By Aubrey Brinton
Happy New Year Kuna! I know it’s a little late for you but here in China things have only just started to wind down from all the festivities. I have been traveling a lot and just got back to Chongqing. I spent a wonderful 3 weeks in Japan eating, traveling, soaking in hot springs, listening to live music, bike riding, camping in Okinawa, meeting amazing people oh and did I mention eating!? The food was so good I cried on several occasions from its overwhelming deliciousness. The fish was unforgettable and so was the beer. It’s not that food in Chongqing tastes bad, it’s just not very clean. It’s addicting with its many spices and of course MSG and I will forever love my bowls of xiao mian (small noodles).
These days I find myself at the Starbucks two subway stations from my house, preparing for lessons and people watching. A poodle with pink ears and pink shoes passed by my window earlier. Two beggars have already come in to ask me for money. China never ceases to entertain me.
Women are quite fashionable here and so very beautiful. I feel Chinese people are creative in many ways but stay creative only in those ways. Women and men for the most part dress and act very similarly. After my travels in Japan, I realized how communal the Chinese people still are. Most of my students ask the same questions, talk about the same things. This could be because so much of the internet and media is censored or blocked. A selected amount of information is given to the Chinese about America and other countries’ ideas and culture. In the classroom, students are not used to expressing their own opinions and never raise their hand. I’m trying to slowly change this. When we get together outside of the classroom the conversations are dull and bland. I have never craved the strange or different so much until I came here. I have to go to small and sometimes hidden places to find artists or someone I can have a decent conversation with. A conversation that isn’t about fancy cars, The Vampire Diaries, or Taylor Swift. The Chinese are still fairly traditional in an environment rapidly trying to Westernize. It’s a challenge, a frustration, but an amazing learning experience.
So, I started volunteering at a pet shop! I was walking around the city one evening when I heard at least a dozen barking loudly dogs above me. The sounds were coming from the second floor of a building I walk by frequently. I love dogs so, so, so much so I walked up the stairs to find four pet shops right next to each other full of dogs of all sizes in cages. The yelping up close was so loud it hurt my ears. I stumbled into the last shop and they had a Boston Terrier that caught my eye immediately. She was in very poor condition. She was sneezing uncontrollably, had a dirty pink sweater on, her feet and legs full of sores and in a very small cage. From that moment on, I could not stop thinking about her. I wanted to just buy her but the pet shop owner wanted $1000! Besides they would just replace her with another dog and treat him/her the same. They were skeptical at first but finally agreed to let me walk them. They don’t want me walking them outside of the building they are afraid I will steal them. The first time I was wearing my boots and was running with them on tile floor! I got the best workout ever! It was a blast and I hope my efforts of getting the dogs out of their cages and bathing the urine out of their fur, will start to show the pet owners that leaving dogs in cages all day every day is not okay. As angry as I was, I knew, in order to change the system, I slowly had to gain their trust and hope one day they develop some sympathy and love for the dogs and make changes on their own. It requires a lot of patience and cultural understanding to see these dogs in this predicament and not cry and be upset and lose your mind but it’s worth the wait. I have already told some of my students and they are interested in helping! We’re heading in the right direction!