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29 October 2003
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Korea Life Blog - Ode to Chongak

Chongak: the name I gave to an orange and white cat with half a tail, one blind eye, a dirty, scruffy face and a loud, yearning meow that called out to anyone who would listen for a little kindness, a few minutes of attention and a scrap of food. Despite his obviously rough life and handicaps, he had a wonderful little spirit. For months I spotted him trotting all over town, biting through garbage bags for scraps of fish, meowing at the wind, chasing insects in the weeds, ducking rocks thrown by heartless kids, rolling around playfully in the dirt, and chasing after a cat called Agashi, who consistently rejected him, hissed and scratched at him. To see his face when she went into one of these rants always made me laugh. It was if he were thinking, "Oh no! not this routine again. Give it up and let's make a little Chongak." Eventually, poor thing, she had a kitten with another cat.

Along with the others, he grew to enjoy hanging around my backyard, a small, quiet safe-haven where the sun shines all morning and afternoon. That's when I started to give him tuna. At first, when I went out, he would hide until I had gone. But one night I went out late and he came out of the bushes meowing so happily, surprising me. I figured he was just extremely hungry, but when I dumped the tuna on a plate, he ignored it and jumped on my lap. Unlike the other strays around who are afraid of people and will take a scrap of food but claw your hand if you get too close, Chongak began to trust me. He had a very loud and affectionate purr and kneaded my leg with his paws. After a while he got up to eat the tuna. The mosquitos were biting, so I started back inside, but Chongak followed me - once again potentially giving up a delicious tuna dinner in return for more attention. When I went inside he meowed in the hallway for five minutes as if to say, "Hey come back, please, hey come on!" before eventually returning to the food. That's when I knew he was a special cat, and that's why I flew into a rage when I saw some kids taunting him outside my hagwon as he meowed for the kind Chinese food ajushi. If you could have seen the way he approached those students with his loveable meow, his little trot, his half a tail, his blind eye - you would have felt the same. If they had been my age, I would have been deported for throwing punches.

Well, as you know Chongak came back to my house that night and I let him in, fed him a delicious meal, brushed him for 20 minutes and let him sleep under my bed on the warm floor for an hour before he meowed to be let out. A part of me contemplated keeping the little guy, but my place is much too small, the nearest cat supplies are an hour away, and I have no idea where a veterinarian is. Also, it wouldn't be fair to pent up a little cat who is used to wandering about - especially when I don't know how long I'll be here.

As you may have guessed by now, Chongak died today. He was run over by a car. I was walking back to my apartment from my hagwon and saw his dead body in the road, a flat black spot with orange and white fur and the outline of a stumpy tail. While I had feared it would happen, it shocked me nonetheless. I wish I hadn't seen it. After a few days or weeks I could have thought he had been taken in or run off to some other part of town for the winter. But now I know he's gone.

For me, the little guy made Nowhere-dong a little more cozy and familiar. His presence gave me something to look forward to each day and night and I will truly miss him. The only comfort I can find is that for once in his miserable life, somebody really cared about him, gave him a little love and a few good meals. Briefly he experienced that and his purr showed me he appreciated it and was happy for that short time.

I'm sorry Chongak. I wish I could have done more for you little guy, and you will truly be missed. Rest in peace in cat heaven. I hope there you have fresh fish everyday, a new girlfriend, two good eyes and a full tail.

Sadly, I don't have any new pictures to show you. I kept thinking that sooner or later I'd take more. I wish you could see his dirty yet adorable face. For now I will go on feeding Agashi and the kitten, even though they don't let me pet them and don't have anywhere near the personality of Chongak.


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