"I've got a dog", Lee sheepishly informed me, knowing full well that I didn't want one.
"What kind of dog is it?", I responded.
"It's hard to say really", she replied ,"he's kind of a weird looking thing."
And that was that! I was sold, I couldn't wait to see him.
Well, there's weird, and then there's weird, and fuck me, was this dog weird looking. A solid mass of matted hair, runny nose, and eyes that the devil would be scared of (but yet, still cute). He sat on the floor of Lee's apartment next to a small bag that contained all of his possessions -which amounted to a few toys, some chews, and a bunch of clothes (Korean's love dressing their dogs up). One particular outfit, a black and red hoodie, suited him the best, this was forever to be known as his orphan jacket.
The reason I'd been so hesitant about owning a dog, was because we were living in Korea, and I had plans to travel when I left. The last thing I wanted was a dog to hinder my plans. As soon as I saw him I knew that our plans were going to change forever. There was no way we weren't keeping this little bundle of fluff.
Gizmo, or Te hwan as he was known then, had been living with a Korean family for a few years, but for some inexplicable reason they had decided to get rid of him. Believe me, if you saw him you'd fail to understand how this was possible. The family had taken Te hwan to the vets and asked the vet if he could find him a new home. The vet had in turn taken Gizmo to the local dogs home, who had fostered him out to Jenna (an all round good egg, and avid lover of dogs). Lee, had met up with Jenna one night outside the local convenience store (Family Mart) in Sodap dong (their hood) and Gizmo and his possessions had been passed over.
All good and well, if it weren't for Lee's dick of a landlord, who didn't take kindly to Gizmo's separation anxiety whilst Lee was at work.
"Lee-uh, no dog-uh in this apartment-uh", he informed her when she arrived home from school. Korean's have a tendency to put an uh on the end of lots of words, in case you're wondering. Lee (who was still unsure whether she'd done the right thing in getting a dog) made the decision to return Gizmo back to Jenna. As soon as I saw him though there was no way this was going to happen. I got Gizmo in the car and headed back to my apartment on the other side of the city.
Soon after we got him we realised that he was scratching himself an awful lot. So much so that we took him to the local vet (who spoke very little English). The vet couldn't have been any sweeter. After examining Gizmo for a few minutes he made his prognosis - which he ran around the surgery shouting in Korean, whilst searching for his Korean/English dictionary. After flicking vigorously through the pages for a few minutes he suddenly shouted out in English "SCABIES - Gizmo has scabies". He then spent the next 5 minutes frantically hunting for scabies armed with a magnifying glass and a pair of tweezers. His search proved fruitful. He beckoned us over to his microscope and triumphantly thrust his tweezers, complete with one of the scabies, under the lens. A more disgusting monster I'd never seen.
With the aid of medication we got rid of his scabies. And in order to try and prevent him from catching them again we took him back to the vets for a haircut. Bad idea! A severe lack of communication meant that Gizmo ended up with an almost total skinhead (apart from his ears and tail). He went to the barbers looking like a cute mogwai and left looking like an evil gremlin. If you've never seen the film Gremlins, try Googling it. He looked so scary that I was ready for turning around and leaving him there, but given his past my conscience got the better of me (only kidding, I would never). The problem was, that Gizmo knew that he was ugly. His whole personality changed. For one thing he was freezing. He'd just had his furry jacket sheared off, and it wasn't even summer. He submerged himself under the duvet and pretty much refused to come out, until his fur had grown back.
Over the next few months Lee and I got to learn all Gizmo's little habits, and eccentricities. For example it was soon apparent that Gizmo loved his bed time. His bedtime ritual was a sight to behold, even if it sometimes played on our patience. You see, the bed frame and mattress were approximately 3 times higher than Gizmo's body. If he stood on his back legs and jumped, his nose would just about come up to the bottom of the mattress. Not a problem right! We'd just lean over, pick him up, and put him on the bed. But as soon as we put him on the bed he'd jump off to go and pick up his toys, one by one. Each time he returned with a toy in his mouth he'd do his little whimpering routine until we picked him up. Half an hour later we'd be ready for bed. A passion killer for sure.
