In Memory of Jalan

Happy Lunar New Year to all who celebrate and to all who don't but should. Rat year is the year to be. Seattle had shitloads of pig statues -- from flying pigs, dancing pigs and suckling pigs in addition to baby blue SPD pigs--- all set up around the city last year cos it was PIG year then. I wonder if this year Pied Piper will be coming to town, drawing out all the rats onto the streets of Seattle. Then again, pigs might be cute sometimes, but rodents? almost never.

Thinking about lunar new year got me thinking about animals, and thinking about animals got me thinking about my dogs. Cos, you know, everything valuable that i learned before 6 years old came from observing, interacting with, and discussions around my dogs. I have had 3 dogs in my childhood years (Loti, Prince and Jalan are their names), and if you include my grandmother's dogs that i interacted with, coincidentally, every New Year's when we went to visit her, then i would have had 8 dogs in my life before the age of 6. Folks probably know this, but I have learned in my experience of the varied kinds of conversations around my dogs, that human beings project their own psychosis, their own personalities and issues (for real!) on the way that they treat and think about animals. My dad, a strong proud Asian man with his own multitude of contradictions, is one fine example.

My dad who spends the most time with my dogs than anyone else in my family -- by virtue of him being jobless and at home for most of the time in my childhood -- had psychoanalyzed my dogs in a fashion that is disturbingly similar to that in a therapist-client relationship. Loti, our white poodle which was also our first dog, was, in his words, "traumatized and insecure." Chained up for 7 years in his ex-owner's house, Loti was happy to be free at last, granted it was a freedom that was within the confines of our apartment house at times and in other times, dependent on the length and tautness of his leash when we went for walks in the park. But it was as free as Loti could be and he grabbed it, relished it, trying to add doses of excitement to his newly found freedom by occasionally planning escapes from the house unto the unknown streets made familiar by the smell of other dog pee and poo. Despite his penchant for freedom, Loti also used to follow my brother everywhere, and everywhere he was -- from sitting in the corner of the bathroom while brother was taking care of private business, to sleeping under the comfort of my brother's foot stroking his belly while studying at the desk, Loti and brother were tight as can be. What passed as an act of canine loyalty for a young me and my brother, was for my dad instead, a reflection of Loti's unhealthy need for "a sense of direction and security" that he hadnt found anywhere else in his lengthy 7 dog-years and was not willing to give up for a second for fear of losing it.

Then came Jalan, the scottish-terrier that my mum's Japanese friend dumped on us after she broke up w her boyfriend. Jalan was their "love-dog," and at the loss of their love, his presence was cherished no longer. To my dad, Jalan was another version of clinginess and unhealthy pathology. He was small, he was noisy, he was hungry for attention. He was dumped, he needed love and he stretched his belly to another foot or fellow dog tongue that would stroke or lick him. As characteristic of many small dogs, he would bark ferociously at a bigger species and when his bluff was called by the approaching presence, or reciprocal bark of the other, Jalan would, with no hesitation, spread himself low and long on the ground, chest out, tongue wagging, silent and open to affection.

"Submissiveness" "Needy"
"A lack of self-esteem" "Manipulative"
..........what followed was an endless string of vocabulary from my father to analyze Jalan's absolutely demeaning behavior.

No, it wasn't an inherent dislike for dogs on the part of my father that propelled such hostile reactions toward my dogs. My father liked dogs, depending on who their owners were. He liked the proud, strong, big dogs that would jog alongside their proud, strong, big white owners in the Botanic Gardens. My father, a proud Asian man of small stature would speak highly of the expatriate Americans that he met daily in his morning jogs. His was an insistent pride that identified more with the past glory of "5000 years of the Chinese civilization," than with what he saw as a decaying, stagnant Asian culture in the present. His was an humble pride that sought to learn from the hardy, individualistic, adventurous and sturly American frontier spirit to invigorate the sickly, money-obsessed world of crass Asian capitalism. His was a subdued pride that was abashed, bent in awe before the Zeitgeist of so-called "Western culture" that was epitomized by the Spartan warrior, constantly innovating, changing, growing. His was a world view that was an combination of Chinese cultural chauvinism, and an awe for Western values,. Some may call it a projection of racial inferiority. This vast array of emotions held by my father was projected unto the big dogs that these big white people leashed around in tight straight lines -- the Labradors, the German Shepherds, the Pitbulls, whose distant appearances were way more dignified than our small Jalan or Loti running in circles, entangling their clumsy bodies around their long leashes.

He would never admit this today, now that all three of my dogs have passed on. But I know, for my father, Jalan the Scottish Terrier, Loti the Poodle, Prince the Pomeranian -- these were small, mentally disturbed dogs for small people, with warped hearts and congested minds. The Labradors, proud and big, were the reflections of their owners' strength and vigor. Don't misunderstand me, I love my father and he's taught me a lot about self esteem and cultural pride, and to a fault at times; he often guilts me for becoming "Westernized," attributing all our political differences to me having left home and opened myself to god-forbidden pollution by "alien cultures". But as I grow older, his contradictions have become much more glaring. I can't help but ask myself sometimes, if his constant criticism of the "West" comes from an unresolved admiration for the wealth, strength and vigor that it represents, in contrast to our seemingly unexciting, busy and difficult everyday lives....

in memory of all my dogs who taught me so much about life at age 6,

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