Friday, November 03, 2006

the Philippines, dogs, and other Week 10 thoughts

When I was a young lad of eleven, my father took a one-year position as a visiting professor at the University of the Philippines in Manila. It was quite an experience for an impressionable young mind. Some of the things I saw, smelled, and heard probably led me down a path of international involvement that is currently terminating in the big city of Beibei, China. Who would have thought it would all come to this?
While in the Philippines we took several trips to the northern mountains of Luzon Island—the large island on which Manila is located. The region was one of indigenous people not far removed from the late Stone Age. The landscape is famous for its spectacular rice terraces that have been harvested continuously for thousands of years. The natural beauty of the region hangs in my memory as does a visit to the local market one day.
Local markets are always interesting. In this market we passed through the usual butcher shops with hunks of beef and pork hanging in the open air, usually covered with a swarm of flies. Then this eleven year old boy got hit with a visual image that burned into the memory. Among the chunks of meat hanging for sale was the carcass of a dog.
When we left for the Philippines, I had to leave behind my beloved pet, Pal. She was a mutt who followed me every morning and evening as I delivered the Nashville Tennessean and the Nashville Banner to my subscribers. During some lonely days at our residence in Manila, I used to think about Pal and how nice it would be to have her in my arms. And then, suddenly I was looking at a dog carcass hanging for sale in the market.
With time and maturity, I came to realize that in most of Asia dog is a common dish, as is duck, eel, snail, snake, rabbit, rat, turtle, and just about anything else that has meat on it. Prior to leaving, I noted that my Berlitz Mandarin Chinese Phrase Book and Dictionary© gave a translation for dog in the food section just after beef and pork and before lamb and chicken. Some fifty years later, I was going to have to confront dog as a dish again. My wife and I are pretty good sports about being in a different culture, but this was one experience neither of us really wanted to confront.
After several months in Beibei, I can happily report that we have not found any evidence of dog eating. As best we can tell, it is not on any of the menus in our favorite restaurants. At hot pots, where it is common to eat a variety of non-traditional fare, we have not encountered any dog, at least none that we have been told about. To the contrary, we have found that dogs in Beibei are much beloved pets that are well cared for and well fed. With one exception we have not seen what appears to be a homeless dog.
Most of the dogs in Beibei are small variations of the Pekinese breed. This makes sense since the breed name comes from Peking which is the old spelling of the Chinese capital of Beijing. These dogs have pug noses, a protruding lower jaw, and a curled bushy tail. They tend to stay very close to their masters or to the stores that they often “guard”. They tend to be very territorial, but they won’t mess with you if you don’t mess with them and/or their master. Most are white or of a light color and most are immaculately clean.
As we leave our apartment in the search of food we pass by our green grocer who sells bananas, tangerines, apples, and anything else we may want. He usually is sitting just inside the store next to his electronic scale with his dog on the front step standing (or lying) guard [see photo]. In the afternoon or evening, the boss will sit on a small stool on the sidewalk in front of the store. The dog is always stationed at his feet, or for a special treat in the boss’ lap. We suppose that on those rare occasions when we pass the store and the dog is not there that he must be taking a nap on the sofa in front of the TV set.
There is a small stall of a shop that we frequently pass that seems to offer numerous items and sell few of them. Most often the owners are playing cards on the small counter at the front of the stall. Invariably their dog is perched on top of the counter engrossed in the finer points of the game. This dog is quite distinctive in that it has been sheared bald except for his head and his tail which has been dyed bright pink. There is another dog with a similar “hair-do” that guards a local barbershop/beauty salon (they are one and same here). He stands out front of the shop as an advertisement for what stylish magic can be performed in the shop.
The local Beibei Sunday market, like that in the Philippines of my youth, has a dog section that is very popular with the local population. The main difference is that at this market what is for sale are live puppies by local breeders who have found dog raising to be a lucrative “farm crop”. It is not at all uncommon to get on a bus and see someone with a small puppy in a box or a bag.
Last Sunday at the market there was also a mature German Sheppard for sale in a large, sturdy bamboo cage. This dog was obviously for sale not as a companion dog, but as a guard dog. There are a few around town. A restaurant that we pass every night has a sleep-in night watchman and his German Sheppard. The dog always seems to be very docile (and quite well fed with kitchen leftovers), but I don’t want to try out the other side of his behavior. We also have two policemen who walk a beat around our apartment each night. They are unarmed (as are most police) except for a short billy club and a large dog on leash. As best I can tell, nobody messes with these policemen.
My wife is currently teaching a large class of juniors at SWU. In order to stimulate some discussion she began the class with a student questionnaire. One of the questions was “what do you miss most of all while away from home at SWU?” As expected, there were a variety of responses including boy friends, sisters, and parents. But by far, the most common response was “my dog”. I am pleased to conclude that the role and status of dogs in urban China today is quite different from what I remember in the mountainous villages of the Philippines fifty years ago.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been living here in the Philippines all my life and so far never seen or heard any market selling dog meat. If there are, I'd sure be as disgusted as you are ;)

9:06 AM  

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