On January 1st 1980 in Berndorf, a German shepherd bit me. The right half of my lip was like a scrap hanging from my face. A witty doctor at the Salzburg Emergency Hospital sewed the scrap back on. Everything would be fine again, he said, but I shouldn't kiss my girlfriend for a while. I was eleven, I didn't have a girlfriend, I didn't even have signs of puberty yet, but I did have numbness in my oral area.
Within the family we sought the guilty party. The German shepherd was eliminated from consideration. His owners, friends of my parents, said he was "really messed up" by the fireworks on New Year's Eve. The dog was doubly lucky: he'd bitten me 1) in the geographical epicenter of German-shepherd-worship (Flachgau); and 2) at the end of the twentieth century, historically speaking the Golden Age of dog lovers in Austria. He was not put to sleep. The owners, who were "totally distraught" by the incident, brought me some chocolate. I didn't eat it. The only thing I could eat was porridge.
I forgave the doctor, but not the dog owners; my timid parents didn't even push through any reparations for my pain and suffering. At some point I found out that the Chinese eat dogs. I wanted to do that too! Heck, I even ate factory-farmed meat, even though I'd never been bitten by a cow.
Slaughtering dogs is cruel and unusual? Just don't watch! I had hundreds of chickens on my conscience, and dozens of pigs. Some little mutt wouldn't make much difference in this balance sheet of terrors!
Twenty-four years later Mr. Zhang was driving me through China. I asked whether a meal of dog was a possibility. Zhang's eyes lit up: "Must be ordered in advance!" Even in China, he said, that meant breaking taboos. His own wife shuddered in disgust. She often said: "If you eat dog, you're a pighead." She considered Zhang extremely uncivilized. The new China didn't have much use for nostalgia. Chicken feet were out of fashion. "Dog meat better than Viagra," Zhang gushed, "you will stay three days in hotel room, because otherwise sexual energy too high!" He got on the phone and finagled some dog.
A restaurant in the small town of Chengde: "Family has now killed dog," Zhang translated for the waitress.
She brought a stewpot — with dates, garlic, chili pepper, angel hair noodles, and onions, mixed with pieces of meat from man's best friend.
"What breed?" I asked. "Very young edible dog," Zhang said quite matter-of-factly. "Chew slow, pet energy is very high!"
I expected tough, stringy meat, but it was soft, tender, bright pink. The dog turned out to be one of the great culinary experiences of my life. "Up to three days afterward," Zhang prophesied, "everything stays strong for the man."
Late in the evening, my hotel phone rang. "Mister Martin? Chinese girl massage on room?" asked a piercing female voice. Everything about me was strong. But I didn't dare to say yes.
Incidentally, the German shepherd that bit me in Berndorf in 1980 was put to sleep after all. In 1981 he attacked a woman and seriously injured her. Then there were no more excuses.
Translated by Geoffrey Howes