My New Dog and My New Chinese Grandpa

I’ve been in my new place for a week and a half now and I’m starting to get used to it. My living quarters are on the third floor of the house pictured above. The night picture of the gate on Dali’s west side was taken from the third floor.

The dog. Sigh. This poor little guy is chained to his cage all the time just to the left of the door as you enter the house’s courtyard from the street. The first few days I stayed here, he ran to the end of his chain, barking and jaws-a-snapping, every time he saw me. I kinda thought I could make friends with him, especially if I controlled the food supply…

Which brings me to my new Chinese grandpa. How to explain this? This house just outside of Dali Old Town (大理古城) belongs to one of the students in my adult class. The whole family, including her parents, live together in the city of Xiaguan (下关) about 15 miles to the south. But Grandpa – or as I’m supposed to call him, Lao Su – comes to this house every night to feed the dog, clean up a bit, spend the night, feed the dog in the morning, and then go back to Xiaguan for the day. I’ve tried to explain that he doesn’t have to do this now that I’m here, but so far he’s come back about three-quarters of the nights I’ve spent here. That included the first three nights I spent here, which didn’t give me a chance to feed the dog.

Finally, the fourth night I spent here, I had the house and the dog to myself. I had bought myself some frozen dumplings to fry up for dinner and had enough left over to give some to the dog. I walked to a point just a few feet out of his range and held up a dumpling. He barked like crazy at me for a while so I ate the dumpling in front of him, put the plate of dumplings down where I’d been standing, and walked back into the house.

I went back outside about a half an hour later and tried again. I’d watched him from the window a bit as he strained for the food and sniffed the air, so I knew we might be getting somewhere. Sure enough, he was a little calmer this second time. He ran back into his cage as I approached. This time he kept up a constant low grumbling in his throat. I tossed a dumpling within his reach and watched for a while. I was freezing my ass off but he was going to watch me watch him eat that dumpling, or he wasn’t going to eat it. I think I waited 10 minutes or so, and then I used a stick to retrieve the dumpling. I put it back on the plate and went back inside.

I watched him from the window strain and sniff again. I went back out a half an hour later, he went back into his cage, I tossed a dumpling within his reach, and sure enough after a few minutes he slinked on out and ate it! Emboldened, I got in a crouch and extended a dumpling in my hand but out of his reach. He sniffed and stayed relatively calm, so I tossed it to him. He quickly ate it. I left the plate with four more dumplings out in the courtyard and went to bed.

Next morning, before work, I went out and tried to feed him some breakfast. I grabbed a dumpling and crept closer and closer towards him, in a crouch. He was grumbling the whole time. All of a sudden he snapped and came at me. So I stood up and threw the dumpling over the wall, put the plate down, and left to teach my class.

When I got back at about 1:30 pm the dog didn’t bark at me as he heard me approach the door. Good sign. I opened the door, poked my head in and said hello. Still no barking. But as I wheeled my bike in he went nuts and lunged for me. I put my bike on its stand and picked up the plate of dumplings. He quieted down. This time, he ate the dumpling out of my hand! I put the other two in his food bowl and left him to eat alone. (The bike still seems to freak him out).

I’m not really going to pretend I know what I’m doing here. But it seems the dog and I have reached a bit of an accommodation. I no longer feel threatened enough to need a stick. He only goes for me if the family is around. I guess he kinda loses his mind and it’s not clear to him if I may be trying to murder them or not. I don’t know. Or, if he’s penned up in his cage he barks at me. The one time I found him like that I used a stick to undo the cage latch. As soon as he got out, he stopped barking at me.

Otherwise he doesn’t bark at me anymore, and he’ll even eat things out of my hand. I haven’t tried to pet him yet, and the last few days Lao Su has been around to feed him, so there hasn’t been much progress recently.

Now back to my new grandpa. Lao Su is in his eighties and doesn’t hear very well. He’s very into the idea of us being language partners. This morning, as I was making my oatmeal, he grilled me on what I was putting in it (raisins, honey, and milk), and asked me about my bedtime and waking habits. Later, he came back and gave me a paper with three Chinese sentences on it and asked me to translate them into English for him. So I wrote the English translations:

  1. I get up at half past six.
  2. For breakfast, I eat oatmeal with milk, honey, and raisins.
  3. I go to bed at half past ten.

He wants to study my habits as well! I think he was intrigued by how I prepared my oatmeal. I notice he has a stash here as well.

Lao Su is just a very nice guy. His wife told him she’s afraid I’m lonely here in this big house by myself. I tried to tell him not to worry about me, that I can feed the dog and he should take this opportunity to spend more time with his family in Xiaguan. But I’m sure I’ll see him at least half a given week.

He’s only annoyed me once, but I was nice about it. One morning, an off day for me, I got up at 8 am and went downstairs. I was going to try to speak with my wife (13 hours behind now on US east coast time) over Wechat so I made coffee and skipped breakfast. After the phone call I reheated my fried rice from the night before. This was about 10 am. Lao Su informed me that this was very late and expressed dismay about how this would affect my lunch. I guess Chinese grandpas gotta Chinese grandpa.

The left-most picture above features two containers of alcohol sitting on the coffee table in the first floor living room. One is a clear liquor inside a water bottle. The other is a dark liquor inside a decanter with about a dozen unidentifiable objects soaking in it. It’s Lao Su’s habit to have a shot of each at night, for his health. I’ve joined him on a few occasions, at his insistence. He’s here again tonight, but I’ve excused myself to bed before he had a chance to bust them out.

I think living here will be a pleasant way to spend my last few months in China. If I take advantage it will help my Chinese, I’ll make two friends, and I’ll get to hear a lot of terrible karaoke (the house is on a street parallel to a street full of KTV – Karaoke TV – bars).