A leading member of Tomoki & Js and
Co-founder of the Jalousian Society for International Piece of Cake,
A Cat Named Lunch: A Novella 4 of 4
Out of the four members of Tomoki & Js, the one who spoke the worst Chinese was J1, who is from SF, CA, USA. His sentences in Mandarin were composed of extremely limited vocabulary, primarily the following four phrases: "wo xiang" 我想 (I think), "suoyi" 所以 (therefore), "wo shi" 我是 (I am), plus "hen hao" 很好 (very good). "Cogito ergo sum. Bravo!" For a student of first-year Chinese to be able to discuss Cartesian philosophy in Chinese was fairly impressive, but J1 normally talked about more mundane matters of life.
J1's favourite expressions were: "Ali shangke. Ta da lanqiu. Ta huijia. Ta zuo zuoye." 阿里上課。他打籃球。他回家。他作作業。(Ali goes to class. He plays basketball. He goes home. He does his homework.) -- straight out of our textbook, which was published by Beijing Language Institute, now Beijing Language and Culture University 北京語言学院 (現・北京語言文化大学).
Our life on campus was not much different from Ali's, as a matter of fact. At Beijing Teachers College, now Capital Normal University 北京師範学院 (現・首都師範大学), we had four classes in the morning and no class in the afternoon. We went to class, usually. We didn't necessarily play basketball, but we played cards, played Madonna and Michael Jackson on the cassette player (remember, it was the mid-1980s), we played the fool, and played away our youth, money and time. We went home, which was one minute walk downstairs, since our classroom and dormitory rooms were in the same building. And we did our homework -- well, most of the time.
While Tomoki & Js were in class, our dear pussycat Lunch a.k.a. 晩飯 had to stay in the dorm room of one of us -- all alone. Obviously she had very few things to do, apart from eating, sleeping, peeing and poohing. As a result, what happened to her?
. . . well, let me introduce to you a comparable case of one of Lunch's uncles in suburban London, who also had few things to do . . .
Mrs B: It's our cat. He doesn't do anything. He just sits out there on the lawn. . . . He just sits there, all day and every day.
Mr A: And at night.
Mrs B: Sh! Almost motionless. We have to take his food out to him.
Mr A: And his milk.
. . . . . .
Vet: Hm. I see. Well I think I may be able to help you. You see . . . your cat is suffering from what we vets haven't found a word for. His condition is typified by total physical inertia, absence of interest in its ambience -- what we vets call environment -- failure to respond to the conventional external stimuli -- a ball of string, a nice juicy mouse, a bird. To be blunt, your cat is in a rut. It's the old stockbroker syndrome, the suburban fin de siecle ennui, angst, weltschmertz, call it what you will.
Mrs B: Moping.
Vet: In a way, in a way . . . hum . . . moping, I must remember that. Now, what's to be done? Tell me Sir, have you confused your cat recently?
Mr A: Well we . . .
Mrs B: Sh! No.
Vet: Yes . . . I think I can definitely say that your cat badly needs to be confused.
Mrs B: What?
Mr A: Sh! What?
Vet: Confused. To shake it out of its state of complacency.
(Monty Python's Flying Circus. Series One, Episode Five: Man's crisis of identity in the latter half of the twentieth century. Original broadcast: 16-11-1969, Tomoki's Xth birthday)
Lunch's uncle will be rescued by the guys from the 'Confuse-a-Cat Limited'. But we had no 'Confuse-a-Cat Limited' in Beijing. So what did Tomoki & Js do to Lunch? We took her out for a walk, out of the confinement of the dormitory room. It was not Tomoki's idea, as far as he remembers. Guess it was J1 or J2 who proposed it.
People walk a dog, no problem. But "walk a cat"? Yes, some people actually do practice it. One expert says about a cat leash as follows: "Cats need specially-made leashes. Dog leashes won't work as cat leashes because a cat's neck can't take the force a dog's can; one scared leap sideways and a cat on a dog's leash could break its neck. A cat's leash must harness its chest instead, which is why a cat leash consists of a cord looped at one end into three loops, for head and paws." And the same expert on walking a cat: "Walking my cats ... is a compromise between their wanting to be able to go outdoors at will and my wanting them to be safe indoors." - How to Make a Cat Leash, How to Walk a Cat, and How to Give a Cat a Bath Too (http://freeairpress.com/Cats/leash.html)
It was a sunny afternoon. Classes were over. The teachers and the caretaker were not around. We knew we were safe. J1, J2 and Tomoki took Lunch out to the quadrangle. She walked a little and, at that moment, she looked like a little tigress. She breathed the outside air of this Chinese capital for the first time in her life. She was finally liberated -- sort of -- with a leash, for a brief while. It was Spring of Beijing, a year before the infamous Tiananmen crackdown.
2002 (C) Tomoki Yamabayashi