“To the Cat Feeder in Hong Kong” by Jimin Kang

To the Cat Feeder in Hong Kong
by Jimin Kang

It’s been three years since I last saw you on the winding roads of Mount Parker, laying out styrofoam plates of dried pellets to feed the mountain cats. Perhaps you remember my Korean mother, who is also a lover of animals: as if drawn to your devotion she would notice your long cargo pants and slim build from afar, the bend in your back as you lay your offerings by the mountain path. She always insisted on saying hello, although the mutual stiltedness of your common tongue—the English I write in now—precluded any meaningful friendship.

We never learned your name.

It’s been three years since my family left Hong Kong for Seoul, where I still find traces of you in the mountains. Last week, I encountered a wild ginger cat while descending my family’s reluctant substitute for Mount Parker. He was eating from a plate carefully placed at the spot where the man-made staircase met the wild weeds. This contrast must be familiar to you: after all, you and I met in a similar world, where residential buildings butt against the foot of the earth’s tectonic accidents.

The cat looked up at me as I passed, a mix of curiosity and fear in his yellow eyes. Is this what you saw when your wild cats eventually emerged from the mountains, their thin bodies barely rustling the grass? As they ate, did they look at you with fear in their eyes? Or did you see love where I couldn’t see it?

One day you mentioned to my mother that you had a favourite. A blotchy mix of white and brown, it was cracking pellets between its teeth when we saw you that day on Mount Parker. He always came whenever you arrived, you said. You blinked several times, your eyes rendered huge by your glasses. In them I could see the quiet pride you felt, knowing that this cat—solitary and sleek, eternally ownerless—had chosen you as someone it could trust.

One hot, sweaty afternoon a few weeks later, my mother and I noticed an unusual wariness in the way you watched the cats sitting around your feet. When we stopped to say hello, you told us that your favourite hadn’t shown up in days. Yet you continued to show up with your styrofoam plates and your pellets nonetheless, tireless in your caregiving.

Minutes after I saw that ginger cat in Seoul, I was walking along a road of stand-alone houses when I saw, outside the gate of one, a handful of pellets placed in a small paper cup. It reminded me of you and your unselfish love. How, I wanted to ask you then, did you manage to love something you knew you could never possess? That could disappear and never return, as you discovered?

It’s been three years since I last saw you, yet I’m not surprised your memory speaks to me now.

These days, I’ve been ruminating on what it means to give love when the foundations of doing so are uncertain. I think about the boy I met when the campus we shared became a ghost town, our long nights of sense-making senseless now that we are continents apart. Where once there was sweet wine and old movies there are blue bubbles of text I leave on his phone, hoping he might follow them and maybe, when—or if—he remembers, come back.

I think about the uncle who refused to attend my grandfather’s eightieth birthday celebration after I returned to Korea. The way three generations of women—my grandmother, mother, and sister—tried to convince him to show up, and the way we attempted, afterwards, to ignore the empty place setting at the end of the table, where a glass sat empty of the soju and soda we toasted to my grandfather’s health.

More than anything, however, I think about the city that we both called home. I think about the tear gas that snaked through its pedestrian streets, the riot officers who stood, batons in hand, in places where they never used to be. The colourful post-it notes stuck to the walls of tunnels and staircases across our shared Hong Kong—“Lennon Walls”, as they are known—welcoming love when it was both most needed and least expected from forces you and I could not, and cannot, control. Passers-by left their offerings in these haphazard altars of public space, proposing a hope that wavered on the good days and felt futile on many.

But the Post-its continued to show up, much like the way you would feed the cats, even when it rained.

Months after the protests first started in Hong Kong, I watched police push protestors down an escalator minutes away from Mount Parker. The local councilman’s ear was bitten off in a roadside scuffle. Where the wildness began and the civility ended, I couldn’t tell. Confronting the hurt being inflicted and endured daily in the city, I could see you in every face I saw on TV from miles and miles away.

Were you in the mountains, or in the streets? Or both?

Three years later, I’m wondering if your brown-and-white friend ever came back. On most days, although I’m inclined to think the negative—at night I hear the strays howl from my ninth-floor apartment in Seoul, and their song is so sorrowful I wonder if they ever live long lives—the romantic in me wishes that it did. It would convince us that even our seemingly futile gestures can hold weight. That the things we once loved—a cat, a boy, a son, a city—will always be able to find a way back to us somehow, as long as we leave them a space to return to.

These days, whether they are headed to work or to the mountains, my parents both carry with them a pouch of cat food. There is no doubt that you, a stranger to us still, were the instigator of this daily act of care. Too mindful of disrupting the feral patterns of wild cats, I unfortunately have not adopted the habit; yet instead, in your memory, I use words to try and show care even when its return is least expected.

Three years later, I’m hoping you’ll come back. I wish I could find you on Mount Parker and ask for your name. There are many other things I’d like to know: where are you now? Where have you been?

And tell me, are you safe?

How to cite: Kang, Jimin. “The Cat Feeder.” Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, 1 Sept. 2020, hkprotesting.com/2020/09/01/cat-feeder/.

Photograph © Oliver Farry.

Jimin Kang is a writer, journalist, and Spanish & Portuguese major currently studying at Princeton University. Born in South Korea, she grew up in Hong Kong and spent a year living in Brazil prior to moving to the States. Her journalistic work has appeared in The Nation, Vox, The Huffington Post, Atlas Obscura, Princeton Alumni Weekly, among other publications, and her poetry has been published in Glass Kite Anthology and Quixotica: Poems East of La Mancha (2016). Jimin is on Twitter.

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