You see the craziest things in Asia. Like the time I got home, late at night, and I almost slammed into a giant pig! The most bizarre thing was what was going on behind it. I know that the picture above is of a dog, but for the sake of storytelling, I will begin this tale with a pig.
I had just turned the corner into the alley where I live, a dimly lit backstreet lane in a suburb on the outskirts of the second largest city in Taiwan. It had been raining all day and night, so the atmosphere was foggy and gray, the road was slippery wet, and the wind blew cool. As I pulled my motorbike up to the front of my house, ready to turn in, I could see, silhouetted by the flickering streetlights, a huge shadow lumbering towards me from a distance.
While pulling in slowly and parking my bike, I kept my gaze fixed behind me on the shadowy figure approaching. It was a massive black and pink checkered pig, domesticated and obese, sauntering its way slowly through the drizzling rain. By massive I mean HUGE! Rolls of fat folded in on itself in rows upon rows along it's neck, shoulder and belly. It's giant head was bowed low as it stumbled by, heaving and grunting huffy breaths. It's legs were bulbous and knotted at the knees and knuckles. Conversely, it's split hooves click-clicked along the wet asphalt like a big lady stumbling along in high heels.
For those of you who know me well enough, there was only one thing going through my mind at that moment: "Get in my belly!!" Yes, it's true, the very site of a giant pork chop, beautifully fattened and perfectly plump, making its way down the street in front of you, is enough to make any island boy raised on Molokai, Hawai'i think twice about his dinner plans that night. Kalua pig, huli huli pig and laulau, these are just some of the many Hawaiian dishes built around the beautiful mouth watering delicacy that is pork.
But alas, the beast was of the domesticated kind. I say "domesticated" because behind the pig, like a dedicated handmaiden, trudged a Taiwanese housewife with grass broom and tin dustpan in hand. As my dinner slowly passed me by in front of my eyes, regrettably out of reach, the pig paused, looked up curiously for just a moment, and took a dump. He trotted off slowly into the shadows, leaving his mess behind without a care in the world. But ever so committed, the Taiwanese housewife stooped over with her grass broom, brushed the steaming pile into her dustbin and stumbled off after the pig.
So what does this story of an obese pig have to do with a picture of a dog in a wig? Well, both examples remind me that I should never be too surprised at the animal antics I come across here in Taiwan. I've seen a lot of things that are different by the way animals are treated here, and I wasn't sure what to make of them at first. Initially, I found it to be a bizarre combination of under-caring and over-pampering at the same time.
The story of the pig can be contrasted with the story of a turtle. We were out for lunch, and as we stood in line to order, I looked down to see a baby turtle, no bigger than an Oreo cookie, sitting in a small vase, no bigger than a wine glass. It sat there motionless, buried in a handful of cabbage, and with the tip of its tiny beak slightly breaking the surface of the water. For a second I thought it was a plastic toy, until it blinked.
During my previous life in Hawaii, I had my own turtle, and the little dude had a killer setup that rocked! Huge tank, green plants, fresh feeder fish, as much as he could eat, river rocks to sun himself on as he sat under a hot lamp! He had so much food that he'd sit there for days, completely ignoring the fish around him as they swam by, and he was so popular that he had multiple names given to him by each of my friends. That little bad boy turtle had it so good that when we were moving, I sold him for a pretty penny!
But now I found myself standing there, looking down at this miserable little coin of a turtle, wondering how sad and lonely it must be to have to sit there in a cold glass bowl with barely enough room to flip a fin. It was a contrast in my mind, of course, but I also began to realize that it's just the way it is here. A big part about traveling and seeing different parts of the world is learning how to view the differences as they are, and not how you expect them to be.
So yeah, I've seen some crazy animal scenarios in Asia. Pampered pigs that are catered to, hand and hoof. Neglected turtles that are left forgotten, buried under a mound of vegetable leftovers. Dogs that are fluffed up, trimmed, dyed to look like pandas, and strolled around in baby carriages dressed in pink tutus, neon green track suits and clown wigs, only to be taken home and stuck in cages that are nothing more than glorified carry crates. As disjointed as it may seem, it's all just a part of the experience here. After all, when I see a pig, my first instinct is to brutally butcher it and carnivorously devour it, so who am I to blame a housewife if she wants take it in and lovingly care for it?
And about the picture of the dog in a wig. We were just leaving the night market after having dinner and enjoying some traditional street snacks. As I pulled up to the first stoplight, Bozo the Dog stuck his head out the window, tongue wagging and eyes buzzing, ecstatic with energy. The bright lights of Kaohsiung City, cars zooming past and mopeds zipping by, it all seemed to give him a thrill and a zest for life. Then again, it may have just been the rainbow colored wig.
I would've gotten a better shot, but it was late, the light turned green and it's kind of tricky to frame a picture when you're on a motorcycle.
As the they drove off, Bozo the Dog stuck his head back in and the car window rolled up slowly. But for the rest of the night, all I could hear running through my head was, "This dog is on FAIYAAAAH!!!," sung to the tune of Alicia Keys, of course.
I'm JR. I come from a long line of adventurers, some were nomadic explorers of the sea and others wandering cultivators of the earth. Ultimately, this legacy of drifters has deeply affected my view of travel. Read more...