I’m “that person” in my neighborhood.
Those of you who have been watching me bumble around the world for the past few years may be confused. "Uh...Louise? Which ‘that person’ do you mean?”
Do you mean…
The person who doesn’t know she’s singing along to her music as she’s walking down her street because she doesn’t understand how headphones work?
The person who apologizes to parking meters when she runs into them?
The person who actively avoids having to tell time or say money amounts out loud because numbers frighten her and whenever a shopkeeper rattles off an amount of money in Cantonese she wasn’t prepared for, an uncomfortable amount of time passes where she appears to be muttering words and connecting them in her head with the corresponding numbers, making everyone in the immediate vicinity impatient and uneasy?
Fine, yes, those too. But the person I’m referring to is "that person who talks to animals" in your neighborhood. That’s me.
After a day of ambling around Hong Kong, I often like to take the long way home from the subway and visit the shop cats and shop dogs.
There's "Jewelry Store Cat," a big, orange cat who sternly sits out front of his jade shop, and responds with a nasally "Meooooooow" when I say, "Hello, Orange Cat!" He dutifully allows a few scratches then walks back to the doorway of his store and says, "GOOD DAY."
Jewelry Store Cat's owner is a petite lady who smokes a lot and likes bright pink lipstick. At first she intimidated me because of her perpetually cocked right eyebrow and her forceful way of exhaling smoke. Now she asks, "Where you been?"
There's "Vegetable Cat," a tuxedo kitty who sits amidst the produce of the corner vegetable market (don't shop there if you're squeamish about cat butts). He is cranky and does not want me to pet him, but he doesn't run away anymore when I talk to him.
Vegetable Cat's owner is a short, round, middle-aged lady who yells at me if I don't buy something — understandably. As soon as I select the veggies I want, she softens and says, "Good choice!" and lets me continue talking to her cat. She means business, and so does her cat.
There's "Pug Town," as I call it. A little shop full of Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Cambodian — anything but American — snacks. Three chubby, little pugs lounge inside by the air conditioner during the summer, out by the steps in the fall/winter. They silently watch everyone walk in, but if you make eye contact with one of them, they all snort-and-smile to life. I am tempted to nest with them.
The owner sits at a little desk in the back and shakes his head at my pug obsession. I buy seaweed snacks from him and sometimes giant packages of toilet paper. He grumbles at me for not speaking Cantonese better. At first I thought he hated me, but now I think he enjoys being annoyed with me. I had the sniffles once, and he barked, "Ay! You eat anything but seaweed? Go buy some pork around the corner!"
Along with "Tea Shop Cat" (she likes to sit with the tea jugs) and "Laundry Dog" (the little white dog who "supervises" the laundromat down the street), the animals in my neighborhood have given me the bravery to meet people I otherwise would have been too nervous to talk with. This has always been the way I am — animals are my bridge to people, a way for me to trick people into connecting with me.
Plus, I think animal people tend to make more allowances, socially, for each other than non-animal people. We smell our own.
What about you? Are you "that animal lover" in your community? Do you meet people through animals?
How have animals allowed you to bridge the gap between yourself and someone outside of your "usual" social circle?