The other day I attended a “junk party.” To those not in the know, this conjures images of people sitting amongst garbage while sipping adult beverages out of tin cans — old timey hobo-style. At least it did for me. But a junk party, at least the one I attended, is far from hobo style.
In Hong Kong, where I live with my husband and Brandy the Cat, a “junk” is a essentially a party boat. Historically junks were Chinese ships made for ocean voyages. They are the traditional boats with bright red sails people picture floating around Hong Kong’s harbor.
The junk I boarded was not the same majestic, red-sailed vessel. It was a big, wooden boat, with a motor and an upper level on which to roast oneself. Oh, and 20 people who left me at a loss for words.
I’m shy in big groups of people, so I situated myself on the edge of a conversation about work and what-not and waited for my in. When I heard the phrase “cat cafe” my kitty senses twitched. I heard, “I really want to go to Japan — just to see the cats,” as a man and woman near me laughed.
My people! Those were my people! (“Be cool, Louise, be cool,” the 13 year-old geek who is my true self coached.)
“Are there cat cafes in Hong Kong?” I asked the pair in a normal adult voice.
They talked of a disappointing one the woman had visited. I brought up that I’d lived in Japan and had visited some cat cafes and written about them for Catster. (Gotta pimp the paw that feeds you!) From there it was like cats to catnip.
The pair was soon joined by a third and then a fourth person, all cat people. It wasn’t long before phones were pulled out and adorable cat photos were being shared. Cries of “Awww!” and “Ohmygod look at those little paws!” occupied the salty sea air.
By the time I left the junk party I had a sunburn and few new Facebook friends, expressly for the reason of sharing cat pictures and cat news. It was a success.
And it’s typical. In my travels, especially the ones abroad where I often feel awkward and out of my element, cats and cat people are my way in. If I bring up cats and a new person responds positively, I know we’ll have something to talk about. I’ll give almost anyone a chance if they devote enough smartphone memory to pictures of their precious, furry baby-kitty.
A significant amount of skin-art devoted to cats wins my heart too.
Last weekend my husband and I lunched at our favorite hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant. We like it because the food is cheap and plentiful, and the servers forgive my terrible Cantonese. The place is usually populated by locals and expats alike, and though the tables are close together, everybody is pretty respectful of space (for Hong Kong).
I noticed that a guy seated across the narrow aisle kept glancing over. He was about my age, with a soft Australian accent and a furrowed brow. I assumed his unsmiling glances were related to me talking too loud. (This happens to me a lot.) You can take the American out of America, but if that American is me, she’ll always have problems controlling the VOLUME of her VOICE. It’s my star-spangled cross to bear. So I lowered my volume, but he kept glancing over with furrowed brow. Finally I caught his eye and raised my eyebrows.
“Oh … sorry … I — I was just noticing his cat tattoo,” the guy said referring to my husband’s arm. “It’s really cool.”
Among his tattoos he has a large one of our cat Brandy on his arm as a dancing, Japanese bakeneko or “demon cat.” I have to admit, the cheeky expression of tattoo-Brandy is uncanny.
“It’s okay,” my husband said. “That’s my cat.”
“That’s really nice,” the guy said, his brow still furrowed, but mouth smiling. I’d misjudged the poor guy, he just had Resting Cranky Face. As a person who lives with RCF, I should have known!
“Is that really what your cat looks like?” the guy asked my husband. No sooner had he asked the question, than I had my phone out and Brandy proudly displayed.
“Oh wow! She’s awesome!” he said. Then he rolled up a sleeve to reveal a photorealistic tattoo of a gray cat’s face.
“This is my boy,” the guy beamed.
Just like at the junk party, it was only a matter of moments before he showed us pictures of his lovely gray cat, and the whole restaurant cringed with the sounds of our “Awwws.”
We chatted with the Guy with the Grey Cat Tattoo off and on for the rest of our meal. He gave us tips on where to get cat goods in the city, and he even gave us his email address in case we had questions. Once again cats had helped forge a new human bond.
If being a lifelong cat person has taught me anything, it’s that nothing builds bridges and creates goodwill like cat people getting to “talk cat.” No matter where my travels have taken me, cats and the people who care for them cross social, cultural, and even language barriers. Brandy might not know it, but having her in my life has not only expanded my kooky, cat-loving heart, but also my kooky, cat-loving circle of friends around the world.
Have cats helped you make friends? Or meet new people? Or overcome awkward situations? Tell us in the comments!
About the author: Louise Hung is a morbidly inclined cat lady living in Hong Kong, with her cat, her man, and probably a couple ghost cats. She also writes for xoJane. You can follow her on Twitter or drop her a line at IamLouiseMicaela@gmail.com.