Friday, 11 February 2011

Our pets

As I mentioned in my last post, Hanoians aren’t really big on non-utilitarian animals. This means that one thing we really miss here is pets, and it shows. Over winter, I began, rather pathetically, referring to our electric hot water bottle as “the cat”. Sure, it warmed your lap and snuggled against your toes in bed, but you also plugged it into a power socket. 
What next, a pet rock?

Nathan is arguably even worse than me. In our old house I woke one night to find him not in bed but in the kitchen in his pyjamas, sitting on the counter perfectly still and holding aloft a broom, his gaze absolutely fixed on the fridge. It was quite an eerie sight, but he “explained” his behaviour, by saying he was studying the habits and movements of the rat who’d taken up residence behind the fridge (the broom was protecting him from the rat, you see). Naturally, this didn’t result in him masterfully exterminating the rat, but instead growing to love it – and all its little habits and movements - dearly.

I was soon won over too. The rat would fish out lime seeds from our bin bag hanging from the door handle, and crack each one to get to the little kernel inside, then discard the husks by placing them in a perfectly straight line on the handle. Then one night he carefully chewed a tiny little hole into a spirulina capsule to create a small, powdery pile of dietary supplement for himself. We felt nothing less than pride, as, after all, he was our rat.*

After then developing attachments to various house geckos (named, invariably, Gordon), and then an enormous furry spider (Ernest), a new pet came into our life quite by accident.

When we visited Cuc Phuong National Park, Nathan - being an excellent and romantic boyfriend - came back from a hike with a present for me of a large and quite beautiful snail shell that he found on the path. I “awwed”, then popped it into my coat pocket for the rest of our stay. When we got home, I put it as a memento on my bedside table, alongside my book.

I know that you know where this is going, but let me just say that it came as quite a surprise to us when we discovered one week later that a good portion of the book cover (Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom”, for the record) had been consumed and pooed out into little papery snail poos.

And so, we had a pet snail. 
He lived in our pot-plant, paper was his favourite food, and we called him Ron as he didn’t do-do-ron-ron very much at all. He was also the source of the mortifying shame that we – wildlife lovers that we are – had taken a little creature away from his home. We were no better than our neighbours, with their prized finches, trapped from the wild to live out their days in a cage in Hanoi.

So we packed up Ron into a Tupperware container and sent him back to the forest with a friend heading to Cuc Phuong.

And maybe you can’t understand this until you’ve lived in a city where the dogs cower from cuddles, the cats are on menus instead of laps, and there’s not one single duck to feed in all of the lakes, but I really miss that snail.   

*When Nathan read this just now, his response was “Oh, I miss him! And his crooked little tail!”. I rest my case.


  1. Awww...this reminds me of when I first moved out of home and my pets included Frankie the Jumping Spider and Wormies 2000 (the worm farm). Good times, good times.

  2. My children picked up these beautiful shells one day from chinamans beach. Gorgeous I thought and took them home, in a basket indoors they went. About a week later, I thought "what is that vile smell?" only to find the large pretty shells still contained the roting inhabitants! . I am glad yours was still alive ! Rebecca Lennon

  3. Edyta: yeah, worms might be an even more low-return pet than snails. I'll have to spend lots of quality time with Buster when back in Sydney to get my furry friends fix. 

    Rebecca: thanks for commenting! This all just goes to show that you really should 'take nothing but photographs', eh?

  4. Insightful posts, Tabitha.

    I followed your "Nosey in Newtown" blog, and oddly enough find myself shifted from Newtown to Vietnam (and Laos, Cambodia and....)

    Any hoo, love your work.

    As a side note - is teaching English in Hanoi a realistic (or, dare I say, viable) option? I'm finding Vietnam both confronting and an attractive option for a while. On Pho Quoc I'm a tad more chilled than in HCMC. This may just be post-TET winding down from fractiousness, perhaps.

    I met an Australian couple today who may be more interested in teaching options (than I am) - she is doing a TESOL equivalent, but I'm not sure how the quals are regulated or needed.

    Hanoi sounds crazier than Saigon - but in a more...workable fashion.


  5. I just pissed my pants! Ian is here now for dinner and he told me to read your blog as he reads mine (chunkychooky) I will read more later!! Ian reckons you should write a book!

  6. Lyle: Thanks for your comment and your trans-continental readership! I'm afraid I don't know very much about English teaching in Vietnam, except that plenty of people seem to make a viable living from it and love it too. Search the New Hanoian messageboard for heaps of info about living and working in Hanoi, and what qualifications are needed, written by those in the know:

    My Bearded Pigeon: Thanks! I actually am trying to write a book at the moment (not about Vietnam) but keep procrastinating with blog entries instead.

  7. This brought to mind a book I have recently bought but not read as yet, about a bedridden lady who discovers a snail living
    in a pot of violets she is given. It's called The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey, it leads her to an intensive study of snails, and "this is an entrancing record of spiral love, one which grows from the delicate devotion the author feels for a snail companion".

    How different the story would be had she discovered a huntsman in her nightie!

    Love, Mum xxx

  8. Hello Tabitha,
    I always check your blog every Monday and it never fails to make me laugh.
    None this week so I do hope that you are ok.
    Best wishes

  9. Hi Tabitha, awesome post ... always so lovely to read your writing.
    love from Kate xo

  10. Lovely to hear from you, Kate, and glad you liked the story. I have to forcibly restrain myself from writing all my blog posts about animals.

    Mai: Sorry for the delay in posting. I've been working on some other things. I promise there will be a new post by next Monday (and thanks for your loyal readership!).


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