I think having a dog while living abroad, specifically while living in Shanghai, is the best. Especially if it's a little dog. Especially if it's Lucy Rocket.
When we lived in Tokyo, we did so with a tiny newborn blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby Nathan. If you wanna stop traffic, meet people, or vastly improve your language skills, I recommend the foreign baby in Asia route. I rarely got more than a few dozen feet without being mobbed by excited locals exclaiming happy sounds, trying to interact with Nat, who incidentally ate it all up. (Side note: at 13, nearly 14, he is way less enthusiastic about strangers interacting with him than when he was 13 months).
|No one could resist Nat's big baby blues! |
And yes, I used to have blonde hair.
If I was struggling with a bag and the baby, someone always ran to my rescue, generally preferring to snuggle the baby while I carried the bag. (Another side note: the things you do abroad are very different than the things you do in your country of origin... I would never hand off my baby to a stranger in America, but in Japan I did it all the time. Maybe because he stood out so much and caused a stir wherever he went. It's not like anyone could get very far with him, especially not in the suburb of Tokyo where we lived).
|Someone willing to hold and entertain the baby while we ate?|
Our answer was always yes!
Foreign friends here in Shanghai report similar experiences with their little ones, stopping people in their tracks and getting lots of attention.
While I am forever grateful that we are firmly out of the baby/toddler years, I see the big difference in the experience you have with a baby vs without one. I've spoken to other friends who didn't have children when they lived in Tokyo, and they've said they found it to be a cold and sterile place, lacking authentic friendliness, and it was hard for them to make contact with the locals. I always feel so sad when I hear that, because my experience was so amazing. Michael and I made a deal: should he ever be offered a job in Japan again, he doesn't even have to ask me. We're going.
So how does this all tie in to having a dog? I'm getting there...
In China, many people are afraid of dogs. And not just big scary looking dogs. Lucy Rocket-sized dogs, at a whopping 1.7 kgs. Which is less than 4 pounds. Lest you think I exaggerate, I will tell you that people have crossed over to the other side of the street or stepped out into traffic when we've been walking her down the sidewalk. On a leash. One time a lady came to our house and I opened the front door while holding Lucy. Lucy made no noise, but the lady screamed and ran back to the elevator in terror. I seriously thought there was a man behind me with a large butcher knife wearing a hockey mask about to stab me or something. Nope, the lady was just petrified of our dog. She came in, and we locked Lucy in a bedroom, but the lady did not stop shaking and looking over her shoulder the whole time she was here.
|Lucy Rocket, ferocious beast. She will claw her way into your heart. Fiercely. As you can see.|
And then there are people (generally the upwardly mobile, status symbol-seekers) who love dogs here. Crazy love. As in outfitting them in tutus, decking them in bows regardless of gender, and putting little shoes on their pups. The poodle is very popular here. 85% of the dogs you see around town are poodles. Not the big Standard Poodle, but the Miniature or Toy size, like Lucy. Poodles are a good breed for the city, they make excellent apartment dwellers, and they don't shed, so they are easy to clean up after. They are also smart and easy to train, so I'm not surprised that they are so popular in Shanghai. With the people who actually like dogs, that is.
But here is the awesome thing about having a dog, especially a poodle, and especially our completely non-aggressive Lu... In a city where people shove and push and ignore everyone in their path, bringing Lucy with us around town ensures that someone (probably several someones) will react to her. They'll either get out of her way (and thus, our way), or they'll pause to bend over and click at her with a giggle. We get a chance to interact with the locals in a way we wouldn't without her. Without her I just get stared at like the zebras at the zoo. It's nice to have a cute dog to take the focus off me.
And second, we live in the most urban, downtown part of Shanghai. If you ever see a photo of the famous skyline of Shanghai, our building is in there. There are very "local" parts of the neighborhood, with wet markets and street vendors serving the non-foreigners, but there are also very touristy parts, especially along the waterfront of the Huangpu River. Touristy areas mean an endless number of hawkers, selling their wares. From laser pointers to kites to photos printed on the spot. You can't go a dozen feet without being accosted by them. They target the foreigners, who are easy marks as tourists. And they are incredibly pushy. Like, they almost ruin your evening stroll pushy. Sometimes it's hard to take.
But you know what's easy to take? Lucy. We put her on her leash (always, it's not really common here, but I'm not willing to lose our tiny dog in a crowd or in the street), and take her with us for our evening walk along the river. And suddenly we're not tourists. Because tourists don't bring their dogs with them to China on vacations. Suddenly our tiny 1.7 kg dog is like an electronic force field, repelling the lady trying to get Michael to buy a flower for me, or the boys to buy a bouncy ball on a stick. It's amazing! Like the ultimate magic trick.
There are challenges to having a pet abroad, of course. Like finding someone to care for her if we want to go on holiday, taking her downstairs for an early morning walk, and the added expense of regular veterinary care which costs more than human care here. But I could not imagine our experience of living here without the constant presence of this furry friend. Life with Lucy rocks.