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Hong Kong Calico

By: Michael LaRocca - Copyright 2004

Like almost all my pet stories, this is an excerpt from:
An American Redneck In Hong Kong
Published in 2001, which actually contains very little about Hong Kong. It's mostly cat and dog stories. The site contains three free chapters.

November 2004



"Dogs have masters; Cats have staff."
This story describes Picasso as she was four years ago. Since then she's moved from Hong Kong to Hangzhou, and from Hangzhou to Shaoxing. She was featured in the SPCA's 2002 A-Cat-A-Day Calendar, and she's the star of my free weekly newsletter, Mad About Books - She also has a much bigger scratching post now!

Picasso was born in February 2000. According to local astrology, the Year of the Dragon. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon? I rescued her from the SPCA in September 2000. Someone had stuck her in a donation box. I don't even want to know what that means.

I had very definite plans. A calm, quiet, lazy girl who would be content spending all day cooped up in an 18th floor Hong Kong shoebox apartment.

There she was. In a glass cage. Her roommate was playing with a cat toy that some people dangled before her, ringing the bells and acting like a kitten. Meanwhile, she rested on a perch, mildly disgusted by all the commotion.

Once I reached in, but not before, she rubbed her head on my hand and purred. Yes, I decided, I'll take the quiet one. The paperwork said she was four months old, based on her size. The guy who handled the adoption looked at her teeth and said, "No, she's probably seven months, just underfed."

When I got home, I told my wife, "She has a naughty face, but she's really very sweet."

I returned two days later, after the desexing operation, and brought home my shy, quiet cat. I set down the cat carrier, opened it, and there she was. Scared, skinny, gorgeous.

My wife, the painter, stated that the kitten looked like a Picasso. If Picasso had painted a cat, this is how it would have looked. Black, white and ginger all in unique swirls and patterns. Thus, we named our new kitten Picasso.

Picasso camped out in the spare bedroom, between the wall and the nearby wardrobe, atop some luggage. A very confined, safe area. The room was full of other hiding places, naturally, as we use it for clothing storage. Space is a rare commodity in Hong Kong. I marvel at the folks who live with two kids, grandma, and a Filipino maid.

"She may be too quiet," we worried for the next two days. "Boring."

We need not have been concerned. That's how long it took her to recover from the surgery, and to realize that her masterful con job was a resounding success. Don't you know by now that all cats, when seeking a home, pretend to be angelic? Then, when everything is safe and you've been lulled into that false sense of security... BAM!

Picasso loves to play with pens, lighters and balls of paper. Knocking massive marble balls from the windowsill always gives a satisfying bang. On the polished wood floor, they sound like bowling balls when they roll. Never in a straight line, leading to hours of fascinating study. The hair on her tail sticks out like a bristle brush and her eyes look feral as she rushes madly through the flat. What will she attack next? Possibly the large silk butterfly on the wall. No one ever knows, not even her.

She loves pouncing on wall hangings, and attacking funnel web spiders on the television. She knows how to sit on the remote control and turn on the TV, but it's much more fun to lift the lid on the computer printer and watch the cartridges move.

Her favorite room may be the bathroom. Picasso can watch people in there, on the toilet or in the shower. She can smell things. She can stare at herself in the mirror. She can attack the box of tissues, although she knows not to do that. Not that knowing stops her. This is a cat, not a dog. She just lies atop the basin full of shredded tissues and says "meeeeowrrrrr..." Roughly translated, that means, "I didn't do that. I just found them here. I don't know how they got this way."

She can leap from the basin to the wall that divides the room almost in half, landing on the 4 inch space between that wall and the ceiling, slamming into the roof on the way. From there she can climb onto the light above the mirror, then leap all the way down to the floor when someone opens a tin of tuna.

Imagine you're a guy about to take a leak, only to have a cat jump on the toilet and challenge your aim. Now imagine her batting the stream, perhaps even taking a sniff. Then when the toilet flushes, she must stick her head way down in there for a close-up wide-eyed look. She's stopped doing all that, fortunately.

The bathroom has a tub, which is great for rolling in or hiding in. Recently I saw Picasso licking a bar of soap, then licking her white chest. Maybe that's how she keeps it so clean.

Or perhaps her favorite room is the kitchen. She and the kitchen didn't get along at first. She leaped on the stove at a bad time and burned her whiskers. Now she's learned that it's safe only when the burners are off.

The kitchen offers many opportunities to observe coffee brewing, cooking and dishwashing. Best of all, it has a tap. The water falls down, then vanishes into the hole. How does that happen? If she's feeling a bit energetic, I can simply leave it dripping and go on my merry way. She'll appear half an hour later, face and paws soaked from batting at the water and trying to bite it.

When the pipes stopped up, she was extremely fascinated with my repairs. Running water and an open cabinet. This combination was simply irresistible. Ditto when I repaired the toilet. This is a cat who is definitely obsessed with understanding plumbing.

The bed is also good, because she can lie on Daddy's chest and purr. This after fifteen minutes of "kneading bread" on a stomach that bounces like a waterbed. Picasso almost never bites. She doesn't sleep at our feet, but she does visit often. Sometimes too often.

