Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Old Young Man & His Lazarus (Trilogy 1)

I am not sure if this is a Chinese thing, or Chinese thing from by-gone era. But I have always had a thing for old people: I enjoy their company, their wisdom, and their conversation. I have had the good fortune to get to know some remarkable old men over 70 years of age, and I am kinda in love with several of them now.

You must wonder what kinda old men attract someone as "young" as myelf. So here, I am going to start with the first one. The only reason I am starting my eulogy with Richard, is because I have just visited him in Philipolis this afternoon, where he offered me my usual Belverdere Vodka.

Richard is an English Gentleman from the old school. Here I would like to quote an article in the Times:

"Richard Proctor-Sims runs a bookshop and an art gallery in Philippolis. More than a half-century ago, Richard was a roving features writer for Panorama, the only travel magazine around at the time. In 1972, driving down from Joburg to Cape Town in his little Fiat at no more than 70km/h, he left the N1 somewhere near Beaufort West and found himself on a network of farm roads. He stopped the car and climbed out. “I smelled the clean air and listened, hearing silence for the first time in my life. And then I decided: the Karoo is where I’ll spend my last days... ”

Richard, to summarize his long and interesting life in a few quick lines, is a jack of all trades: once a diplomat, publisher, journalist, and now a restauranteur, bookshop owner, gallery owner, bar owner, and soon to be a shop keeper. Richard's love of books is inspiring and he is full of sense of humor.. I love spending time with him to acquire a few gems of wisdom for free each time, often accompanied by a signature house vodka cocktail.

Today, after arriving back at Laohu Valley, I paid an afternoon visit to Richard in town, delivering a few Chinese leafy vegetables that he showed interest last time he visited me at Laohu Valley. To my surprise, I saw his black and white cat, wandering past me with great ease and with a nice clean coat of fur. I was really pleasantly surprised and wondered if this was the same cat that I saw last time, with a matted fur and scared looks. Ricard had to tell me a story of this cat, now named Lazarus, before I could believe his transformation.

Lazarus, one of two cats inherited from Richard's sister who past away last year, was very shy and avoided any contacts with humans, including Richard, for quite a long time. A couple of months ago, Lazarus was diagnosed with an incurable immunal deficiency, which caused the loss of his coat. The vet recommended euthanising him, and his brother, who although not ill would suffer for the loss of his life-long companion (we know cats do!) if Lazarus is dead.

Lazarus' brother was easily given an lethal injection. Lazarus, being so timid and difficult to catch, was eventually given poison in his food. He was then dead. Richard had him and his brother buried in the ground, with great sadness, being a softy for cats of all kinds.

Next morning, a black and white cat appearred outside Richard's restaurant "Oom Japie se huis" (Uncle Japie's House). Richard could not believe his eyes when he saw this Lazarus look-alike, since it was Lazarus proper!

Since then, all sypmtoms of mange disappearred from the cat, and his personality has also changed - no longer terrified of those scary human beings. Hence, "Lazarus" got his new name, after the man whom Jesus raised from the dead - "Lazarus".

Richard, as if inspired by this miracle, worked wonders on his garage, soon to be turned into a shop selling organic local produce.

I confess that I feel, men like Richard, are old in age, alright, but they are young in mind and spirit.

-April 28, 2009 Li Quan from Laohu Valley Reserve

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Cathay- the Mother & Hunter

Back at Laohu Valley, everything is so green - a green that I have never seen before here. The rain came at the right time this year and the grass has grown unususally tall. With the blue sky and light white cloud, that lyrics keep coming back to me: "the Sky is high high, the wilderness is vast vast. Where the wind blows the grass lower itself to reveal the wild antelopes".

I am quite certain that our South China Tiger Cathay is pregnant again. Before we start training her to use the breeding center for her birth again, I would like her to have some time roaming free and hunt if she can. She has not been in the big 42 hectare hunting camp for over a year, and I was worried she might loose her hunting skills.

With all the new smells and long grass in the big camp, Cathay enjoyed it-she smelled, flehmened, rolled. However, she subsequently just blindly trailed one of our vehecles, following TigerWoods. There were 20 blesbok (12 adults and 8 calves) inside this big camp but she did not see them. After walking half a kilometer, just when I started to get worried, Cathay raised her head, and saw the antelopes in the distance.

For the next hour or or before the sun set, she started following and stalking the game. It was very hot and she panted heavily, walking and trotting from one side of the camp to the other, while TigerWoods still lazily followed one of our vehicles. I was not sure if Cathay would catch any game due to lack of exercise. However, there she was, crouched low in the long grass tailing three blesbok, two adults and one young.

She moved slowly closer to the antelop, and I prayed for her. She dashed out, but a bit too early this time. The Antelop ran away. She dissappeared into the distance, her golden stripes blending completely in with the golden and green grass.

Just when I was wondering where she was, she was spotted in the far side of the camp. It is very interesting to note that when two tigers are hunting, the tigers even cross each others paths but they never stay together. I always see them at different side of the camp. I don't know if this is intentionally so or just accidental.

By this time, TigerWoods had waken up and also joined the hunt. He was seen also in the far distance but at a different corner. The tigers changed positions at one point and started pushing the game towards west. The sun was setting, and I decided to leave the tigers inside the big camp. I was certain they would make a kill to feed themselves overnight, given the way Cathay hunted.

Next morning, Feb 2nd, one adult antelope was reported missing. The tigers were nowhere to be seen-they must have been on their kill. In the afternoon, I first spotted TigerWoods in the riverine area. After a while, Cathay emerged, and rubbed heads with TigerWoods, but without a single tiny hint of the human existence nearby. TigerWoods left to go near the river to feed, while Cathay lied down lazily in the long grass, bearly visible, even thoguh she was only about 5 meters away from me.

We soon confirmed, a second and young blesbok was also caught, probably that morning, lying dead near where the tigers were.

Thumbs up for Cathay -the mother and the hunter!