Shanghai has a way of surprising you; she tests your limits to the point that you feel like you may have to flee, while soon after showing you something that makes you feel like you should stay forever. In one day you can experience serenity, fear, confusion, and joy. Those emotions may be evoked by a fuchsia flower blooming at the beginning of winter, a taxi nearly rear ending the car in front of it, a person accosting you for being crazy enough to walk without an umbrella in the rain, or a taxi stopping to pick you up on a freezing Shanghai night. Everything that happens in Shanghai seems to be an oxymoron; yin and yang. Somehow, it always ends up balancing out.
We came to Shanghai with one pet, a Chihuahua named Pepe. We didn’t plan on getting any other pets until we had a big space of our own, but you know how those things go, especially on the other side of the world. Our first new addition came in the form of a turtle, whose name is still Turtle. She is a Red Eared Slider and loves the water. I fist saw her when she was about the size of a half dollar. She was in a bowl with about twenty other babies, all trying to claw their way to freedom. The baby turtle seller saw that I was an easy target and thrust Turtle in my hand. One look into her shimmering green eyes, and I was sold. I carried her home in my hands and found a plastic container for her to stay for a while. B arrived home, and was understandably confused, “I thought we weren’t getting any more pets.” I replied sheepishly, “I know, but it’s just a turtle.” One trip to Pet Zoo and 7,000 RMB later, Turtle had a pimped out tank.
One night, a few months later my friend was waiting outside a building when she heard meowing from a nearby trashcan. She sifted through the garbage to find two tiny kittens, no more than a couple of days old, tied up in a plastic bag. Fate had decided that was not the way those kittens were going to leave this world, and my friend took them home. She contacted the Second Chance Animal Association of Shanghai, an amazing organization that fights for animal welfare and assists with pet adoption. SCAA paid for the vet visits, kitten formula, and gave excellent advice on how to care for a newborn kitten.
My friend mentioned that one of the kittens developed an infection, and it was getting hard to care for the two. I, without discussing it with B, offered to help with one of the kittens…just until she was adopted of course. Luckily for me, B has a soft spot for cute things, and jumped right in to help care for her. The little ball of orange and white fur grew stronger everyday. We fed her every two to three hours, even at 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., we helped her to the bathroom, joyously declaring to the office that she was pooping quite well. Needless to say, we grew quite attached to the little one. I had just finished bottle feeding her one day when B came up and said, “We’re not giving her up, are we?” I looked at him, wide eyed, “Really?” And that was how we added the fifth member to our family, Penelope the cat.
The cute little kitten went from being a helpless, sightless, wobbly thing, to what she is now: an out of control, out for blood, mad cat. The transformation happened so slowly that we didn’t really notice it at first, we thought it was normal kitten behavior. She got into everything, had crazy dilated pupils at certain times of the night, she ran around chasing an invisible foe while sliding on the wood floor. It was cute because she was little. However, she did not stay little for long, and quickly outgrew Pepe, our poor Chihuahua, who now is attacked daily by his nemesis Penelope.
One night I was minding my own business, watching TV on the couch, when a cat claw found it’s way into my cheek. Another time I was doing some crunches and a claw sliced into my leg, one of my friends went to play with Penelope one evening and came out with her hand dripping in blood. Then, one night I was petting her and she started to try and eat the diamond off of my engagement ring. She is the most bonkers cat I have ever known, but when your life starts out like hers did, you are bound to have a couple of screws loose, right?
Luckily, Penelope seems to have calmed down over the last month. She has recently been spayed, and maybe that is why I can actually pet her now without being attacked. She still tries to drink out of Turtle’s tank, “play” with Pepe, shove everything off of all of our tables, and she will still try to eat my diamond. But I love her anyway. Penelope is true to her city of birth. She pushed us to the brink, just to the edge of the cliff of insanity, but just in time became more than tolerable. Pretty great, actually.
As I start to plan the next phase of my life in Shanghai, another two and a half years, I know to be prepared for anything and everything. I have some big changes coming up in my life, including a wedding…in Shanghai. I will hope for the best, and plan for the crazy. That’s what you do to survive Shanghai.