Dewey Punk Pickles: The Infamous Globe-trotting Cat

Dewey when she was a little tiny baby.

In 2008, I had just moved to Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. During my second week in the new country, my employer moved me from my temporary housing to my permanent one in the heart of bustling Bur Dubai. On my second day in my new neighbourhood, I took a short walk to the nearby bank to open an account. That’s when I walked by and saw a dirty, skinny tri-coloured cat sitting on the side of a dusty street on a warm December morning, watching a group of brown-skinned boys play a game of football. When it saw me, it turned her head and looked at me with its yellowish-green Cleopatra eyes. I bent down, “Hi kitty,” I said, petting its head. I promised myself that if the cat was still there when I finished at the bank, I was going to take it home.

At this time, I didn’t know a single person in town, except for this random girl who had called me up from the security desk the night before. “Hi, my name is Kat,” she had said, “I am wondering if I can come up and see your flat as I am hoping to move into your building with my cat.”

“Sure.”

Within minutes, I opened my door to a smiley, red-headed girl with sparkling green-blue eyes. Kat was about my age, an American who had grown up on a compound in Saudi Arabia. Laughing, she gave me a hug. I was immediately drawn to her larger-than-life presence and contagious excitement. We walked around my furnished, two-bedroom apartment that I had just moved into the day before. By the end of the tour, we became fast friends. We exchanged numbers and promised a night out in the near future.

It turned out that I was only in the bank for a few minutes– I was missing a chop on my paperwork, so I couldn’t open a bank account. Defeated, I walked home, hoping that the kitty would be where I had left her. She was. Is it normal to pick up a cat off the street and take it home? Not knowing what to do, I called up my new friend. “Hey Kat, is it weird if I picked up a cat on the street and take it home?”

“No! You should totally do it!” She yelled into the phone, “I will take you guys to the vet!”

I picked her up the little cat. It put up a fight, digging its little claws into my arm. I didn’t care. I took her into my arms and walked into my apartment building. “New friend?” The security guard grinned.

I smiled and nodded my head as entered the elevator.

Kat came by and took me and the kitty to the vet. After a quick inspection, we learned that she’s a little girl-cat and judging by her teeth, about four months old. The doctor gave me some deworming medicine and basically gave her a clean bill of health.

After a few days of agonizing what to call my new cat, I finally settled on “Dewey.” She is a librarian’s cat, after all. Weeks later, I picked up a book about Dewey, the boy-cat who actually lived in a public library in the United States. Everybody assumed that I borrowed the name from the real-life library cat, but I didn’t–I came up with her name all on my own!

Dewey Punk Pickles surveying her land.

Dewey grew up to be a mean, feisty little fucker. She would bite me, scratch me, and was generally an asshole of a cat and not always the best pet. A good friend once told me, “You can take a cat off the street, but you can’t take the street off the cat.”

Despite it all, I love her to pieces. For the last 11 years, she’s been with me in Dubai, Vancouver, Bahrain, and now Hong Kong. Five years ago, we met the love of our lives, Derek.

Derek and I started dating in late 2014. Shortly after, we were engaged. We started to call each other ‘punk’ as a term of endearment. I call him ‘Honey Punk Badger” and he calls me ‘Punk Bunny Fufu.” We’ve become a family of punks.

One night, Derek slept over. In the middle of the night, he jumped out of bed screaming with a crazed cat latched onto his arm. Apparently, Dewey had a nightmare and attacked Derek, who was asleep next to her. When Dewey finally let go, the damaged was done–there were deep puncture wounds on his forearm plus deep gashes where she scratched the shit out him with her hind legs.

“She’s dead to me,” Derek howled while I handed a towel to clean up his bleeding arm.

Derek had never been a fan of cats and Dewey just put herself in the red with her vivacious and brutal attack. Regardless, the woman he was about to marry came with the cat and he tolerated her existence with disdain and disgruntle. While cuddling on the couch one night, we watched an adult cartoon, “Mr. Pickles.” The show is about a pickle-loving family dog who seems like a normal, friendly dog. It was only the grandfather of the show that knows the true nature of the dog–his thirst to kill and mutilate. While we watched an episode in which Mr. Pickles tore open a man’s stomach and dragged out his guts and bit off the legs of a prostitute, Derek shouted, “That’s Dewey!”

