Part One: How I ended up with a cat from China |

Part One: How I ended up with a cat from China

On Paper / Jessica Smith
Grand County, CO Colorado

How it started

People tell you a lot of things when you’re moving abroad, particularly to a place like China.

They tell you to be careful of the food, to make an attempt to learn the language, and to exhibit common sense while traveling. You ready yourself to expect certain things like differences in culture, and opportunities to learn things and meet new people. Pets are usually far from the picture.

My roommate and I rescued the black-and-white scrap of a kitten from wandering the parking lot of our apartment complex. Strays are common in China, and many complexes are home to half-feral cats and dogs that the locals regularly feed. What impressed us about this little guy was his attachment to people. He followed at the heels of each passer-by, trotting a little kitten trot and mewing to be picked up and taken home, not a single feral instinct in his body.

What’s in a name?

Although he’s native Chinese, I raised the cat as an American while telling him never to forget his roots. Now, he is content to ignore me in both languages, so I guess that worked out. The other thing about him is his name. I have received the entire scale of reactions to it (surprised laughter to outright indignation), but it remains unchanged. While we struggled for a little while with Chinese possibilities like “Shanghai” or “xiao-mao” (little cat), those didn’t seem to fit. Eventually, due to a series of long discussions and several inside jokes, we settled upon a decision – Garbage.


Now that your collective laughter/gasps of dismay are over, hear me out. It suits him. The hard ‘g’ and long ‘ar’ are perfect for half-growling, half-shouting across the room when he climbs the drapes or puts his paw in a glass of water to tip it over. It was given based on good humor (remember that episode of “The Office” where Dwight tries to replace Angela’s cat?), without any intention of mean-spiritedness. Any of you still concerned about what a low-sounding name might have upon his confidence and self-image, rest with a clean conscience. He’s a rock star, and he knows it. Plus, I like to think it gives him character and a certain distinguished-ness. Like a man named Sue.

Fateful decision

When it came time to leave China, I found myself, a sworn dog-person, grown attached to the little black cat, and decided to take him back with me to the land of the free and the brave. A lot of people tried to dissuade me, but every time I thought about it, I looked into his face, with his triangle nose, gorgeous golden eyes, and snowy white chin, and I just couldn’t stomach the thought of leaving him behind. I know people say cats aren’t like dogs, they’re more indifferent about people, I’ve heard the arguments, and it might be so. In general.

But every day the little guy greeted me at the door after work with a meow and a kiss. He purred in my lap for hours, and after his neutering surgery, would only go to sleep if I was holding him. Sorry doubters, sorry bank account, sorry world. He was coming with me.

Quite a lot of paperwork, vet trips, and a 20-hour flight schedule later, I arrived in Colorado with my passport, two suitcases, and a bag full of very-unhappy kitty. I don’t speak cat, but I imagine now I know what a few feline swear words sound like. Still, we made it. The hard part was over. I knew that with a little care, a little time, and a lot of tasty snacks, Garbage would soon be ready to face whatever adventure next came his way.


Part Two: Cat Culture Shock

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