The first time I went to China, I came home with counterfeit Communist party hats, counterfeit designer leather goods, fake vintage Chinese movie posters, four new piercings, 40 pirated DVDs and a mountain of $2 souvenirs for my friends.
The second time I went to China, I came home with a dog.
I never wanted to get a dog, but a few months into my stay in Beijing, I found myself in possession of a tiny mutt with big, wet eyes.
My friend Nisi had found a puppy wandering around in the streets of the city. "She was trying to follow anyone and everyone home," she told me. "She was so dirty and scared." Nisi took her in and gave her a bath, and then started searching for a loving, stable family to adopt the pup; she already had one dog of her own.
When I saw a photo of the puppy, I squealed: She looked like the adorable little poodle mixes I swooned over on the street. I asked Nisi to let me meet her, and when I did, I felt my brain explode with dopamine as the fluffy, shaggy puppy wiggled in my lap.
She had cream-colored fur and golden ears and round black eyes that shined like reflection pools. "This is the cutest puppy I've ever seen in my life," I thought to myself, and I found it very strange and disconcerting that my other friend Viktoria thought the dog was only "pretty cute." I couldn't help but beg my friend to let me take care of the unnamed pooch for a night.
I brought the four-month-old puppy to my apartment, along with her kibble, crate and towel; she had nothing else. She refused to come out of her carrier and just stared at me. The next day, she finally came out of her crate to explore my bedroom and lick my feet. I told Nisi I could take care of her for another night.
And then another, and another and another. I couldn't believe people who said it was hard to take care of dogs. This puppy slept exactly when I slept, she never barked and she rarely chewed on shoes or furniture. The worst thing she did was bring slippers and socks into her bed and sleep on them. She would also sometimes tap my face in the morning with her paw to wake me up. This only endeared her to me.
Finally, I said to Nisi, "How about I just foster her until you find her a home?" As adorable as she was, I couldn't keep a dog. I didn't have money and my future was very uncertain. I didn't know what I was going to do after my year-long post in China, and I certainly didn't know how I'd get her to the U.S. if I went back home.
After a week of taking care of the pooch, I decided to call her Daisy. I got Daisy her first toy, a small stuffed chicken, and not long after that, I bought her a pink princess bed.
I knew I was getting attached, and it made me nervous. I texted Nisi almost every day asking her if she had found a permanent family for Daisy yet. Some people had inquired about her but ultimately flaked. Meanwhile, Daisy and I were getting closer and closer. I house-trained her and taught her some commands; I also let her sleep in my bed with me.
I looked forward to coming home every evening from work so I could take Daisy for a walk. It was the best way for me to explore Beijing. We took quiet walks together amidst the cacophony and crowds. We weaved in and out of the city’s hutongs (narrow alleys characteristic of Beijing) in the bitter winter cold as the hazy sun set. We passed by old men walking their caged birds, young students coming home in their school uniforms and vendors selling figurines made out of blown sugar. Our walks were a magical respite from the city’s madness.
I still rejected the idea that Daisy was my dog, though, and I would purposely go out of my way to explain to everyone that Daisy was just my foster dog. I figured that if I could convince other people that was true, then maybe I could convince myself, too. After two months, though, I couldn't deny that I was in love. I devised a plan.
I was going home soon for the holidays: I would casually mention to my parents that I wanted to adopt a dog and bring her home, and if turned into a screaming match, I'd do everything I could to find Daisy a home in China. If not, and my parents only yelled me about it a little bit, then I'd get Daisy ready for America. Much to my delight, it turned out to be the latter; I only got a few eye rolls and head shakes and some mutters of "You better not" and "Are you crazy?" That was good enough for me.
"Daisy's my dog now!" I sang out to my friends when I got back to China. She seemed to grow just a little bigger every day, and we were attached at the hip -- local shop owners knew me as the girl with the dog. It was all roses with Daisy, until we hit a major speed bump. My mom called me one day to say that my grandpa was dying, and she wanted me to move home immediately.
I thought about it, but in the corner of my tear-filled eyes I saw Daisy playing with her chicken. I told my mom I could come home for the funeral, but I couldn't stay; it wasn't just me anymore, I had to take care of Daisy, too, and her paperwork to move to the U.S. wasn't ready. In the same week, my landlady informed me she was selling my apartment and I had to move within a week if I wanted my full deposit. I packed up my stuff, and Daisy and I became transients, packing up and moving from sublet to sublet until my work contract came to a close.
A month before it was time for Daisy to immigrate, I got her the required vaccinations, microchip and paperwork to leave the country, and paid an extortionate amount of money to have a government vet examine her and clear her for an international flight. I ended up cleaning out my meager savings on Daisy's move, but that never gave me pause. It was simply not an option to leave her in China.
On the 14-hour flight home, Daisy didn’t make a single sound as she sat in her carrier under the seat in front of mine; she was so well-behaved she didn’t even go to the bathroom. When we arrived in Newark and got into my mom's car, my mom sighed and said, "Did you really have to bring a dog home? Couldn't you have found her a home in China?" I think it only took 36 hours for my parents to both come around and fall in love with Daisy. My mom boils chicken gizzards and steams salmon for her now.
Daisy definitely enjoys the U.S. Other than an episode of Lyme disease, Daisy leads an enviable life: She eats awesome food, mingles with other city dogs in Tompkins Square Park and goes on fun adventures with me to Inwood or Williamsburg. She also visits my parents pretty often in New Jersey, where they take her for hikes.
A lot of people see Daisy as some kind of miracle dog who survived the trenches of communist China to live in the land of the free, thanks to her gracious American savior. In truth, Daisy gives me much more than I could ever give her. Ever since I got into a serious car accident in August, I've had to spend time recovering at my parents' home, where Daisy sleeps by my side each night and rests her head in the crook of my arm.
I completely understand that Daisy can only love me as much as she loves chicken gizzards, but she makes me profoundly happy. Every morning I wake up and see her scruffy face next to mine, and the sight makes me just as happy as it did the day before.
No therapy could do what Daisy has done for me; I'm never lonely or depressed thanks to Daisy’s company. I don’t think I could ever love another dog as much as I love Daisy. She is inextricably tied to the struggles and joys of my 20s. She is my miracle dog.