We feed So and Se from automatic dry food dispensers at 6:30 am, 12:30 pm, and 6:00 pm. They also get wet food every night at 9:00 pm. (Earlier if their vocalizing drives us totally insane.) About an hour before any of these feeding times they go absolutely crazy - fighting, chewing the walls, running everywhere, leaving swathes of charred, half-burning carpet in their wakes.
These are the faces of hungry, devil-possessed felines. And we love them despite their madness.
So-chan and Se-chan and their cat-doll, Asaichi, on top of our refrigerator in Kanazawa, Japan. So is to the left and looking up angelically (he's a good actor). Se, who follows So everywhere, is looking down in disgruntlement. It's the late afternoon and they're begging for a second treat of dried fish.
THE UNLIKELY JOURNEY OF SO-CHAN AND SE-CHAN:
TWO VIETNAMESE CATS NOW LIVING IN JAPAN
The purpose of this blog is to share the story of two stray kittens that my girlfriend, Haru, and I caught and brought into our homes when we were living in Vietnam. The kittens are named So and Se, and on March 2015, at around the time of their first birthday, we moved with them to Kanazawa, Japan.
I am the author of the novel Lotusland (Guernica Editions), which was published in March 2015 – clearly, it was a busy month for all of us – and I'm working on a book about our rescue and adoption of two stray Vietnamese cats that I plan to self-publish before the end of this year.
The cover of my novel. For more on my book and writing, please visit my author website, www.david-joiner.com.
For this blog's inaugural post, I'll share a brief summary of the book I'm working on now. Note that the tenses are consistent for the time when I wrote the piece, which was late in 2014. I'll also include some photos of So and Se. More photos and videos will be forthcoming, along with captions and anecdotes, in the days ahead.
I hope people enjoy our blog and will keep an eye out for my book when it comes out!
We’ve been living in a secure riverside complex in Ho Chi
Minh City, Vietnam, since January 2014. It’s one of those rare finds in an
urban sprawl: lots of open, soft grass; beautifully maintained trees and
flowers; a long stretch of river dotted with water hyacinth and birds of every
description; and fish so big that not too far upstream from us a 200-kg carp
was recently caught. We also have a lot of stray cats here. It’s not clear
where they all come from or where they disappear to. But in the news a few
weeks ago it came to our attention that two men were arrested for coming into
our neighborhood and stealing pets and strays. It turned out they were selling
them to local restaurants where men eat them believing they will boost their
virility. They admitted to stealing 200 cats and dogs.
Back in March a family of cats – a mother and three kittens
– started hanging out on our back porch. Why they chose us, when there were 38
other such porches to choose from, I have no idea. The mother cat was quite skinny,
so we took to giving her a bit of food each day. One small serving of wet cat
food was soon enlarged with a handful of dry cat food. Eventually we were
feeding her small plates of wet food twice a day with a midday snack of dry
food. We knew we were encouraging the cats in ways we shouldn’t, for we
couldn’t take them all in and we were planning to move back to Japan in January
2015, but we felt sorry for them. We thought that if we fed them well they’d
grow strong enough to survive in a place where cats rarely survive for more
than a few years at most.
The mother cat, Marmalade, on our back porch with three of her four kittens: Su, Se, and Shi. Marmalade soon disappeared, and then Shi, too, we never saw again. We eventually caught Su and Se. Su is with a family in HCMC, while Se became our second adopted cat.
A few weeks later the mother cat disappeared. But the three
kittens kept coming around, and we kept feeding them, wondering what to do.
Eventually only one kitten stuck around, and we’d occasionally see the other
two on the steps of our porch, but mostly they just hung out by a nearby
Su, standing, and Se, sitting. Su came every day to tape naps in the sunshine on our porch and to eat the food we placed outside for it twice daily. Se rarely ever came, but he showed up on the day I planned to catch Su and the rest, as they say, is history.
One day I walked to the bridge and was shocked to find a fourth kitten.
He was small and skinny and could barely walk. His left foreleg looked as if
someone had snapped it in half above the wrist. No wonder we never saw it with
its mother and siblings on our porch – it had no way to get there.
When I saw it, I kind of freaked out. I picked it up and ran
back home with it, thinking “Its foot is broken! It’s about to die!” After it
scarfed down a plate of kitten food we stuffed it in a backpack and brought it,
purring the whole time, to two vets. The first vet, I think, wasn’t a real vet
at all, but the second one was and he agreed to help us find a home for it. So we
gave it to him feeling greatly relieved and went home.
But soon we found ourselves driving our motorbike on roads
we had no business being on, all so we could justify stopping at the vet’s,
which always just happened to be nearby, and asking to see the kitten. They
brought it out to us in a plastic basin, and we sat in the waiting room petting
it for 20-minute stretches before embarrassment made us leave. After about a
week of this we decided to adopt it. The doctor and his staff saw it coming all
along. I’m guessing the kitten did, too.
Left: So-chan slowly recovering from various illnesses and blood loss that nearly killed him. Here he is screaming with pleasure (okay, he's yawning) atop a care package filled with cat food and toys that Haru's mother sent from Japan.
Right: So-chan on one of his worse days, following his near-daily subcutaneous drip to treat his chronic dehydration. Beside him is a plate of boiled, diced chicken, which was the only food he was willing to eat for a long time.
It was sick, however, and refused to drink water, so in
addition to treating it for chronic diarrhea, fur loss, and severe weakness –
which involved boiling chicken, pork, beef, and fish three times a day to make
sure it got the protein it needed – we had to bring it in every few days to be
rehydrated with an IV drip. We and our kitten were in mutual agreement that IVs
totally sucked. Especially when they had to be administered at three a.m. The
IV regimen dragged on for two or three months, but it also saved his life.
At the same time all this was happening, we were trying to
help the other three kittens survive without their mother. One of the three
disappeared. The other two were becoming a bit bolder in our presence, entering
our apartment and playing with table legs, the hardwood floor, and things no
human can possibly see, and we ended up catching both of them easily. One we
found a foster home for. The other is now our second cat.
Se-chan staring at his sibling, So, who is zipped up into his carrier in preparation for yet another visit to the vet.
We plan to bring our two cats with us to Japan in March.
Japan is very strict about letting foreign animals into their country, but
we’re doing what we need to do to make it happen smoothly. No Japanese carrier
allows pets in their cabins on international flights, so we’ll be flying on
Korean Air. I had enough miles saved up for us to upgrade from economy to
business class on a one-way flight to Tokyo, and after a miscommunication on
Korean Air’s part that affected our reservations with our cats, they were kind
enough afterward to grant special permission to take both of them with us in
business class on the same flight (normally only one pet can fly on business
class per flight). Our biggest challenge now is to keep each cat’s weight below
3.8 kilograms. If they become heavier than this, they have to fly in cargo.
Right now our larger cat weighs in at 3.4 kilograms. And he always acts as if
So (left) and Se (right) later in 2014 as we inched forward in our preparations to move with them to Japan.
We planned to leave Vietnam on January 15th, when our
one-year lease expired. But because we have to wait 180 days after the cats’ final
required vaccination, we’ve extended our lease for two months and pushed our
move back until March. We leave on the night of the 179th day, but we arrive in
Japan the next morning: Day 180.