"Oh come on...it'll be fun!" she said, "And besides, he's got 10 cats and 3 dogs."
My ears pricked up at the sound of that. I've had dogs most of my life, and had been telling my other half that I missed playing with pooches and having them around. She was trying to get me to go to a friend's home in Sai Kung, Hong Kong, a little coastal town renowned for its seafood. I didn't know her friend that well and didn't want to impose despite her best efforts to convince me otherwise. But I have to say she got me at '10 cats and 3 dogs'.
That was maybe 3 years ago. Since then, 2 cats and 2 dogs have been added to the mix. Or is it just the 2 Shibas (a Japanese dog breed)? It's hard to keep track after a while.
This time, when we were invited for a cookout by her good friend, I could not say 'no'. In addition to the pets, her friend is an amazing cook, and the thought of lunch, tea and dinner by his hand, made my stomach rumble happily in anticipation.
"But we're going to play mahjong before dinner. You can go sketch in the town if you like."
Not this time, I thought. Why had I never thought of sketching all those cats and dogs before? I did a cat head once maybe, but that was ages ago. I'm constantly on the lookout for interesting things to draw now, and when I was presented with these plans a few days ago, I felt an inner thrill at the chance to sketch something cool!
The MTR and shared taxi ride into Sai Kung was cold, grey and foggy; Hong Kong's spring is setting in cool and wet. I watched the hazy silhouettes of moored boats and yachts in the marina swoosh by, and as we passed the narrow country streets into town, the familiar little cafés and shops filled with water gear told me we were really close. It'll be crazy here in summer with weekend traffic that'll curl your hair, but for now, due to the weather, we swept in unhindered.
A delicious stir-fried udon awaited us for lunch, and we were plied with homemade dumplings for tea. Dinner was a feast of oxtail stew, chicken curry, ribs in a sweet, dark sauce and a vegetarian noodle- tofu-mushroom thingy. Everything was amazingly delicious, and by the end of the day, all guests were rolling out the door! Great company and fantastic food aside though, the other highlight of my day was hanging out with so many four-legged friends.
Due to the cold, all the critters seemed a little sluggish. Can't blame them, I guess. Many humans wouldn't mind napping all day, moving only to feed and roll over for a good scratch. With lunch over, the mahjong game began at one end of the room. I don't play, and on other occasions, would have sat myself down to a few hours of reading after dishing out a fair bit of ear-scratching and belly-rubs. Today, I got to know my subjects a bit better and spent a leisurely while tending to the many noses that poked at me for attention.
This home is about 700 sq feet total, with 3 smallish bedrooms. The poodles sleep with the live-in maid who cares for all the pooches and felines with great love. A good-sized rectangular space houses both living and dining areas, and this is separated by a couch with tattered arms that many of the cats slumber happily on.
I always wondered how 17 animals could live in harmony with the 5 humans who also reside there, but hey, they do. And everyone is loved, fed and cared for. What took me by surprise initially was how clean every single animal was. Also how big the average cat was (larger than the smallest dog!). The largest black cat is so huge, I first thought it was a cushion on top of my armchair during my first visit.
The house has a few flying hairballs in corners, but that is to be expected. The owner of all those pets invested in one of those programmable flying-saucer-like Roomba robot vacuum cleaners, which is deployed every morning at 5a.m. to suck up any fur that's been flying and floating from the day.
I've seen cats lounging on the tops of armchairs and the sofa, on shelves and among the cushions, but have yet to see all 17 pets together in one space. Some are extremely nervous and shy, preferring to hide in some of the bedrooms. Today however, enough were out and about for me to sketch, and sketch I did. Happily, the cold made them cosy up together more than usual, and after the initial excitement they settled down for a snooze so I could begin.
Many hours and 3 drawings later, I can say that great food, great friends (both 2 and 4-legged) and plenty of sketching...now that's truly a great day to be thankful for! :)