Did you know that a bite on the leg or the toe is a friendly morning greeting? Picasso taught me that. Two minutes later, it's also good to sniff my face, purr, and perhaps lick my eyelashes.

She gained some weight, incidentally, and looks her age now. She is not fat, but neither is she skinny. If I fed her every time she demanded it, she'd be more bloated than Garfield.

When I edited her web page, she tried very hard to help. She hit all kinds of buttons, opening and closing windows and creating desktop shortcuts. Finally, she realized that it happened because she was pushing the buttons. She cocked her head to one side, fascinated. She looked at me, then back at the screen. She understood what was happening, but she's still working on why. I have faith in her.

Once she saw a photo of some other cat on the screen. She batted at it for two or three minutes, claws out. It was worse than the funnel web spider. I must turn off the computer when I'm not using it because Picasso likes to log onto the Internet... seriously!

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with a stomach pain, but that's just her pouncing on it again. In the next second, she kisses my forehead or sniffs my eyelashes again. She doesn't pounce on my wife's stomach. No, she prefers my wife's chest. Her claws have gotten quite sharp recently.

We no longer need an alarm clock. Picasso sneaks into the bedroom, with the stealth of a born hunter, sticks her mouth directly in the closest ear, and lets loose with a blood-curdling MEEEEEOOOWWRRRRRRRR!!! Convinced that we're awake, she returns to the couch and sleeps contentedly.

One thing about the tri-colored Picasso alarm clock, however, is that she doesn't know when we want to get up. She visits at midnight, 1, 2, 3, etc. She also doesn't bother to check the calendar.

As of late, she's become a more discriminating alarm clock. She realizes that nothing wakes me up, so she concentrates her efforts on my wife. At the moment, my wife is responding by imitating me and lying unmoving. It's working, but one never knows for how long.

Apparently, Picasso feels that we don't need sleep anyway. Either that, or we're simply deaf. We never know when we'll hear things crashing in the living room in the middle of the night, or perhaps some strange howling.

By now you may be wondering why I'd keep such an insane cat. It's because we love each other.

Does your cat wait for you to wake up in the morning so she can say hello? Does she run to the door and talk to you when you return from work or an errand? Does she know your schedule intimately, adjusting her sleeping habits to wake up and stare at the door at lunchtime, waiting for you to pop in for a quick visit? Picasso does.


She often visits me when I'm reading in bed, rubbing and purring and saying, "I love you, Daddy." When I'm working at the keyboard, she watches contentedly from a nearby perch. She always follows me or my wife around the apartment when we cook or clean or whatever because she loves to watch us do stuff.

Every cat I've owned has run as far away from me as possible when I clean the litter box. Picasso supervises. As soon as I'm done she gives it an inspection and a test drive, but that's not unusual for a cat.

"Being a cat means never saying you're sorry." I never met a cat who'd disagree with this statement, until Picasso. If I scold her for something, most of the time she genuinely apologizes. She might do it again a week or an hour later, but she just can't help herself.

Naturally she has mellowed with adulthood, and she was never very bad to begin with. She's an angel at least 90% of the time. As for the rest, we all have to blow off some steam sometimes. Life with Picasso is never boring.

Shortly after her arrival, I bought her a scratching post. She absolutely loved it. But as she grew older, and longer, it became too small. It's seventeen inches tall, perhaps acceptable for a kitten, but not an adult. A cat really needs to stretch her body to its full length when she's sharpening her claws.

Back in the United States, this would have been simple enough. Go to the pet store and buy a bigger one, right? Not in Hong Kong. I had to find myself a pet store with an employee fluent in English, explain what I wanted, and order it from a catalog. It wasn't as difficult as it sounds, actually. I'm getting the hang of Hong Kong now.

Picasso watched in fascination as I assembled the fifty-two-inch monstrosity, with four perches of varying heights and sizes. The longest of the three posts, one that rises from the floor, is a whopping thirty-two inches from the ground.

As I completed the construction, I discovered that one of the perches had a hole missing. I didn't have a drill. I couldn't simply take it to the store for a spare part because it was imported from the UK. Plus, repackaging it at this stage and returning to the store would have been cruel to Picasso.

I "drilled" the hole with a hammer, some nails and a screwdriver. When I finished the job, exhausted and sweaty, Picasso ignored the post in favor of the empty box. She spent days sleeping in that box. Now it's lined with towels, plus all the stray paper balls and rubber bands she's found to stash in it, and it serves as her bed. It's beneath the dining room table, giving her a four-poster bed.

Finally she discovered the scratching post. She leaped atop it, putting her at eye level with me, and gave me a grateful meow and a kiss. She loves it. She can sit on a perch and look over my shoulder as I type this.

Do you remember what I said before about her claws getting quite sharp recently? This is why. But aside from an occasional attack on the feet beneath the blankets, Picasso usually keeps them to herself.

There are two problems with writing about Picasso. The first problem is, it becomes obsolete so quickly. The second problem is, I don't know when to shut up. I think I'll just do that now.

You may rest assured that Picasso will be living with us for a long time to come. We're all much happier this way.

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