Tuesday, April 17, 2007

China's Initiation into the World (Cat) Economy

I call it the live-too-close syndrome.

Whenever I live at or near a interesting place, I never take advantage of it. This happened during my 4 years at Columbia University…in which I didn't go explore New York City close to enough…and it’s happening now in Shenzhen. I have such a great opportunity to explore China, Hong Kong, Macao, countries in S.E. Asia…but I’m just not doing it.

This past weekend, when asked to accompany my friend Simon’s wife into Hong Kong, I took a step for exploration. I was committed to go with her to the HKCLS 11th Championship Cat Show.

Yes, a cat show.

I personally don't like cats that much and I don't think they particularly like me. I’m a dog person through and through. I guess it’s just the pack mentality of the dog versus the independent cat. The other reason could be that my family just has an awesome dog, Niuniu.

During our day-long HK excursion, we ate 4 different times (Simon’s wife is pregnant), bought a ton of cat supplies to bring back to China (cat food, supplies, litter, ect.), walked around the streets of Hong Kong and most importantly, went to the cat show.

Held in the B Hall of the Hong Kong International Trade & Exhibition Centre, the show included hundreds of cats. Here are the highlights:

  • Simon’s wife loves Himalayans and has 4 championship caliber cats at home. She recently got first place in shows in Beijing and Shanghai (out of more than 600 cats). With her success, she has been able to build an extensive network in the cat community (how we got into the show as exhibitors). She was in Hong Kong to network with owners of the American Himalayan champion.
  • The show room had about 20 lines of tables set up for cat cages. All of the cages had different medallions and award ribbons on it showing off the caliber of the cat inside.
  • There were 6 “rings” in the middle of the hall where the cats were judged. The 3 American and 3 Japanese judges took great care in their handling of the cats and had their own rubric and evaluation standards.
  • When the cats “competed” in the rings against each other, groups of different exhibitors stood by to watch the judging. While seated by our friend’s cat cages, I would hear periodic applauses when awards were given out.
  • There were a few “world-famous” cats that everyone knew at the show. These cats (with a reputation) were definite locks on first place “best of breed”.
  • Cats were given points for finishing in different places. Cats with more points are ranked higher in the world stage.
  • There are entry fees to the competitions but no prize money. Owners spend thousands of dollars and countless hours on their pets without any ROI.

For the most part, the CAT show was a half-way interesting event. It was very much an insider sport where only seasoned veterans knew the intricacies of what was going on. However, in this mundane, small community of the rich-girl hobby, there were many interesting plots and subplots that developed.

  • There is no real rubric for judging the cats. Personal relationships with judges are a huge factor. Owners would proudly strut into the ring to place their cat into the competition, while simultaneously giving a head-nod to the judge.
  • Location is a big part of the judging too. If a judge graded a cat to be the best in breed at a show in Malaysia, they might change their mind and not place the previous winner in the top 5 when they got to the Hong Kong show. There is definitely home court advantage.
  • The “national champions” who had already won top prizes in the US, Canada and other competitions were locks for the best in breed. No judges wanted to go against a consistent winner that had been judged by numerous other judges previously. That would make them lose all credibility.
  • Newcomers to the community are usually ganged up on and ignored. However, if somehow this person slowly gets recognition and top 5 awards for their cats, they are immediately loved and included. Talk about 2-faced people.

From my point of view, the most interesting part of this cat show community is the sense of competition and how it relates to globalization and trade.

One of the underlying rules of cat shows is that anyone and everyone can enter. There is a popular notion that there should be fair and equal competition for all. This has recently been tested.

In the past few years, Chinese involvement in this hobby has risen greatly. The Chinese nouveau-riche has begun spending tens of thousands of dollars to buy famous genetically strong cats to compete (as registered on the CFA) with the established cats. Even though rules stipulate that anyone and everyone can register for competitions, Chinese cats can only realistically compete in events held in China or South East Asia.

Recent laws regarding the quarantine of pets in United States, Hong Kong and other countries (where the most famous competitions are located) have, in effect, stopped Chinese cats from competing. Stringent documentation of shots, vaccines and immunizations are needed for participation. On top of that, since China is a "3rd world country", all Chinese cats are placed in a 3 month quarantine upon entry. No owner has a realistic ability to wait it out. This means that foreign cats can come into China to compete but vice versa. Above that, if anyone is caught competing with illegally immigrated cats, he/she is immediately reported on by the local participants and effectively banned from the community.

I really believe that the current state of cat dynamics between Chinese and US/Hong Kong/Western Countries shows how the international economic system works.

  • Western society creates a rich-man’s game of notoriety and prestige. (Capitalism and Cat shows)
  • Everyone is encouraged to join in the game in which competition is embraced as part of the culture (free market economy and embracing competition)
  • When new communities begin actively participating in the game and finding success, indirect rules are made to prevent their involvement. (US and European farm subsidies as well as textile quotas and tariffs are a few examples of the “quarantine” in the cat world.)
  • Any violation of these rules comes with immediate consequences of punishment from the game. (WTO sanctions & devaluation of credit ratings and expulsion from the cat community)

In the end only time will tell how the system plays out. In this story, the Chinese cat owner in Shenzhen specifically bought a Hong Kong apartment to house her cats so that she could legally and effectively compete with local cats. She had enough money and desire to achieve that. In the HKCLS 11th Championship Cat Show, she was able to get the highest prize in multiple breeds, finishing immediately under the “national champion” cats. In one year she has gone from the very bottom to the top tier. This transformation has won her "respect" and "acceptance".

It ultimately seems that the system of rules, quarantines and community dynamics is just a fraternity-esque “initiation." Only after initiation can the fresh meat join the brotherhood. We'll just have to see how much hazing they have to endure before getting initiated.


Anonymous said...

Love it, love it, love it!

Mike said...

hahaha. i totally didn't know where this post was going until i finished it...

just one of those things i guess.