No, I have not done it, and I don’t plan to.
But since I included in my photo album on my blog a picture of cats in a restaurant, priced per half kilo and ready to be cooked up on a dinner plate, I thought it might be fun to share a conversation I had with Song Ying about this time last year.
Our weather finally turned cold here. Right now it’s about 50 degrees Farenheit outside. That doesn’t sound cold, but with a humid wind blowing, and no sun in the sky, it can feel a lot colder than it really is.
One day about a year ago, Song Ying and I went to the wholesale pet market in Fancun District, south of the river. This market has a different name officially, but most foreigners refer to it as the Hua Di Huan market, because it’s located right at the metro stop by that same name. I was there shopping for pet supplies. While we were there, the already cold day turned even colder on account of a misty rain.
There are not only cat supplies and cat food at the Hua Di Huan market, but also live cats for sale. Most of them are kittens that are obviously for sale as pets. But I know that, in Guangzhou, people do eat cats.
I know it not just from hearing about it; I’ve seen it. One day Sophie and I were out at a "fast food" restaurant where you buy small servings of dishes for 8 RMB per plate. The cook brought out a pan of something that was fresh, hot, and looked really good — colorful with red and green peppers, onions, and some meat. I indicated that I wanted to get some of it. Sophie vetoed that, telling me that it wasn’t a good idea. "Why?" I asked, like a child whose parent has told it that a candy bar is forbidden.
She hesitated. "It’s something you don’t eat."
"What is it," I insisted?
"I think it’s cat."
Well, she didn’t just think it was cat; she knew it was cat, though she would have preferred not to say so.
Needless to say, knowing this, I wasn’t going to try it. So thanks to Sophie, I was saved from sampling cat, and I have no regrets whatsoever. I’m not one of those people (and they do exist) who are so eager for strange culinary experiences that they would take the opportunity while in China to sample the family pet. Which brings me back to the real story. The pet market.
In the pet market at Hua Di Huan, there was a cage with a cat for sale. He was orange with medium length fur, and he was about the largest feline I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Not only was he not a kitten, he looked positively old. And he looked very ill; his head sagging and his eyes half closed, as if he had a fever and needed vet care. He looked positively miserable, like he needed to be inside a nice, warm home. The last thing he needed was to be sitting out in a cold cage with metal bars in a misty rain.
Additonally, sitting right on top of him, to keep warm, was an equally miserable and sickly looking, tiny little black kitten. The little kitten was mewing plaintively in her misery, but the old fellow looked like he had given up; he just lay there with eyes half closed and droopy head. The two of them made a sad, sad sight. I was shocked. I wasn’t shocked at the sight of a sick and cold kitten — I’ve seen lots of them in the pet markets mewing and feverish — because as soon as they come to a pet market they are exposed to all kinds of awful germs and get really poor care on top of that — but I couldn’t imagine a family selling their elderly family pet to a pet shop, especially where it would be placed into such an awful situation.
So, a bit bewildered, I asked Song Ying (who was with me), whether this cat was for sale as a pet or as food. She told me that this is a pet market and he is definitely for sale as a pet. Besides, she says, he’s a foreign cat and foreign cats are not delicious. No one would want him for food.
"What," I think to myself? "First, how could she say this is a foreign cat and, second, why would she think there is any difference in tasted between one cat and another?" So ask her, "Why are foreign cats not delicious?" (in broken Chinese of course).
"They’re too big," she replies. "Chinese cats are small." Then she adds, "You’ve never eaten cat? I’ll take you to eat cat sometime. You must try it; it’s quite delicious!"
"Uhm, no thanks. Americans don’t eat cats." I sensed a palpable disappointment, because we were planning to go out for lunch after leaving the market.
Our housing compound has many wild cats running around outside. They always run when approached, it’s not like they’re pets at all. But many of the residents feed them, and I imagine there is also some hope that they would help control rats. But when David got home that night and I told him about the encounter with the big cat, he joked, "I wonder how many of the cats in our compound get eaten by the staff!" And ever since, every time we see a cat, he says to me, "I wonder if it’s a foreign cat or a Chinese cat?"
(I took this picture tonight of a cat in a storefront,
watching passersby from inside while his
owner tended the shop. It’s definitely a foreign
cat, wouldn’t you say?!)