Pretty cute, right? And the puppy isn’t too bad, either.
I took this photo of my woman and our miniature Maltese poodle, Soekie, about four years ago. The Shnook was only about three months old at the time, and this was her first outing to the beach in the sleepy, seaside hamlet that we used to call home (and in a way, we still do).
Those were the good ol’ days. We were practically living in a secluded nature reserve with quaintly earthy characters, gravel roads and no streetlights. Our home was beautiful. We had a greenhouse in the backyard for growing our own food, and we made our own fertilizer from seaweed and kelp. At night, we’d drag mattresses out onto the lawn and would lie on our backs looking up at the stars, getting drunk on cheap whiskey and the salty breeze. We’d often build a fire just to stare into the flames. Most mornings were spent in the ocean, scavenging for whatever low-hanging fruit was being offered by the icy tides.
If this sounds too good to be true, well, that’s because it was. It didn’t last. Before long, trouble started brewing alongside the mussel-and-rice stew on the crooked stove. In a cruel twist, we both lost our jobs – which we carved out meticulously to fit with our chosen lifestyle, and not the other way around – simultaneously. We desperately tried to get back on track, but our respective careers, along with our resolve and self-belief, got increasingly bloodied by every new door that shut in our faces. Yes, in our own way, we tried to give the finger to the Man. But that grubby digit was snapped off abruptly, causing us to drop whatever we had going in our hand-to-mouth existence. Shit got real. We had to pluck our heads from the clouds and get back on our feet, fast. So, in order to one day return to our little piece of paradise, we did what any other self-respecting hippie would do: we packed our bags, found a blessed new home for our angelic fur-child and set out for a hellish honeypot at the far side of the world in the hope of refilling our tattered coffers.
(It turned out, of course, that the Fates had other plans. For all of us. But let’s not digress.)
Now, to call the average Chinese city a concrete jungle would be a mistake. A concrete beehive would be much more apt, and where we are it is no different. And my oh my, did the robotic, industrialised monotony of this dull metropolis sting the hell out of us tree-hugging, free wheelin’ gypsy types when we first arrived almost a year ago.
Since then, however, we’ve become somewhat immune to the unique assault posed by this Oriental clusterfuck. The initial shock faded, along with our Southern tans. Where I once had to watch my woman, a born healer and helper, wither like a flower under the full-blown onslaught of a consumerist empire, she has now grown into a shining pillar of resolve and defiance (although she still calls out Soekie’s name in her sleep). I, on the other hand, with China supposedly ahead now of the coronavirus curve, just tend to sit around on my newly unemployed ass, settling in nicely into the post-Covid19 New World Order.
Pesky little nuisances like mass surveillance, censorship, mobile phone tracking and travel bans (not to mention overpopulation and pollution) aside, for the most part we try to just get on with our once environmentally conscious lives, in what has now become a totalitarian blueprint for the rest of the globe. When in Rome.
One of the things we’ll never get used to over here, though, and which really gets our goat, is the popular disregard for nature in general and animals in particular. And I’m not just talking about those that eventually end up on a plate (which, sadly enough, include a disproportionately large part of the faunal kingdom).
China seems to have a thing for critters in cages. Go figure.
It’s not uncommon to see old folks taking their cooped up songbirds for a walk on a sunny morning in the park, or to drive past a truck – headed for the friendly local butcher, no less – crammed with hutched dogs on the freeway. Old-school pet shops, with storefront display pens stuffed with cuddly cuties, are everywhere. And it’s not really a matter of how much that doggy in the window is, but rather how the hell it’s expected to survive sitting in a shoe box-sized display case behind baking glass all day when it’s obviously too young to have been properly weaned. They breed ‘em tough out here, I guess.
Far be it from me – a westernized, eco-minded softy – to judge a foreign culture whose nuanced socio-psychological landscape I simply do not understand. To be fair, you can’t realistically expect a fully mechanised city of nine million human sardines, tightly packed into a grey sea of skyscrapers, to be bleeding heart animal activists (especially when an obsession with personal creature comforts and crude neo-capitalism keeps the whole production line chugging along).
