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War has been raging. Cool air settles back into morning and evening and marks the final days of summer. Knowing their end is nigh, the evil forces have reunited for one last offensive against me. 

 Last night alternated between sleeplessness and strange dreams. I awoke with new bites. Too many new bites to be the work of just one blood sucking enemy – no, as if they had calculated their dead from the summer classroom battles and marked me for revenge, they came hunting. 

 But they don’t call me Doff the Destroyer for nothing, and like that film I haven’t seen yet, I’ve flipped the hunting game right over.  Three I’ve killed since arriving home. One I scared out from under the bed with a strobing torch and the last was a show down in the tiny kitchen – I saw it by the olive oil, whacked on the big light and closed the door.  “Just me and you sucker, and one of us is going to die.” Ten minutes later, die it did: on the black bowl of the washing machine with a smear of my own blood. A bittersweet victory.

 This war has left me weary, paranoid and taut, seeing drifting blackness out of eye corners and hearing that faint buzz round the edges of my ears. Yet there is one left, somewhere in here, I can sense it. I know you too well now. And I’ll get you, I will.  I’m going to brush my teeth, cover myself in tea tree oil, lay in bed and wait, like a blood-filled Trojan horse, to deliver the death that will lead, finally, to peace. 

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Over the past three months I’ve spent a vast number of Saturdays carrying an increasingly heavy box of miaows while making the hour and a half journey to the Pet Care Animal Hospital in Dongnae, Busan. This has been for various kitten/cat-related reasons, the most fun being the week of all-night mate-quest yowling, closely followed by a few near-death sicknesses that had me wondering (through sobs) who I could borrow a spade from to dig a small cat grave in the woods… Luckily the ‘cats have nine lives’ law came through and made this unnecessary, but I was left with the debatable reassurance of my own practical morbidity.

 Now there are vets closer to home for sure, but Pet Care is run by Mina, a young and ever so kind veterinarian who caters especially for the pet-keeping expats around Busan. Although I admit there are other ways I prefer to spend my Saturdays, the place itself is great. It’s small and the waiting room reception area is light and warm and at most times of day populated with animals, trotting around each other or watching the goings on from the safety of a chair.

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 Two of these wandering beasts are the in-house rescue cats who live in the surgery: the grey fluffy one I call ‘Lady’ is always snoozing elegantly in the scales on the reception desk, and the other is a proper old street cat. He stalks the room looking at everything with his big grumpy face. His name is Darth Vader, and he is the coolest cat I’ve ever met. I include a photo for all to see.

This relaxed approach to a waiting area sits in pleasant contrast to the stark and slightly militant memories I have of vet waiting rooms back home, with their plastic chairs and those black and white signs saying ‘DOGS MUST BE ON LEADS’. I wonder if this is due partly to the size of pet dogs here being generally so much smaller (my friend has a poodle who strikes fear in the hearts of her neighbours for being ‘so big’). A chihuahua fight is easier to break up than a scrap between two dobermans, after all.

 There are a few other differences in approach to veterinary services. For example, when I came to pick Soul up after her spaying operation, Mina showed me pictures of the process. There was Soul with a tube down her throat, Soul lying on the operating table, a close up of her post-op stitched stomach and, finally, a picture of the removed womb. ‘Oh, erm, great’ I said in response, and felt very sorry for the poor creature who not only lost a body part but was also forced to don a plastic ‘cone of shame’ and spent the next week confusedly knocking into things.

 The concept of “service” (getting free stuff when you buy anything) even filters into the veterinary world, and every time I leave Mina gives me a little something – a toy, some catnip or a tin of fish. She also is rather nice about listening to my cat-related emotional problems – because somehow out of all the cats in Korea I managed to find the craziest one, and it’s bloody hard work sometimes. But even during Soul’s very insistent 6am Sunday wake-up call, I’m still glad I’ve not had to borrow that spade. Mostly.

Belén Lobos

Out of the ordinary stories in images and words Periodista independiente

Sophia Sheridan

en-route to something, somewhere, it began...

another side of the world

Teaching in Yangsan, South Korea. Travelling where the wind blows.

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