Copyright 2003, Michael LaRocca
After we moved, Picasso went AWOL!
Lemme start at the beginning.
Lunar New Year, 2003. Jan and I had finished our second semester
of teaching. We'd lived in Hangzhou for just over a year, and our
home was being destroyed to widen the road.
We had a paid holiday of perhaps a month. Right in the middle of
it, we were moving. About 10 minutes up the road by bicycle, but
of course we weren't moving on a bicycle.
At 12:30, we'd been told, the movers would arrive to haul our
stuff to our new home. So I'd guess at about 8, maybe earlier, we
were packing stuff. When the doorbell rang at 11:30, we were
Whenever we have a Chinese visitor who can't speak English, and
no translator, it's always interesting. I'll just cut to the
chase and say that, once again, Jan figured out what he was
talking about. He'd come to take away our air conditioners. We
let him. Picasso supervised from the cupboards over the bed. Jan
called Harry (Huang Haijun, our fantastic Foreign Affairs
Officer) so he could be sure they were taking them to the right
place, which was not our new apartment.
Harry arrived about 12:00 and thought he heard the movers
downstairs. So I retrieved the hidden cat carrier, scooped up
Miss Picasso, and loaded her gently into the box. But nope, it
wasn't the movers. It was the guy who was taking away the water
heater. While Picasso yowled and howled nonstop, the guy
efficiently took away the water heater.
Harry rang the movers several times after 12:30, and I heard a
side of him I rarely hear. He was chewing butt. Their other job
had run long, he calmly explained to us. Then he rang them five
minutes later to chew some more butt.
At 1:00, the doorbell rang again. That silenced Picasso. She
listened to all the Chinese being spoken. One guy came in and
talked to Harry. Then another guy came in. Then another. Then
another. Some saw Picasso in the kitchen and said "Meow!"
In the end, we had five movers. Shorter than me, but stockier.
Lifelong workers. I suppose that could've been me if I'd never
left that first hog farm. Or the second. Or the third. Or the
Moving was a rather rapid whirlwind of activity. Picture a big
box filled with books. It's so heavy that you can barely lift it
without screwing up your back. Okay, now double the weight
because I'm stronger than you. Now, picture some dude throwing a
strap around five of them, slinging them across his back, and
walking down the stairs. Wow!
In the midst of all this, Picasso's incessant protests led her to
knock the water from her cage door and spill it all over the
floor of her carrier. I was tempted to attempt opening the door,
scooping her out with a towel, drying cat and cage, and returning
her. Jan reminded me that was impossible, so I settled for
shoving socks and underwear between the bars. Picasso helped by
pulling them in. She dried her floor, settled onto them, and
began bathing. Ah yes, 30 minutes of silence. Then the howling
Soon after, I carried her outside. Dead silence. Obsessive
curiosity. The three of us got in a taxi. Her first time ever
riding with Jan. She had to look at the oncoming traffic
wide-eyed, then duck her head as it blew past the window. Yeah,
they drive fast and crazy here. But, she knew she wasn't being
abandoned again. That cage has always meant trouble before. But
now, all three of us were riding together. Purr!
The taxi got us to the right complex but the wrong building. Our
language skills are limited, it's a big place, and we didn't even
know our address yet. So, we walked along the street. Picasso
drank in the sights and sounds and smells and was quite thrilled.
Jan's memory got us to our new home, where five guys were hauling
boxes and desks and a sofa on their backs.
At 3:30, Jan and I settled down to unpack while Picasso explored
every nook and cranny when she wasn't rolling and purring to
express her joy. "You love me! You really love me!" Deep down,
she's insecure even though she shouldn't be. But hey, aren't we
No need to give you the play-by-play on all the interruptions to
our unpacking. Lemme just skip ahead to the part where Picasso
Harry came by with the former tenant, Mr. Yang. I was wiping up
the spill from a broken bottle of Tabasco Sauce, and Mr. Yang
walked right through it to show me how the gas works. This was
his instructional bit. Here's the gas, here's the power, here's
Suddenly, Jan wondered aloud, "Where's Picasso?" Oh no. Did she
slip out the door when it was open and run away? All four of us
were in a state of panic as we looked all over the flat.
I went downstairs and saw all the trees, bushes, and just
generally good hiding places. I walked around saying "Picasso" or
meowing, making the neighbors wonder if the first wei guo ren
they'd ever seen moving into their apartment complex were
representative of the species.
Then I returned home hoping they'd found her. Nope. I tried
upstairs this time. There's a gate at the sixth floor that's
locked. It occurred to me that if I were a stranger and saw
Picasso wandering around, I'd take her home. I went back
downstairs and looked around some more, then headed back to the
flat hoping they'd found her.
No such luck, but Jan was coming down to take over for me. China
Telecom had arrived, and allegedly I could tell the installer
what to do, even though I speak neither techie nor Chinese. Good
thing he didn't need my help.
Outside, Jan was retracing my steps. Inside, Mr. Yang was opening
every cupboard door in the place looking for Picasso. Almost like
a cat burglar, except that he wasn't ransacking. He was just
looking for a cat. He's a very sweet man, by the way. He and
Harry couldn't have been panicking as much as Jan was, because I
don't think it's humanly possible, but they weren't far behind.
I was confident that Picasso was simply too clever for all of us,
and was hiding somewhere we hadn't looked yet. Never mind that
we'd tried every place we could think of. I'm a hopeless
optimist, or maybe I just know my daughter.
I have no idea how much time elapsed before I noticed that a desk
drawer wasn't completely shut. Picasso can go behind the desk,
climb through a little hole, push drawers open from behind, and
climb inside. I peeked into the drawer and saw two frightened
little gold-green eyes. I quickly left the room.
"I found her," I told Harry. "She's in a drawer. Just leave her
there." He nodded his understanding and sighed his relief. Then I
She responded from the gate at the sixth floor. I told you she
was retracing my steps.
"I found her. She's in a drawer."
Jan and I entered our home just in time for me to hear Mr. Yang
saying, I presume, "A drawer? Which one?" and then opening all
the desk drawers until he found her.
Second from the top. The one I'll always keep empty.
Earlier, unknown to me, Jan had told Harry that whenever a cat
moves into a new home, the first thing she does is find a place
to hide in case of danger. How true that turned out to be. Meow!
Of course Picasso wouldn't leave us. Optimist or not, I was
justified in believing that. We didn't abandon her. We're better
than the people who stuffed her in a Hong Kong donation box over
two years ago, and we're sorry about the three-week separation
that preceded her journey to Hangzhou. This time, she rode in a
taxi with us. She hasn't stopped thanking us yet. As Harry
himself said almost a year ago, "She really is a part of your
About the Author
Picasso's been with us through five years, two provinces, three
cities, and seven Chinese flats. We currently reside in Hangzhou,
where I bicycle around on quests for tuna and cat litter while
Picasso stays home being beautiful. She's the star of my free
weekly newswletter, WHO MOVED MY RICE?, http://www.chinarice.org