Sadly enough, when it comes to beasties being treated badly in these parts, one learns with time to turn a blind foreign eye.
The rabbit, however, was the last fucking straw.
First, please allow me to backtrack just a bit to a muggy summer afternoon shortly after our arrival. We were still pretty green then (no pun) and were mostly floating around from day to day in a stunned, jet-lagged daze. My woman was sitting in the back of a taxi in peak traffic when she saw a tiny kitten in the middle of the road, doing its level best to traverse the four lanes of steadily-moving cars to reach the opposite kerb. The frantic hooting by irritated drivers did surprisingly little for its plight. To the absolute consternation of the cabbie, my woman got out on the spot and weaved through the chaos to scoop the pint-sized furball up. Once they reached the relative safety of the pavement (and the screaming cabbie got his fare), she was faced with a new dilemma: what now? As luck would have it, the owner of the sidewalk grocery store she was standing in front of approached her and offered to take the kitten off her shaking hands, right there and then. From a mangled flurry of Chinglish it became clear that his two kids were living with him at the back of the shop and they would love to have the grubby little guy around. Will they take good care of it? Yes, yes. Please give.
When we passed the store again a few days later on our way to work, the kitten was locked up in a small cage right outside the door. Okay, we thought. At least it didn’t get crushed by a car. Over the next few weeks, though, it became painfully clear that not only wasn’t it being fed properly, but it was never let out of its makeshift cell. Almost every day the miniature food and water bowls in the filthy pen were dry. We politely tried to remind the shop owner (considerably less amicable now) that it needs proper nourishment and the freedom to move around. Nothing happened. We offered to buy it back (we couldn’t take care of it, but we’d either try to find it a new home or have it euthanized), but the guy wouldn’t budge. We even thought of making off with the wire contraption at some point, but with high-tech surveillance cameras everywhere, one simply doesn’t want to push your luck as a humble guest of the State. On my way home one evening, seeing the crumpled little body barely being able to shake off the swarm of flies crawling across its back, I knew it wouldn’t last the night. The next morning, the empty cage was sitting next to the rubbish bins out front.
As mentioned, there are things out here that I’d never understand. The message was loud and clear, though: don’t get involved. It’s not worth it and it won’t make any difference. Just let whatever twisted version of nature they have over here take its questionable course.
But then, as I said, along came the rabbit.
Our cosy little concrete box is situated on the fifteenth floor. A month or so ago, we noticed that someone has placed a cage in the corner of the landing of the fire escape stairs, next to the elevator. To be perfectly clear, this dank, dark stairwell – a hazardous quagmire used by tenants for everything from drunken vomiting and defecating to getting rid of an astonishingly varied assortment of soiled, unwanted junk – is best avoided. After a few days, though, brave explorers that we are, we decided to chance it. On closer inspection of the crusty coop it became clear that a dark grey bunny with floppy ears was cowering inside.
Oh boy. Here we go again.
This time, we decided to try a different route. We reported it to the concierge downstairs in the vague hope that this was somehow violating the building regulations or safety code (the scene of the crime was the fire escape, after all). In the case of an evacuation or emergency – never mind the dire fate of a caged animal in perpetual darkness – someone could trip over it and break their shit-stained neck, no?
Li Chi (a sweet enough guy, but bearing no further resemblance to the fruit) patiently informed us that he was aware of the situation and that no rules were being broken. The rabbit’s owners merely put their beloved pet in unlit, indefinite quarantine due to growing health fears amidst the virus crisis.
Now, language barriers being what they are, we couldn’t fully ascertain whether the owners somehow felt that their already beleaguered immune systems were under further threat from having a potentially disease-carrying animal in the apartment, or that they might pass the superbug on to the bunny in return. Perhaps it just got too crowded in there (we were in the final stages of lockdown at the time, after all). We’d never know. Best to just embrace the mystery of the Orient.
