The recent arrival of a perky little stray pup in my favourite bar has reminded me of my first Christmas here in Beijing (another reminiscence over on Froogville - I'm in nostalgic mood!).
It was a glum time for me: my mother died suddenly, just a fortnight before the holiday, and I hadn't been able to go home for the funeral. I hadn't wanted to share my grief with a bunch of colleagues only a few of whom were friends, and none of whom I'd known much more than three months, so it was all bottled up inside. I was emotionally a bit of a mess.
More than ever, I depended on the reliable haven of the 'Legitimate Businessmen's Club', the grotty but cosy little neighbourhood restaurant that was my almost nightly resort during my first year here. In the run-up to Christmas, I was hanging out there every night - with my two closest buddies 'Big Frank' and 'The Chairman' ('The Three Amigos'), and the familiar gaggle of Chinese regulars.
And during this period there was one notable addition to the usual dramatis personae - an adorably cute little puppy. It appeared that the restaurant's owner had agreed to look after it for a friend, but it didn't receive a lot of affection from him or his staff (we worried at first that the poor little guy was intended for the cooking pot!), nor from any of the other regulars. In fact, he was a nervous little critter, very shy of going near anyone. Frank and Tony made brief efforts to win him over, but he was suspicious and aloof.
But me - I've always had that 'dog thing'. Supposedly unstable and dangerous dogs break into my bedroom..... and lick my face (ring any bells, Mothman?). It was much the same with the pup at The Legit - he warmed to me instantly..... tugging playfully at my trouser-legs, and soon graduating to sitting on my lap (a sign of honour he wouldn't consider bestowing on anyone else). 'Warmed' is probably the key consideration here. It was bitterly cold that winter; the restaurant was draughty; the tiled floor was freezing cold, and I don't think the poor little dog even had a blanket to lie on - he was shivering miserably most of the time.... unless he was sleeping in my lap. I often felt bad about displacing him when I finally had to go home - at 3am or 4am.
He didn't appear to have a name - at least, no-one in the restaurant was using one. So, in honour of my burly bruiser of a drinking chum, whom our Chinese colleagues had dubbed da fa lan ke, we called the adorable little doggy xiao fa lan ke - Little Frank.
Unconditional affection, so simply given and received - it's a wonderful thing. Pets are such a tonic for the emotional and mental health. I really think that little dog saved me from a breakdown.
I was terribly upset when he disappeared again a couple of weeks later. I hope he went back to his owners, and not into the pot.