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Going to the dogs in the Dog Year

/ 05:04 AM February 11, 2018

I was born in the Year of the Dog, which is why I have mixed feelings each time the Chinese Lunar New Year comes around, with the zodiac decreeing that dogs dominate.

Living in Cebu, a city whose streets are crowded with all manner of sad, mangy dogs, some of them lame from being run down by cars and bikes (something that seems prevalent nationwide), I think of the time I lived in Berkeley, California, and saw a car with a bumper sticker that read “Dog is my co-pilot.”  And I sometimes long for an active SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) here, like the one I knew in my years in Hong Kong. But I realize that’s an unfair wish in a country where stray hungry children can be found.

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Not long ago I loved dogs, as did my family. But in my old age I’ve taken to cats who provide one with endless hours of fascination. And because they spend three-quarters of the day sleeping, all they need are kibble and water.

It was Winston Churchill who said, “Dogs look up to you, cats look down on you, and pigs look you straight in the eye!” Indeed, I find that my cats like to climb on bookshelves to sleepily watch me move about. My dogs never did that. They trotted beside me on our walks or sat by me, making noises only when they wanted to be fed or let out the front door to pee.

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When World War II was winding down, my elder brother Johnny acquired a pale pig he named Pinky, whom he bathed, walked, and kept in his bedroom. And just as Churchill said, Pinky looked straight at Johnny who talked to him like an equal. When food became scarce, my mother refused to see us children starve, so while Johnny was in school one day she had Pinky cooked, sliced, and put on the dinner table. Needless to say, it was more traumatic for Johnny than any threat of Japanese attacks or American shelling. It took a few years for him to forgive Mama.

The Chinese zodiac has the tiger as a feline symbol, so cats are represented among that menagerie (which includes a mythical dragon). Now that canines are seen to dominate in 2018, they’re supposed to bring luck and inspire loyalty in humans. That’s according to the Chinese. But in the Philippines one mainly sees luck in beauty pageant contestants who get paid for being pretty and for peddling shampoo or frozen chicken. And loyalty seems nonexistent among our battling politicians who tend to get jailed or rubbed out if they insult the panjandrum in power or back the wrong party.

Whatever the animal, 2018 should remind us Pinoys about our Chinese antecedents. There are scores of Gos, Lams, Ngs, Ongs, Sys, Tans and even Sins (think of the late cardinal). My grandmother’s maiden name was Samson, which probably came from Sam-sung in Fujian.

The Filipino-American author who titled her novel “Dogeaters” may have put off canine-loving readers, making them miss a fine satire. And the American journalist who labeled ours a “damaged culture” raised some hackles, though I believe he meant that our society is an eclectic one.

Since we Pinoys are finding that our country is now a vassal state of China’s, we may as well enjoy the Lunar New Year and hope the recent blood-red blue moon was not a portent of nasty things to come.

Meanwhile, I will always like chuckling over those priceless words of Marx (Groucho, not Karl), who said: “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read!”

Isabel T. Escoda has written about migrant workers, especially in Hong Kong where she lived for many years before moving in 2015 to her birthplace of Cebu. Her books include “Letters from Hong Kong,” “Hong Kong Postscript,” “Pinoy Abroad,” and two books for children.

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TAGS: Chinese new year, Inquirer Commentary, Isabel T. Escoda, pet dogs, Year of the Dog
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