All being said, having already learnt our lesson we tried to just get on with our day-to-day. We really did. But every time I got out of the elevator and walked past that fire escape, I had to work harder at swallowing down the lump of rage rising in my throat. At times I would open the door to peek inside, but mostly I didn’t have the stomach for it. ‘Cause whenever I poked my head into the gloomy landing, the rabbit – apparently half blind by now – would try and stand up inside the cage, sniffing wildly and locking its tiny claws around the wire mesh.
(Rabbits have claws, if you didn’t know. Every day, something new.)
As the days turned into weeks, it started haunting me to the point where I dreaded leaving the apartment and having to walk past those stairs.
One Friday afternoon, coming home, I finally had enough. I knew full well that no good deed goes unpunished in these parts, but I couldn’t just stand by and watch it happen once again. I opened the stairwell door, grabbed the cage and carried it down the hallway to our place. I passed about three cameras on the way (I did say they were everywhere, right?), but I couldn’t give a fuck anymore. I simply knew I had to get it out of there.
Arriving home, I had no idea what to do next. My woman, not expecting guests of any kind, nearly had a heart attack. With a giddy mixture of alarm and ever-present pragmatism, she immediately covered the cage with a towel – the bunny, after not seeing sunlight for almost a month, was totally freaking out in there.
She then held me for a long, long time.
After everyone had settled down somewhat, she calmly phoned Li Chi to inform him that we’ve taken the rabbit under our wing, given the circumstances. If its current owners had a problem with that, they only had to speak the word. To this very day, we haven’t heard back from them. And it only took us the the weekend – in which we realised how wholly unequipped we were to care for a large, floppy-eared rodent – to find it a loving new home. Given that the proud new parents continue to send us doting videos of ol’ Bugs happily hopping around in a nifty enclosure they built for it in their upscale apartment, we’re pretty sure it won’t end up on someone’s plate.
Now, let me be absolutely clear: I’m no hero. Far from it. But it did feel pretty good to finally be able to ease the suffering of a fellow living being in this harsh, unfeeling place. And with lessons continuing to come thick and fast here we, having been systematically numbed and jaded into a fall from grace from our own, near-forgotten tiny Eden back home, were forced to relearn another biggie: sometimes, if you just grow a pair and do what’s right, possible pitfalls aside, things tend to turn out just fine.
Rejuvenated by this little message from the universe, I walked around for a few days with fiery eyes fixed on high and a mending heart wholly open to the world. Also – on a more earthy plain – it was considerably easier to come and go as I pleased without having to worry about passing that fucking fire escape door (that’s where the no-hero part comes in).
With time, however, that warm, fuzzy feeling was gradually being replaced by a stone-cold sense of disillusionment and despair as the so-called viral pandemic began to spread across the globe and – following in China’s footsteps – good, kind people everywhere were increasingly being locked down, on every conceivable level, in a suffocating state of fear, loss and confusion.
The rest, as they say, is history. In which we’ve arguably reached our lowest collective point as a species.
For, if you haven’t noticed, right now the vast proportion of humanity is cowering in a cage in the dark. And, sadly enough, there is no saviour in sight.
So it goes.
Now, before we can even begin to consider how we’re going to get out of this godforsaken mess, it might be worth our while to take a good, hard look at how we got here in the first place. I’m going to go out on a leafy limb and say that our current predicament is largely due to our fundamental disconnection from nature.
As sovereign, flesh and blood beings, we have a right to be on this planet, same as plants and minerals. Over centuries, however, an anomalous monetary system has systematically driven a wedge between us and the nurturing abundance of the natural world. This has paved the way for those who favour greed, control and exploitation over compassion, kindness and respect to rise to the top of the fake food chain, brutally hammering down on those that oppose them. Before long, shit started running downhill in a big way. The poor, bewildered meek at the bottom, perpetually distracted by the threat of artificial scarcity in a bountiful environment, soon opened wide and began swallowing the laws and regulations raining down from above, no matter how badly it reeked. Huge technological advances – most notably the internet, a proverbial space-age Swiss army knife handed to a monkey – soon followed, which in addition enabled the unholy trinity of governments, corporations and media to monitor and control the flow of information and ideas, craftily veering attention away from a realm that could be verified by the five God-given senses to an easily manipulated, omnipresent electronic interface which has now morphed into a full-blown virtual reality.
