People in China (and I include Hong Kong here) love dogs. Head out to the New Territories in Hong Kong on a crisp Sunday afternoon and you will see dog lovers everywhere. Big dogs, little dogs, long dogs, short dogs. All well groomed and lovingly pampered. The smaller dogs have specially allocated prams (strollers) which their owners proudly wheel them around in. They are admired by onlookers and one has to admit, they do look very cute, snugly wrapped in ‘Hello Kitty’ blankets and some with matching doggy coats.
The attention to hygiene is another indication of their devotion to their dogs. When it's time for a ‘poo’ doggy is removed from his cozy warm pram and his bottom exposed to the sharp winter breeze - but not for long! Speed and organization is the key here. As soon as it unravels from the dogs behind, the `poo’ is lovingly scooped up in toilet paper, placed neatly in a plastic bag and set aside to attend to the loved one. In the mean time, loved one waits patiently to get his bottom wiped, wiggles just a little, is dressed and immediately placed back inside the cosy pram, all tucked in ready to continue `the walk’.
Over the border in Shenzhen China, the dog is also loved. In fact dogs are loved to death in Shekou (a district of Shenzhen). Unlike Hong Kong however, Shekou doesn't have billboards displaying cute puppies with slogans saying “Please don't eat me, I'm your friend" plastered everywhere, so loving dogs to death is quite acceptable.
The freshly killed and white skinned dogs are strung up in specially intended glass cabinets which are designed to hold and expose the full body and ensure you can see what you pay for (perhaps making it no different to a display of fish we see in huge fish tanks outside seafood restaurants). Once strung up, the dogs are tenderized. Now this process adds a different dimension to the traditional definition of “pounding meat to break down the fibres and connective tissues. This ritual is performed by a skinny man/boy who has obviously seen too many Sylvester Stallone DVD's. Rolling his sleeves up, he becomes aware that he is being watched and flexes his muscles before beginning to pound the torso. The punching is stylized and has a certain rhythm and beat to it. Mr. `rocky’ pauses a moment to flick his Japanese style fringe away from his forehead, takes a deep breath and stops to smile for the nonexistent camera. Once tenderized, our canine friends are ready for human consumption. The heads are cut and placed on a platter inside the glass cabinet and over a period of one hour the dogs are gradually sliced, diced, delicately cooked and ready for the most discerning palate.
Further down the road at Shekou Wet Markets, a different breed of dog awaits the same fate (if not the same designer display cabinet). Darker in skin colour with some brown fur still exposed, they are sprawled out on tables next to the fruit and vegetables. No heads on these dogs- just hind quarter legs with paws that look strangely like hooves. They too will be lovingly consumed, only they were purchased for less than a dollar a kilo.
Could it be that the white skinned dogs are an expensive delicacy and the darker skinned dogs an affordable commodity? Is the colour of your skin a judgement of your worth even in the canine family? Now there's a thought!
Either way, dogs are an important part of people's lives in this part of China. Whether you groom them or consume them, one cannot deny that dogs are loved here.
As a foreigner living and working in this region, one must learn to accept and to some extent respect this practice as a cultural norm and not pass judgement . After all, would we be as scandalized if it was a cow we were consuming at a nice restaurant or chicken legs spread out at the Wet Market? Every day, as I pass by such sights I am reminded of Confucius saying “learn for oneself" and I can only hope that my clumsy attempts to do this will result in a change to my perspective and lead me to a more proactive global understanding of the interrelationship, interdependence and most importantly, the interconnectedness of our two cultures.
Eleni McDermott is a writer and an early childhood educator. She is the author of three children's picture books Tears in a Treasure Box, Cranky Granny and her latest release Alexander's Extraordinary Gift. She has also written adult resource books, articles and workshops on a range of topics including child development, multicultural education and literacy. To view her books, poems and other articles visit http://www.elenimcdermott.com