There's a Cat Lady in the Beijing compound where I was staying. Old, round, bundled up in layers of quilted, padded clothing, hunched over a wheeled cart she fills with kibble and canned food for her charges, the outside cats who live on the grounds. Apparently they have different food preferences, and she is very concerned with making sure that each gets what it wants. She has her own tribe of cats too, indoor cats, "four or five," she told one of my hosts, as if she weren't sure.
I had a chance to talk to her briefly, as she made her rounds. I stayed at a distance but still frightened the orange and white kitty she was feeding, though she told me that he ran off when she tried to give him medicine for his ear: "he has a hole in his ear," she explained. "The first time I gave him medicine, he wasn't afraid, but the second time, he was." I wish I could have understood everything that she told me, but I did get that much.
I saw one of the cats she feeds as I was leaving for the airport today, sitting in a box against the wall, a little shelter against the bitter cold of the last few days. He is a big orange cat, regal, wonderful coat, and if anything, slightly overfed, and he sat there with his eyes half-closed looking content with his box and his world.
I like that there are cat ladies in Beijing. I like that this elderly woman gives care and attention to these cats and receives affection and satisfaction in return. Pets were considered a "bourgeois" habit in the past, and though you can always make arguments about the morality of caring for pets in a country where millions live on the razor's edge of poverty, to me, it's a sign of humanity allowing to shine.
My favorite Beijing bar is a little place on a hutong off Gulou Dong Dajie, owned by a Mongolian. He recently took in two kittens -- I saw them in July when they were tiny, and again in November, at the beginning of my trip -- two adolescent females with the run of the bar, climbing on the laps of patrons and up and down the tree in the small courtyard. The owner lavishes considerable attention on these kittens. They have their food (good quality) and their litter and if you ask him about them, his eyes go all soft. Apparently this is a change from his former persona: "He used to be a conquerer of the steppes!" a friend told me. I always thought he seemed friendly enough, but apparently he was somewhat of a hard-ass. No more.
My last night in Beijing, I stopped in at the bar to meet that friend for a drink. The kittens were not there. The owner had taken them in to get spayed the day before. We asked after them. The owner explained: "They are at home. They need to xiuxi" - to rest.