Once Gizmo's separation anxiety had died down a little, and we were able to leave him whilst we went off to school, we took him back to Lee's apartment. He'd been back there for a few weeks when Lee rang me up all excited. "you won't believe this", she told me, "he sings". "No way", I replied, "I'm not having that". So Lee started whistling, and by golly, Gizmo started to sing. Not only did he look like a cute Gremlin, but he also sang like one. This dog was proving himself to be more special by the day.
The way it works in the Korean public school system is that you have to sign a year's contract. I'd arrived 6 months before Lee, and had just signed my 5th contract. Once she decided to leave, I still had to do another 6 months of my contract before I left. In October 2013 Lee headed off back to the States via New Zealand and Mexico, whilst I stayed in Changwon with Gizmo. It was decided that I would take Gizmo to the States just after Christmas, and leave him there before heading back to Korea to finish my contract. In theory this as all good and well, but in practice it was going to prove quite difficult. For a start I had to make sure all his paperwork was in order and all his injections were up to date. Hard enough when you speak the language, but many times harder when you can't string a sentence of Korean together. But, as always, I got by. The next big problem was sorting out his flight. It came as a great surprise to me that Gizmo was allowed to travel in the plane with me. All I had to do was get him a box, sort out a flight, and we were good. Well we would have been good if Giz was a good traveller. But we knew from experience that this was not the case. Taking him on any form of transport was a living nightmare. As soon as he's in a vehicle he screams blue murder, and runs around as though somebody has scalded his tail. Given the fact that to get him back to Buffalo he would have to endure a 5 hr bus journey to Incheon airport, a 13 hour flight to Detroit, and then a 45 minute flight over Lake Erie to Buffalo - this wasn't going to be easy. With this in mind we elected to drug him for the journey.
"I'd like something to make my dog sleep on the plane", I told the vet.
"Ah, no, not so good Andrew", he told me. "Gizmo, maybe in ....... danger", he said, after much deliberation over his choice of words.
"Is there anything we can give him to make the journey easier", I enquired. I didn't add "for me", on the end of the sentence, but I'm sure that he understood me loud and clear.
"OK, OK, maybe I have something", he informed me.
My ears opened wide in anticipation.
Before I had time to interject he disappeared into the back room. A few minutes later he re-appeared with 2 pills in his hand, one blue, and one white.
"White pill, very good, Gizmo sleep-uh for maybe 36 hours", he said, and without a pause for my response continued with "blue pill, not so good, Gizmo maybe sleep, maybe not - but blue pill............".Unsure of the right word he once again flicked through his Korean/ English dictionary, before shouting out "LEGAL"
At this point I almost burst out laughing. It was my intention to ask him about the legal status of the white pill, but I'd already made up my mind that Gizmo was having it, so the less I knew the better.
Just after Christmas 2013, and the big day arrived. I had a 2 week vacation in the States to look forward to, but first I was burdened with the task of transporting Gizmo from my little corner of Changwon (Anmin Dong), via Incheon airport, to Detroit, and then on to Buffalo.
I had a plan....
My plan was to walk Gizmo up and down the mountain at the back of my house (Anmin Gogae), as many times as my legs would take me. I'd already established that Gizmo could walk all day, so I was the variable in this scenario. The walk was one that we were both familiar with. I was blessed to have such a wonderful walk right at the back of my house, and I would walk up Anmin Gogae as often as I could. The walk took about 1 hr 45 mins to get up and down, and the summit was graced with a most wonderful vista of 2 cities. On the one side of the mountain was the industrial city of Changwon, whilst on the other was the older coastal city of Jinhae - which was famous for its cherry blossom trees.
I managed to get Gizmo up and down the mountain 3 times, taking us a total of almost 6 hours, before my legs packed in. Gizmo would have made the trip another 10 times I'm sure, but 3 times was more than enough for me. Once we returned to the apartment I sat and counted down the hours, until it was time to pack him into his doggy box (along with his cuddly toys), and venture outside to hail a taxi. Packing him into his box proved more than a little difficult though, so I elected to crush the blue pill into his food to see what effect it would have. I wasn't technically supposed to feed him for 12 hours prior to his journey, but a little food surely couldn't do any harm.
