Sat, Jan 28, 2006 - Page 12 News List

Tails will be wagging this year

Previously known in Taiwan for their 'fragrant meat', canines are now good luck symbols. But remember, a dog is for life not just for Lunar New Year

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

ILLUSTRATION: HO HUEI-TSE

Taiwan is not well known for its love of dogs, but the advent of the Year of the Dog (the red fire dog to be precise), has seen the shameless exploitation of the age-old and somewhat obscure adage that "dogs bring good fortune" (狗來福). Hung over one of the string of pet shops along Keelung Road that make up part of the Tunghua Street Night Market (通化街夜市) in Taipei, a huge billboard can be seen with the words gou lai fu -- a totally in-your-face exhortation to buy a Labrador puppy, Beagle or some other breed of dog totally unsuited to the high-density living of Taipei City.

Why dogs should bring good fortune is not particularly clear. While urban Asian society has largely bought into the idea of dogs as man's best friend, this is an import without deep roots in local society. Working dogs are virtually unheard of in Asia, so the majority of thoroughbred puppies seen at Taipei's growing number of pet shops, or those of less certain antecedents given away outside the Jianguo Flower Market (建國花市) on weekends, usually end up pampered or neglected pets, fat, neurotic and generally not bringing good fortune to either their owners or themselves.

Scouring the riches of Chinese literature through the ages will not reveal a Lassie or a Rin Tin Tin. There is no Snoopy, Marmaduke, Scooby Doo, or Tin Tin's Snowy. In fact, dogs, if they feature at all, tend to appear on the dinner menu, most often for the aphrodisiac qualities of the meat. Fido was only man's best friend when he was properly digested and washed down with a liberal helping of strong spirits. This may have given the diner the sensation of glorious wellbeing, good fortune of a sort, but the dog respon-sible certainly had to pay the ultimate price. This brings to mind a joke about the eating habits of the Chinese.

If Adam and Eve had been Chinese, humankind would be without sin and still living in the Garden of Eden. Why? Because if Adam and Eve had been Chinese, they would have thrown away the apple and eaten the snake.

After all, you cannot get at the real goodness of a thing unless you eat it. One of the many fortune telling Web sites also points out that as this is the year of the fire dog, it could also be called the Year of the Hot Dog. However you look at it, the dog seems to lose out.

But, today, dogs in Taiwan now feature less as an item on the menu, once called rather euphemistically "fragrant meat" (香肉), with dark tales of dog stews being sold in secluded outlets in Taipei County. The friendly, cuddliness of dogs has come to the fore, largely as a result of the Japanese film Farewell, Kuro by director Jyoji Matsuoka, which was a minor sensation here. It was an occasion on which a dog certainly brought good fortune to the small art house cinemas that screened the movie.

Dogs were given another boost with the recent news story of the Husky "Paopao" that saved a new-born child from drowning in a toilet bowl when his mother collapsed after giving birth.

But let us hope that all this positive publicity does not end by bringing all sorts of misfortune onto dogs themselves. The government seems to have some vague awareness of the problem, and the Ministry of Agriculture last week made announcements in preparation for an expected rise in dog sales during the coming year. Unfortunately, rather than warning about canine welfare, the announcement focused on the fear that illegally imported dogs might constitute a health hazard for humans.

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