About 'Open Mike in Busan'
For this week on Busan e-FM, I thought I’d talk about how I ended up becoming a serial pet owner in Korea, even though I never intended to. So this is all about pets – and pet rescues.
My brother-in-law owned a snake – I’m not going to end up finishing this story as a snake-owner by the way – so he went away for a job, and that left my mother-in-law feeding it... with hamsters. But while cleaning the room she’d unplugged the snake’s tank, and the cold made it very sick, so it stopped eating – leaving the last two hamsters running around over it. I gathered this was bad, because it’s an ancient Korean belief that snakes sort of protect the places they live in.
But, in the end my brother-in-law said we should give it away to a specialist who could nurse it back to health. So I carried it... on the subway... in a bucket covered by newspapers, but it was still visible in people actually looked. It wasn’t exactly a small snake either – it was a bull python.
I imagine the other passengers were a little surprised. You know, I feel I play the role of the strange foreigner here, but sometimes I get to be even stranger than that. I’m honestly not sure if people just look at me and think “Well, he’s a foreigner.” Does that make it OK? Or is it worse? I don’t know.
So once the snake was gone, I was left with its food – the hamsters. And it turned into a major operation – buying separate cages because they fought each other, two lots of bedding and everything they needed. We tried our best but one died six months later, and the other died while we were back in England. But by this time we had another pet – a dog – and that was also unintended, because it was sort of a rescue situation.
The dog rescue
Some friends of ours got a puppy. It was separated from its mother after 15 days. My family always had a pet dog when I was growing up, and I thought that was really terrible – the recommendation in England is around 10 weeks as a minimum. Maybe it’s different in Korea though. Anyway, he was five months old when we saw him, and it was clear he had serious behavioural problems. Our friends were busy with their jobs, and it was their first dog so they didn’t really know how to cope with him, and he wasn’t house-trained.
I wondered if that was more common in Korea than England; there isn’t such a long history of having pet dogs here, so people don’t know what to do. Our friends wanted to give their dog away, but we weren’t really interested because we were planning to go back to England – although we had wondered about getting a dog for my mother-in-law to keep her company. But, after we saw our friends’ dog, we had to take him with us immediately.
This came as a surprise to my mother-in-law
I don’t know what we would have done if my mother-in-law hadn’t liked him, but she did. So then we had a dog. He was a real nightmare at first – he bit me a couple of times, and once bit my mother-in-law quite badly – she had to go to hospital. Fortunately she still wanted him, so when we left Korea she was happy to keep him, despite his problems.
He’d improved when we got back, but his temperament isn’t perfect and I think we have to accept that it never will be. Personally, I don’t think you can separate puppies from their mothers at 15 days and not not expect long-lasting trauma from that, but maybe that was always going to be the way he is.
Another dog rescue
Then there was a second dog rescue. One day I was sat at my desk, and cars kept sounding their horns outside. This went on for several minutes. So I looked out, and even though I was 15 floors up, I could see there was what looked like a cat walking around the six-lane highway below us. Cars were weaving around it, doing sudden stops – it was chaos. I watched for about a minute, and nobody seemed to be doing anything, so I rushed down, and when I got down to the road I saw it was actually a dog. But how do you rescue a dog from the middle of a busy highway, you know – in Busan – where the way people drive is always very... exciting.
Apparently the way to do it is that you risk your life, run out into the middle of the road, and try to grab the dog in as friendly way as possible while cars speed by you on the road.
This didn’t work. He growled at me, and after being bitten by the first dog we’d rescued, I was a bit more cautious than I used to be. I gave up, and finished up following him down the road for about half a mile looking for a better opportunity. I wondered if people were thinking ‘that crazy foreigner has lost his dog’, and someone even asked “is he yours?” So I felt like the police were going to tell me off if they turned up. But by this time my mother-in-law had arrived, so I told her to phone the police – I figured that the dog was a danger to traffic, so they should get involved.
119 is the Korean emergency number
But the police weren’t called. This highlights one of those language problems I have. I kept saying to he ‘경찰. 전화.’ [Police. Phone]. Finally I thought she’d understood – but then she said “일 – 일 – 구. 일 – 일 – 구.” [1-1-9. 1-1-9.] I just looked at her so then she made the numbers with her fingers. Then I had to tell her “한국말 못합니다.” [“I can’t speak Korean”]. I can’t phone the police... obviously. Then she understood – but she still didn’t call them. It was incredibly frustrating.
Fortunately we did manage to rescue the dog in the end. He came off the road and we cornered him in an alleyway, made friends, and took him to a local vet where the owner found him. So the the story had a happy ending, and we didn’t have to take in another dog.
And after the snake, hamsters and dogs...
And then there were the fish. That’s another aspect of Korean culture. We’d bought insurance and the agent – who is a friend of my mother-in-law – gave her some fish with the words “I hope you can bring me some more clients”.
I find there’s often this blurred line between friendship and business here. So she had to take the fish, although she liked the idea of having them. But because of another language misunderstanding, she gave them to me because she thought I wanted them – which I didn’t. The fish bred quickly before we learned how to separate them, so now I have three fish tanks, and my mother-in-law has a fourth. It’s incredibly time-consuming looking after them.
So I really don’t want to gain any more pets in future. Of course, next time I see a dog running around on the highway outside, I’ll be out there again trying to rescue it – and if we don’t find the owner, what can I do? Perhaps it’s my fate in Korea to accumulate pets.
Inside Out Busan
Air date: 2010-12-08 @ ~19:30