Simply put: as sovereign, flesh and blood beings living in an oppressive, inorganic system, we’ve been divided, deceived, bedazzled and beaten into submission to such an extent that we’re now quite content to blindly accept aberrant authority and just get on with life in the farce lane. Unplugged from the vital energy of our true visceral source, however, it seems that our dazed state of apathy may well have backfired.
For every day – with the horse of what’s left of our freedom having already bolted – new information is coming to light from scientists, doctors, researchers and economists that asks some pretty tough questions regarding the official narrative (including the stats, scale and alleged preventative measures) surrounding the so-called pandemic. The fact that the technocratic powers-that-be are responding, for the most part, by censoring these voices on popular platforms should make every single one of us raise an eyebrow or two. If not, then we thoroughly deserve the current fiasco that has a software billionaire, obsessed with mass mandatory vaccination, dictating global health policy.
Look, the entire thing is a terrifying, incomprehensible mess. That’s for sure. It’s enough to make cyborgs like us (where’s your phone right now?) want to return to the trees. If nothing else, the fresh air, sunshine and opportunity to do something else with those opposable thumbs would surely do us good right now.
There’s no going back, though. It’s game over. The big boys play rough, and having created a sophisticated global prison of perception, they’ve won the battle for the collective human mind with relative ease. Which leaves the sovereignty of our flesh and blood in the dust.
Now, it doesn’t really matter if you think that we’re being led like lambs to the slaughter, blindly trusting the shepherd ‘till the last moment, or if we are in the process of being saved, like a kitten in the road, by benign overlords from a terrible juggernaut of some novel disease. The gate is still swinging shut.
What matters is that, whether you’re currently stuck in a concrete jungle or a mountain cabin, a shitstorm of unimaginable proportions – whipped up by worldwide economic devastation in the name of our protection – is growing on the horizon. And it’s coming for us all.
If we want to have any chance of getting through it, we’ll have to get out of our heads and back into our hearts.
Despite the best efforts to keep us separated and distracted on this precious planet, we are still all one. Staying true to our real nature as divine members of the huge, primordial family that we are, we’ll need to join hands like never before. And we don’t need heroes or heroines. Wherever we see the senseless pain and fear that is already stifling so many sentient souls, we just need to man up, reach out and do the right thing, no matter how small or insignificant it might seem. Though we may all be weakened, vulnerable and never truly free again, if we help one another to raise the cages of suffering from the darkness, we can all go a long way in lightening the load.
Looking ahead, we’ll have to be the ones we’ve been waiting for. This earth is our only home, and no one is going to find us another one soon. Looking the other way will not help any of us here.
And while we’re at it, we can tell the fear mongers to go fuck themselves. Life, a brief interlude between two great mysteries, is not about eluding death in its many forms. It’s about embracing the beautiful folly of existence. Together.
Only with compassion can we banish the slippery ol’ snake – so desperately trying to charm us into thinking that he doesn’t exist – from our once-glorious Garden, to the benefit of all living things.
Only by relearning and teaching kindness – the lesson of all lessons – can we hope to make any real difference in the brave new world that is being prepared for us.
They may have our minds, but they can’t reach our hearts.
And that’s how we win.
Wherever you may be tonight, if you’re lucky enough to have a backyard and are able to build a fire with a furry friend at your feet, brother or sister, do it. Just don’t forget to have one on me. And look up at the stars.
They will help to remind you of who and where we truly are.
All images © Jac Kritzinger 2020.
For more of my work, visit http://jackritzinger.co.za/
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