Once he'd gobbled down the food I waited in eager anticipation to see what would happen. And I waited, and waited, and waited - but there was absolutely no change in his mood. The thought of giving him the white pill entered my head, and once it was in there, there was no getting it out, until the deed had been done. I mean, I started him off with a quarter of a pill, and then quickly added another quarter, and then another, and after seeing no change, the final quarter was administered. By the time this task had been completed it was time to go. With much effort I managed to get Gizmo in his box. The pill obviously hadn't worked - well not yet at least anyway.
Fast forward 30 minutes, and we're at Changwon bus terminal. Gizmo, who'd been restless for the entire taxi ride, was now itching to be released from his box. Tentatively I opened the box and waited for him to emerge. To my amazement he was out in seconds, although his legs were more than a little worse for wear. As he attempted to walk across the bus terminal floor his legs collapsed beneath him, and he fell over. Stable he may not have been, but determined he was. The little trooper picked himself up and proceeded to wander around the terminal in a fashion not too dissimilar from a drunken Korean business man after a night on the soju (Korean liquor).
The bus journey went without incident. It was a cold night, so I tucked Gizmo into my jacket, where he made the perfect hot water bottle. Five hours later, and we arrived at Incheon International Airport, located around 35 miles out of Seoul. It was my usual procedure to go straight to the spa pools, and sauna to freshen up after the long bus journey, but short of leaving Gizmo in an airport locker I didn't really have any way of doing this. I was still a little nervous that Gizmo was not going to pass the airport inspection because, well because he was drugged out of his mind - and drugging dogs was not looked upon too favourably. However, like most things in Korea the inspection was more of a formality than anything else. Gizmo was on his way to America!
I've often been heard criticising airlines in America, but Delta could not have been any better. They treated Gizmo like royalty. "Welcome aboard sir, and who is this in the box?..... oh Gizmo, how cute! Welcome aboard Gizmo! He's adorable!"
I'd dreaded this journey for months. I was sure that it was not going to go to plan. If you'd ever seen Gizmo in the car you see that my fears were not unfounded. Using the indicators (blinkers) sent his anxiety levels out of control, and he would squeal like a pig that was about to be butchered. The problem got so bad that I elected not to use them at all, because I deemed his adverse reaction to them more of a threat than turning a corner without their employment. I was convinced that the noise that the aircraft was going to make would cause him to go berserk. Obviously, I'd underestimated the power of the white pill. For the duration of the 13 hour journey Gizmo didn't make a peep. Every now and again I would unzip his box to make sure he was sill alive.
We landed in Detroit and eased through security. By now the drug was beginning to wear off though. Slowly but surely Gizmo was waking up. As I walked (dragged him) around the airport, the spring began to return to his step. By the time we boarded the plane for Buffalo, not only had he returned to his normal self, but he seemed intent on punishing me for taking him out of the game.
As the engines revved on the tarmac of Detroit Metropolitan airport Gizmo began to howl. It was a tiny plane with only single seats on one side, and double on the other. I'd somehow ended up right at the back on the single seated side. Behind me was the bathroom. "Fuck it!", I thought - I'm taking him out of his box. This was not strictly legal, but with only one flight attendant on the plane (who was making her way from the front to the back), there was little chance that I was going to get caught. And what if I did? It wasn't as though they were going to throw me off mid-flight.
The plane hurtled down the runway, the wheels thudding against the surface. Although I've flown hundreds of times I'll never get used to this. To say that it fills me with fear, is a vast understatement. I couldn't even imagine the fear that Gizmo was going through, as he stood on his hind legs on my knee, and attempted to look out of the window. His howling caused the man in front of me to tut very loudly, which in turn caused me to threaten him with an exit from the plane without a parachute. One thing was for sure, this was going to be a long 45 minutes.
As with all things though (whether we're enjoying them, or you are not), they come to an end. And let me tell you now, I did not enjoy this 45 minute flight over Lake Eerie one little iota. Between Gizmo's neurosis, my own fear of flying, and my ongoing argument with the man in front of me, this was the flight from hell. By the time we arrived at Niagara Airport, Buffalo, Gizmo and I were ready for a long rest. Not that he knew, but Gizmo was now a citizen of the United States of America. We still had to get him to the UK, but that was another year and a half down the line, and another story entirely.