Taming the beast that is our wacky, wild feline friend

By Erik Nilsson (China Daily)
2009-12-08 11:30
Large Medium Small

"Little Wild Man" truly lives up to his name.

Taming the beast that is our wacky, wild feline friend

My wife and I chose this Mandarin moniker (Xiao Yeren) for the feisty feline addition to our family because he lived as a stray before we took him in.

It's based on the appellation of Bigfoot's Chinese cousin, the hairy hominid that some believe lurks in the alpine woodlands of Hubei province's Shennongjia.

Surely, our fuzzy little guy's life in the capital's concrete jungle was just as wild as that of the wholly ape-man rumored to roam Central China's primitive forests. Or at least it was, until he found refuge in a warm flat with doting caretakers.

When Xiao Yeren first arrived, the other translation of his name - "Little Savage" - proved very fitting. Anything that moved - and many things that didn't - in our apartment would detonate an explosion of tiny claws and fangs. This led me to quickly realize my wife and I are the least stationary things in our house. I also discovered I shift around a lot in my sleep.

While taming Little Wild Man has proven a tricky business, we've had better luck in training him.

He's already learned to sit pretty and give high-fives. But he only responds to "zhan qi lai" or "ji zhang" when we are waving a bag of food over his head.

Once the nosh is dispensed, he practically refuses to eat unless we pet him while he gorges himself. If we fail to do so, he follows us around, bleating like an emergency siren until we capitulate.

Recently he has discovered how to open every door, including those to the cabinets. This enables him to launch ambushes on us, after which he immediately flees.

Because of the tabby's propensity for effective strike-and-retreat guerilla warfare strategy, foreign friends who can't pronounce his Chinese name instead call him Chairman Meow.

We jest that the Chairman is the vanguard of Mao Lun (Cat Theory) in our home.

Former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, who developed the theory, meant that any economic system that provides for the people is good when he said: "Black cat, white cat - if it catches mice, it's a good cat."

Xiao Yeren's version goes: "That human, that other human - if it pets me while I eat, it's a good human."

This shows the softer side of the Little Savage.

As his adolescent angst subsides, other, more idiosyncratic, personality traits have begun emerging.

Among these is a fascination with running water.

Taming the beast that is our wacky, wild feline friend

At the sound of the toilet flushing, Xiao Yeren bounds into the room, and hops up on his back legs with his front paws, clutching the seat to gaze into the whirlpool of water. His head swivels as he follows the swirling eddy with his eyes.

As soon as the shower starts, he dashes into the bathroom, leaps on the toilet and lets loose a barrage of high-decibel meows until the faucet is turned off. Only he knows why.

While we don't understand his utterances, the cat seems to comprehend a handful of ours, such as his name and "no!"

My wife and I are looking at raising the kitty as practice for bringing up children, and one of the concerns we share for both is bilingualism.

While we try to speak as much Chinese as we can to the little fur ball, he seems to understand English best.

Fortunately, my Chinese tutor has also taken a liking to Xiao Yeren, and part of my daily lesson involves her cooing to the critter in Mandarin. He seems very responsive to her - almost more so than I am during our lessons.

Xiao Yeren is the eighth cat I've owned but the first I've had in China. And raising him in Beijing has contributed greatly to our intercultural, interspecies experiences in the city.