“Reflection on Cha x Stray Cats Jimusho” by Lian-Hee Wee

This Cha and Stray Cats Jimusho event was part of the Cha Writing Workshop Series, in partnership with the Hong Kong Poetry Festival Foundation and supported by the English Departments at CUHK and HKBU, and it was conducted on Saturday 24 November 2018.

The event was arranged in less than a week. I suspect this happened because neither Stray Cats Jimusho (SCJ) and Cha realised that each already had a party of participants. This workshop is special because it removes us from the human-centric concerns of writing. It is challenging in two respects. The first is the potential for mayhem in interspecies contact, and the second is the very goal-driven nature of the writing task.

For many people, poetry is a very intimate form of self-expression, and not something that can be commissioned for a purpose. However, to serve as a voice for the cats at SCJ, the poet must now think not only of the aesthetic pleasures of his/her writing, but use it to save lives. In some ways, it may be a cheapening of the art, for it is the use of poetry perhaps for propaganda or marketing. However, does a poet not have responsibilities? Consider how the Celtic bards were first murdered by Edward I of England before Welsh could be overrun. Or more readily, consider the examples of wartime poetry all over the world that continues to exert soft but strong power in the preservation of peace.

The four participants clearly understood this, and readily put their egos at the service of learning about their chosen cat. In one single opening of their hearts, the two challenges dissipated. As each participant observed and interacted with each cat, Anna (the cat slave of SCJ) facilitated with stories and information. These stories served also to highlight how little we can possibly know about the sufferings of each furry child before the rescue.

Within the two-hour window (10.30-12.30), the poems that came out told each story from very different angles—and you can read one of the poems below: “The Wait” by Zabrina Lo. The participants agreed that they would continue to edit their poems with careful attention to how each work when presented with a picture of the corresponding cat, would help the reader understand more, empathise more, and ultimately trigger adoptions.

We met a bodhisattva today in Anna. She gave her time, love, energy, and income to those who needed her most, knowing full well that she will get nothing in return other than the lack of understanding by other humans, and the emotional stress of seeing so much suffering every day.

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  1. Goal

The goal is to write poetry that will enhance the adoption of stray animals or at least generate greater compassion for them. This is achieved by learning about their stories. Due to time constraints, we will write very short free verse.

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  1. Rundown
Activity Time Remarks
Opening note on how to listen to animals tell their own story 15 minutes
At a distance, … 2 minutes Participants observe the animals at SCJ without approaching, and without being threatening
Reflection 3 minutes Imagining the animal’s perspective
Listening to the cats tell their own story 25 minutes SCJ will randomly offer information
First Strokes 10 minutes Writing randomly the first words that come into our heads on the subject
Animal Energy 25 minutes Crystallize your lines into no more than 50 words by drawing in more communication with the animals and with your inner reflections
Reading Remaining time Read your poem and get feedback
Follow-up Go home, edit your poem, and send it to SCJ with a dedication to the animal whose story you capture.*

You know you helped if the animal finds a loving fur-ever home

* The participant’s implicit approval is assumed for the use of your poem by the Stray Cats Jimusho for the purposes of helping animals. Any participant who does not wish to give this permission should please let us know.

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  1. What’s needed from Stray Cats Jimusho

A fact sheet for all the cats that join the workshop. Each factsheet should be no more than one A4 page, in easily readable font size. It should have a photo that will allow us to identify the cat. Please staple this into a set. We will need 5 to 10 sets please.

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  1. Information for Participants

Please bring your favourite writing material. At the very least, you should have a pen or pencil and a sheet of paper. But whatever works for you is fine with me. Please come dressed casually and unfussily so that you can feel comfortable interacting with the animals. We will be sitting on the floor. Remember, this is not a usual place, but a shelter for stray cats. It is their space and home while we are visitors.

  1. Animals are sentient beings, and these ones have suffered. This means they may be traumatised. It is important to treat them with sensitivity, care, and respect.
  2. ALWAYS speak calmly and softly in the presence of an animal. Noise makes an animal nervous. Also, do not hiss or make irrelevant noise like clicking your tongue or snapping your fingers.
  3. Do not stare at an animal. If you wish to admire them, make sure you blink politely when you make eye contact.
  4. No flash photography, ever!!
  5. Do not wear loud, strong colours. To animals, this means danger/poison.
  6. If you suspect the animal does not want you to approach, don’t. Give them the space they are most comfortable with. Wherever they are, they were there first, and they do not know your human laws and culture.
  7. If an animal approaches you, simply register their approach, and continue to be natural. Do not become excited, but be warm and receptive.
  8. If you wish to touch an animal, show your palm first, then approach evenly and smoothly. If the animal retracts away from your palm, don’t touch.
  9. If an animal pees or craps on you, no need to be alarmed. Gently ask the animal to move so you can clean up. It’s just excrement, not burning acid!

Finally, please ensure that you do not smell of tobacco, perfume or any other strong scent. The place is not well ventilated. Animals generally find strong scents to be indicative of various things, and effects may be hard to predict.

Please realise the significance of when an animal who has suffered so much allows us to be near them. It is a great leap of faith for them.

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Anna, Zabrina, Snow and Elaine

THE WAIT
by Zabrina Lo

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A photograph of 鵪鶉 (Um Chun), the cat which inspired the poem. 鵪鶉, over ten years old, was found in a park in Tai Po. She is exceptionally endearing to all human beings but, curiously, not dogs or other cats. Photograph by Anna.

This park
which you all name as
the home of the nameless cat
is where my directionless gait
is mistaken for aimlessness
and my homelessness for
carefreeness.

Like a child
longing for the twitch
of sleeping tigers in zoos,
you wait
every day
for my appearance
at the bin
where I fill myself up
with scraps of mould-spotted cheese burgers
and torn-open cans of stale cold cuts
reeked simultaneously of urine
and wet cigarettes.
Five minutes of your unwanted sandwiches are heaven
before patting time is over,
before another night
or another decade
slips away,
and before I know it,
I have been shedding
my unpopular mouse-like fur which,
though once velvety and regal,
no longer grows back.

But still I wait—
we
wait—
for you
to bring us home
so we may know
what a fresh tin of tuna
actually smells like.

///// The Cha Writing Workshop Series: We plan to hold one to two writing workshops every month, for local school children (all levels), as well as economically and socially disadvantaged groups. If you’d like to suggest an idea, please contact the organisers, Tammy Ho (t@asiancha.com) and/or Eddie Tay (eddie@asiancha.com). Click here to see a list of past and future workshops. And click here to read instructors’ reflections on the workshops. /////

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