I arrived in Guangzhou, China to stay with my brother and sister-in-law for a couple of weeks. As I’d never been to Asia, I was pretty jazzed about it at this point. The first few days were spent strolling around the city, eating delicious, sizzling dumplings, taking it all in. Besides a romp about Europe after graduating college, I had ventured neither far nor wide from my little place in the world, a midsize city in a midwest state. Sitting smack dab in the center of the U.S., it’s sometimes hard to imagine just how big and different the world around you is – you get a sort of tunnel vision that focuses on your tiny piece of the pie. So as I stepped out of the airport into a new city in a new country, very foreign sounds and smells and sights bombarded my senses, and I knew I had stumbled upon something different indeed. This something wasn’t the act of traveling exactly, but rather the distinct ability to jump out of your everyday life into a new surrounding. It was slightly terrifying, wholly exhilarating, and oddly, a great relief.
Upon my arrival I meet the newest members of our clan…two tiny kittens, both recently purchased at the Qing Ping Market (Sound familiar? It was the birthplace of SARS). The kittens are adorable in the way new kittens are, cuddling and scratching and basically being so cute you want to squeeze their faces off. My brother and sister-in-law act like the new parents they are, and you can see how much they are loving having their two new pets. It’s the first animal they’ve owned together and have named Otis and Lucy. My brother is 5 years older than I am, and I’ve rarely seen him show such gentle affection as he does to these two tiny fur balls.
It was a beautiful few days. But after one of the kittens (Lucy) stopped eating regularly, we took her to a vet office in downtown, where medications were given, prescriptions ordered and everything seemed on the up and up. However, a few days later, the other cat, Otis, fell ill, so we made the trip again to the vet’s office. Only this time we were told the clinic needed to keep him…for “observation.” The vet phones the house a day later to tell us that the cat has feline AIDS, he contracted it in the cage, and that they both probably won’t survive. This is odd, because Lucy has now fully recovered, prancing and pouncing in all her cat-ness. After checking around with Chinese friends, we learn that some vets are prone to keeping animals in the hospital with the purpose of racking up charges, so my sister-in-law and I race down there. We call the office to tell her we’re on our way. We want to take the cat home with us. Not a good idea, we’re told. We’re coming, we say. Um…the vet stammers, he probably won’t make it. We tell the driver to go faster.
We arrive at the vet’s office (10 minutes later) and she says the cat is dead. My sister-in-law and I start crying like the 12 year olds we are. I should have at this point, realized that I am an American in China, there is a waiting room full of customers, and that the best way to settle this tragic incident is to talk about the facts calmly. Instead I yell SHOW ME THE CAT, my raised voice startling everyone, including myself! He’s dead, she tells me. SHOW ME THE GODDAMN CAT I yell again, and she hesitantly takes me into a backroom and hands me a trashbag. I open the bag and see the little kitten’s eyes are open. HE’S ALIVE I yell (I hear how frankensteinian that sounds, but whatever). My sister-in-law comes rushing in, her eyes wide and hopeful. No, the cat is dead, eyes are just open, the vet says. I feel his little furry body. Still warm, but no pulse. With heavy hearts we give the very light trashbag back to the vet.
As we walk back to the front of the clinic, the vet tells us our bill is &700 USD for the escapade. We ask why the high charge? She says that’s how much it costs. We argue that there is no way in hell that we are going to pay for her killing the cat. We ask for an itemized receipt. It takes, no kidding, an entire hour for her to give it to us…in Chinese. At this point, I’m going a little berserk. We are going to have your license revoked, we promise her (she doesn’t seem fazed and she shouldn’t, there’s no way I could do that. I barely have a job back in the States as an intern. What the hell am I going to do? But alas, adrenaline and my sister-in-law’s crying has turned me into a she-hulk.) After a phone call from one of my brother’s fantastic co-worker, the price miraculously drops to $50 USD. We pay and leave. As we’re on our way out, I stop and turn to look back at the vet, now standing at the corner. This woman, I announce to the waiting room full of customers is A CAT KILLER, SHE WILL KILL YOUR CAT (I know, it’s sounds so douchey, but at the time, I felt fully justified in proclaiming this woman a murderer).
As we exit the clinic and return back to the apartment, I think about how unfair and confusing the whole thing is. Was the vet really trying to gouge us for money, and in the end killed our tiny kitten? Was feline AIDS even a thing? Or was I completely wrong, and the poor vet had done everything in her power to save the cat’s life? Had I just been a complete asshole (and probably cemented her view of Americans as pushy, crazy and bombastic)? Back in the U.S. I am the picture of a people pleaser, always trying to quietly smooth out any wrinkles of confrontation, so why had I aggressively stood up for my sister-in-law here in a way I never would have at home?
It’s odd the effect that traveling has on me. It seems to not only change my surroundings, my view of the world, but also the way I interact in that world. It seems that transporting myself to another place allows me to distance myself from the person I am at home, and I find that I change not only the view out the window in the morning, but also the view I have of myself. hmm.