Since that day, Dewey was christened with a full name “Dewey Punk Pickles.” She also goes by Dew, Dewzy-Dew, Punk, Punkles, and Pickles.

Over the last five years, Derek had given her rules and boundaries. From a mean, feisty little fucker, she turned into a mellower version of herself. She gives plenty of warning before she attacks but these days she’s content hanging out on her perch next to the window, watching the world go by. She’s still not the cuddly of cats, but when she sits next to me as I watch T.V., I feel like the luckiest human in the world.

Happy 11th birthday, Dewey Punk Pickles!

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Okay, I’ve got (another) Master’s Degree. Now what?

Left: Masters of Library and Information Studies, 2008
Right: Masters of Fine Art in Writing, 2019

When I showed my counselor two side-by-side pictures of me, one on graduation day in 2008 when I earned my Master’s degree in Library and Information Studies, and the other taken 11 years later, when I completed my Masters of Fine Arts in Writing, she pointed to the one of my younger self and asked, “What were her hopes and dreams?”

I replied without hesitation. “To work as an academic librarian at the University of British Columbia (UBC) or my alma mater, Simon Fraser University (SFU). The plan is to have my university eventually support me in earning my doctorate in communications or a related field. In the future, I want to be a selfless educator who help troubled kids not only academically but also humanely, like my mentor Roman had done.”

However, my hopes and dreams were dashed, and the plan derailed when I realized 2008 was a terrible year to finish grad school. With the looming financial crisis, it was impossible for a new graduate like me to find library work in BC, let alone in Canada or the US. To stay afloat, I wrote invoices for a plumbing company, barely making enough to pay rent. Four months after graduation, when the Dean of Libraries at Zayed University in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, offered me the Reference and Instruction Librarian position, I leaped on the opportunity. I left behind a boyfriend, my friends, and a fully furnished apartment. I promised myself that I would return home after one year.

Eleven years later, I am still abroad. Though Vancouver will always be home in my heart, I’ve settled in Hong Kong for the last seven years. I’ve almost forgotten about my Ph.D. dream and instead, earned two more master’s degrees. From 2008 to 2017, I no longer strived to be a professor–instead, as a librarian, I taught classes on research skills and creating citations in different styles. I was tired of teaching the same boring classes and worn out by the politics of wherever I worked.

In the summer of 2017, started to transit from a career in librarianship to one in writing. After ten years of libraries, I found the work uninspiring. I started taking e-Learning classes at SCAD, and after a couple of writing courses, I decided to pursue writing full-time. I wanted to tell unique stories, document the vastness of the human condition, and connect with readers and other writers around the globe. During my studies, I explored different writing careers. I thought about becoming an editor for a literary magazine or be the founder of my own publication. Then I applied for numerous jobs as editors and staff writers. At some point, I even considered looking for work as a copywriter. However, there was always a nagging voice inside my head: I didn’t want any of these jobs.

For the last two years, as I sat at my desk working on freelance projects, writing my thesis (a collection of memoir-essays titled In the Shadow of the Middle Kingdom), and applying for writing jobs, I started to miss the community aspect of librarianship. Freelance writing is a lonely job and I began to miss having colleagues and students around me. I miss building collections and organizing events. I miss making a difference in people’s information literacy and reading habits. I also recognized, that as long as I am at the mercy of my clients, I may not have the mental and emotional bandwidth to pursue my own writing projects. At the same time, I also came to the conclusion that I would earn more working as a librarian than as a junior editor or writer in the publishing/media world. That’s when I decided that working at the library and writing on the side would be the best option for me.

I didn’t know as a 25-year-old that hopes and dreams could change. Back then, I couldn’t imagine being anything but an academic librarian and eventually becoming a professor. I didn’t anticipate that 11 years later that I would be able to look back not only to my 25-year-old self but go back even further–to revisit the hopes and dreams of my 22-year-old self. Back then, I wanted to be a writer but I never articulated this thought beyond my journal because I thought my aspiration was not practical or feasible. Through a lot of soul searching in the last couple of years, I started to take my 22-year-old self more seriously and gave her the space to hope and dream. Today, as a 36-year-old, I’ve gathered all of my hopes and dreams and begin to execute them: To write, to be paid to write, and eventually become a writing professor in a university.

