Near Yellow Mountain

Friday, June 3, 2011

Dog Days

So much is written about ex-pat life, culture shock, re-entry issues, third culture kids, etc. Little is written about the ex-pat dog. In the case of our dog, Yuki, we adopted her in China, so she didn't become an ex-pat until we returned to the US. Her ex-pat experience is still unfolding.

Yuki was born on the streets of Shanghai. She came to us as a confused puppy that had been taken in by a French lady who ran a shelter in the city. Each month the shelter had a dog adoption day at an Irish bar so Yuki (whose original name was Kaylex) had some multi cultural experiences before coming to our family as a 3 month old.

Yuki is a native Chinese speaker who still barks in English with a bit of the Mandarin tonal quality you would expect. She was very uneasy with our American household at first, not understanding why my daughter and I would sit in front a flat screen watching episode after episode of "30 Rock" and "24". She also marveled at some of the food we ate - she had never experienced "Cheez -Its" before.


Yuki had to adapt to American Life

Her seeming distain for the mindless hours we spent in front of the television did not go unnoticed. Over time she adapted to American programs but, wanting to keep her connected to her home culture, we made sure she watched CCTV at least 30 minutes each day and she never missed the CCTV New Year's Eve show.

Getting Yuki permission to leave China required about the same amount of paperwork as it would for any Chinese citizen - medical certificate, various adminsitrative approvals and verfication that the shot record chip implanted in her neck was still readable.

Yuki's trip to America was aboard a United 747. We spent two weeks before her departure day training her to eat treats and drink out of the beverage container in her airline approved dog carrier or as our driver Philip called it "Yuki's business class seat". After twenty hours enroute with a layover, customs clearance plus a "bio break" in Chicago,  Yuki arrived in North Carolina.

Since our house wasn't ready Yuki spent almost two months living in a hotel with us. She immediately took to her new home as the local area had plenty of squirrels and other small creatures that she hadn't experienced in China. A few days after arriving in the US she took her first long car ride as the family visited relatives for Thanksgiving. Yuki had never seen so many white people in one place but she enjoyed the festive atmosphere and the exotic leftovers. She wondered why her family didn't invite any Asian people to this party.

Yuki didn't get to see much wildlife in Shanghai

Initially the clean, clear air of North Carolina made Yuki feel strange. Her hair got thick and shiny. The food tasted better. Once she moved into her new home on a golf course she had new worlds to conquer - chasing deer, finding golf balls on her daily walks and barking at the neighbor dogs. She missed her friends in Shanghai. In her old neighborhood at 4PM each day the Ayi's (maids) walked the dogs. While the Ayi's talked or complained about the continual screw-ups of their foreign employers or plotted how to get higher salaries; the dogs played, fought and had their social hour. The biggest void in Yuki's new life was the lack of social time. There were no Ayi's walking the dogs in her new neighborhood. Yuki missed Philip and thought it was strange that her family drove themselves everywhere in the new country. Time passed, Yuki adjusted.

Yuki is hoping to signal more "TDs" for USC this season

Yuki feels "American" now. She has embraced the culture and enjoys watching sports on TV when she can't get outside to chase squirrels and deer. There are few things she still misses but she doesn't think about them very often. In the end, Yuki's ex-pat adjustment experience was not so different from the other members of her family.