed him in my arms. Years later, his more playful cousin in Shanghai pulled just as hard at my heartstrings, nearly tempting me to make her a housewarming gift for my friend.
Of course, I’ve seen my share of doggy menu items as well. At one time, meat markets were one of the most common places to find puppies in some Chinese cities. While that is changing as the law is allowing Chinese urbanites to keep dogs as pets at home, it is still common to see dog meat on the menu. I’ve been in the odd situation of having watched a dog, already dead, dragged to the river side, strung up on a branch, and bled out into the water flowing below. Having watched this process, I turned back to my two traveling companions, only to see them both wiping tears from their eyes. And I’m the one who is supposed to be a dog lover.
Upon each trip home from China, there’s nothing like the greeting I receive from my own pair of canine housemates. One is half Shih Tzu; the other wears half of Marco Polo’s name.
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