Zadie Smith at SCAD Show in Atlanta, Winter 2018.

In addition to Roman, who I have admired and respected since meeting him as a troubled 19-year-old undergraduate student, my role model is Zadie Smith. I had the pleasure of meeting her in Atlanta when she was touring for her collection of essays, Feel Free. Her talk was engaging and afterward, she chatted with every single person who lined up to have their books signed. I want to be like Zadie Smith, a gracious and genuine individual, an accomplished writer, an admired professor, and an inspiration to many. As for my plan? I am going back to the library. At the end of this month, I will be the Library Manager at Discovery College, where I hope to mentor students, organize fun and educational events, and help the next generation to be critical and independent thinkers. After work and on school holidays, I will write, I will edit, I will submit my essays and stories far and wide. I know it’s a tough road ahead, but I welcome the challenges with open arms.

Now, I know that I am strong enough to be the kind of writer I want to be, on my own terms and chosen path. It took a long time to get here, but I sincerely hope that I can be an inspiration to those of you who have hopes and dreams that you’re afraid to pursue. I have been fortunate to have resources and opportunities, but without the soul searching and hard work along the way, I couldn’t have been where I am today. For those of you aspiring writers, artists, designers, and creative types, I want to tell you (as an older recent graduate): Hope and dreams can change and plans can divert. But I urge you to follow your heart, create (and update) your plan, and always be your best self.

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30 years After the Tiananmen Square “Incident”

The phrase “Tiananmen Square” is blocked in search engines in China. The date June 4 has become synonymous with “Sina Censor Day” as Beijing intensifies its censorship efforts to block its citizens from accessing information about the Tiananmen Square Massacre–a tragic day in 1989 in which the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) fired at peaceful demonstrators and innocent bystanders. To this day, Beijing tries to hide the truth: There was no massacre, just an “incident.” The death of thousands of citizen is not mentioned in any history books; the Great Firewall of China blocks any words or phrases associated with the event, and to this day, Beijing has never acknowledged, let alone apologized, for their brutal tactics in suppressing the amicable democracy- seeking protesters. Every year on June 4th, Beijing watches closely, ensuring no trouble could be stirred up within China. However, across the border in Hong Kong, thousands of people have gathered for a candlelight vigil every year since 1990 to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the hands of the PLA.

Partial view of the crowd at the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square Massacre.

This year, for the first time (after living in Hong Kong for seven years), I finally attended my first vigil with my husband Derek. From our home in Wan Chai, we walked to Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, which took us about 20 minutes. It was an incredibly humid night; my phone pinged with ceaseless thunderstorm warnings from the Hong Kong Observatory. It took us a while to get through the crowd to finally enter the park, but it was evident that despite the imminent bad weather, spirits were high. Thousands of Hong Kong people gathered for the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square Massacre and to protest against the proposed extradition legislation. If this legislation becomes law, it will be problematic as it could allow the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong lacks a deal, including mainland China. Basically, Hong Kong people can be extradited to Mainland China to be prosecuted under Chinese law–a frightening thought indeed, especially for activists, journalists, and other vocal folks Beijing deems “criminal.”

The vigil was a humbling experience. On the surface, I blended in with the thousands of Hong Kong people around me, but as a Taiwanese Canadian living in Hong Kong, I am an outsider-insider. Though I didn’t understand many of the speeches in Cantonese or receive one of the white candles that the organizers were handing out, I was in awe. Looking at the serene faces lit by the soft glow of the burning wicks, I admire Hong Kong people’s resolute and determination to memorialize those who lost their lives on June 4, 1989. I respect their perseverance to defy Beijing by gathering each year, refusing to let go of the past. I feel a sense of affinity with the people of Hong Kong at the vigil and they gave me a little glimmer of hope: Perhaps with the international community watching, the Hong Kong people’s effort to preserve their autonomy will not be ignored. This leads to me think: Perhaps Taiwanese people can take a cue and organize a vigil next year in Taipei? A vigil not only to commemorate those who died but also as a gesture to show the international community that Taiwan is a democratic society, and should remain free of Beijing’s control.

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