Selected Modern Chinese Essays: Dogs in Katmandu

By Ji Xianlin

When I lived in the countryside as a small child, there were dogs all around, and so I got quite accustomed to them, never thinking of them as anything out of the common. Nevertheless, they have since left a most deep impression on me. After mother, the sole occupant of our country home, passed away, the dog she had raised — I’ve now even forgotten what colour he was — continued to keep watch at the door, lying there day and night. He must have been aware that nobody was going to feed him after the death of his mistress. But he would rather endure the torments of hunger than forsake his post outside our run-down home. At dusk, when I arrived alone from somewhere in the village at our house, in which lay mother’s coffin, the ownerless dog would fix his tearful eyes on me, the youngster bereaved of his loving mother, wag his tail feebly and sniff at my feet. It seemed as if he and I were left all alone in this vast universe. In face of the sad and dreary scene, I could shed no tears. What I shed was blood which flowed right into my innermost heart. I could have stayed with him to live in mutual dependence and comfort each other in distress, but I had to quit my native place, unable to take him along with me. At the time of parting, I hugged him tightly with tears in my eyes. I felt terribly bad about having to desert him. He has since been in my mind for decades. Even today, I cannot restrain my tears whenever I think of him. I am certain he would never stop standing guard at our door even after I left. I cannot bear to imagine what fate befell him in the end. May mother’s soul receive from this faithful dog the consolation that I, as her son, have not been able to offer her!

Since then, I have been fond of all dogs in the world.

But I’ve seen a steady dwindling of the canine population ever since I became a city dweller. In recent years, it has been strictly banned in Beijing to raise dogs. Dogs have become a rare animal to be seen only in a zoo.

At Katmandu, the moment I was driven into town after meeting with a warm and friendly reception at the airport, I was greatly surprised to see dogs, big and small, black and yellow, in the midst of casually-dressed children on both sides of a relatively narrow street, wagging their tails or nosing around for food.

Small as the incident was, I was immensely overjoyed to meet out of the blue in a remote foreign land dear dogs that I had not seen for ages.

Presumably these dogs were entirely ignorant of my state of mind and perhaps even incapable of telling a foreigner from a native. They appeared totally apathetic towards me in spite of my partiality for them and kept wagging their tails with lowered heads and nosing around for food.

In the evening, it was already dark when we were on our way to the hotel from the Chinese Embassy. The streets of Katmandu were illuminated by only a few electric lamps, and still fewer neon lights. In the dim light I vaguely saw again dogs, big and small, black and yellow, nosing around here and there. Back in the hotel, when I was getting into bed after a bath, I heard dogs barking again and again in the distant darkness. It reminded me of the old saying, “A dog’s bark at dead of night resembles that of a leopard.” To me, however, what I heard was dogs’ barking, pure and simple, having nothing whatever in common with that of leopards. The barking was nothing out of the ordinary, yet it brought back to me one sweet memory after another. The sweet barking sent me straight into the dreams I had on my first night at Katmandu.