Cats And Dogs
In Thailand you meet two kinds of dogs. Soi dogs who sleep on the street and howl at midnight to drive off the ghosts who sneak up to harm the sleepers. If their last hour comes they limp to a temple ground to die in Buddha’s peace.
The second kind of dog is a pet, who is kept like a family member. He is highly intelligent, can count, multiply and even recognize the alphabet. TV viewers in Australia were able to watch an unforgettable birthday celebration for a Thai pet dog. A similar looking dog honoured the American Ambassador in Bangkok by drinking out of his glass. Water, not whiskey. When this dog dies he will get a solemn funeral. In the eyes of his owner, the life of such a dog can have a much greater value than the life of an average Somchai.
What I still need to learn is if the Thai people have the same split relation to cats. In my condo at the Gulf Coast there are two or three feral cats who entertain no personal relations with the families staying there. They live from catching doves and throw the half eaten cadavers on the staircase. They can be compared to soi dogs. But what about pet cats? I entered in my browser the search words "Thai”, "Cat” and "birthday party” and got no results.
In my country in the west you will not find many feral cats. The first thing every young cat there learns is to select and tame a human being into providing it with food, shelter and tender strokes.
For many years I owned or was owned by a cat whose roots reach back to Thailand. Its ancestors were popular in Ayutthaya 700 years ago under the Thai name of Wichien-Maat. In the West it is called Siamese Cat. It is of slim build with black ears, stunning blue eyes and a black nose. Easy to recognize, but not easy to find. In all my years in Thailand I never met a Wichien-Maat.
Such a cat doesn't walk in through your balcony. You have to buy it from a breeder for hundreds of dollars. I spent the money after my partner and I had decided not to have children. It was a good choice.
The Wichien-Maat is a highly intelligent animal, with one serious defect. She does not realise that man and cat belong to different species. In her eyes man and Wichien-Maat are born equal and share a common pursuit of happiness. I wonder if this is part of her Siamese heritage. We gave our cat the name Fidelio which is easy to pronounce when calling her. At that time I did not know that there exist special Thai names for Siamese cats, or we might have called her Kannika or Ratana. I speak of "her” because she was a female.
In her first year with us she began to learn and understand some words of English, German and Chinese. A loud "No" or "Nein" or "Bù yao" stopped her dead in her tracks. When she was hungry she came to the one of us who was closer to the kitchen, raised her head and hissed "Ehhen", which was her pronunciation of the word Essen (food, chi fan).
A Wichien-Maat is not a cat who walks by himself (like Kipling’s). Fidelio never tried to leave our flat. She reasoned – as Arabella in her famous aria – "Your house will be my house and I shall belong to you in time and eternity." Actually she hated to go out. When she saw us carrying the container for transporting cats, she hid in the most inaccessible part of our flat, so that sometimes we had to move furniture to pick her up.
On weekends I often spent hours after hours at my typewriter. On such days Fidelio sat patiently on my shoulder – she was a lightweight – and watched the print head of my typewriter turn and run. From time to time her chin vibrated and her legs pressed heavily in to my shoulder, meaning she wanted to spring and kill the print head. I just said "No, Fidelio," and she desisted.
Every few month she became on heat. Then she crept on her belly like a snake, sprang upon my lap and held her moist pussy under my nose. I never understood why her procreating instinct was so misled. Maybe she had watched me going down on my partner and thought that was the real thing. But we usually confined her to the bathroom, when we were in the mood. So it remains a conundrum. She behaved in this way only with me, not my partner who pampered her more than I did. Especially as I was often away in Asia. Apparently she was able to differentiate between our genders.
All in all she was a low maintenance roommate. She did not need much attention. One of her favourite pastimes was to sit on a high place and survey everything what was happening or not happening in the room. Contrary to many cats she was not a night owl. When we went to bed, she joined us, occupying a pillow between our heads, a place she had secured after weeks of struggle, because I wanted her to sleep in front of the bed. Finally my partner could not withstand her demand to be close to both of us.
Fidelio’s gentle way surely shaped my decision to move to Thailand after retirement. The big advantage of living with a cat is that you don’t have to walk a cat like you must walk a dog. Many European countries now have a law that if you walk a dog you have to carry a bag to collect his droppings. In this respect a cat is the more civilized companion.
One of the things I miss most about life at home compared to life in Thailand is having a cat. If I lived in a house I could have a cat but living in a condo means I am without a favourite feline.