A tribute to Korean street cats

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Murichan the Korean street cat and a yummy bag of catnip.

In Korea, the general rule about cats is that humans don't really like them, and as a result most cats don't like humans either. This has only started to change quite recently and now cats are starting to become popular among people in their 20s and 30s and you can even see a few cat-themed comics here and there like this one, but most people still don't like them, and street cats in particular. My overall impression is that over the past five to ten years the amount of people that like cats has gone from about one in twenty to maybe one in four or five. I still remember one guy I met in Vancouver in 2000 that told me he would prefer to see a spider of the same size than a cat.

The average cat you see on the street here has no interest in people and will just run away if you approach. In general you don't want to try to hard to befriend most cats because they will just run away and since they have things like cars and motorcycles to worry about, you don't want to distract them.

Every once in a while though you'll find one that doesn't really fear people, and here's one of them:

This cat for some reason spends all her time staring at water, and doesn't care about much else. She doesn't like humans in particular but won't run away if you approach, because the water's much more interesting. One day for example I bought her a can of tuna to eat, but at the time she was watching the water and only took a few bites of the tuna before her curiosity got the better of her and she went straight back to the water to check out what she missed while she was eating.

She does like the smell of catnip though, but won't eat it. Here she is encountering a bag of catnip:

and then again when I encountered her on a wall (actually before the last video), with catnip again:

Because she likes the water I named her murichan (물이ちゃん, not 무리ちゃん).

Another cat that lives on the street is called Yangsuni, and she is actually quite well off. Here she is getting some exercise:

She apparently used to have an owner in an apartment in Cheongdam-dong (첨담동) where she lives, but the owner for some reason just left her behind and moved away, so she started living in a parking lot. Luckily though, the guys that work the valet parking there are super cool and give her food every day, which is why she still likes people and is so fat. The parking lot environment isn't all that good, but she has a secret trick where she climbs up a tree and uses it to get to the roof of a nearby apartment building where she can relax and not worry about cars on the street.

And then there are some cats that just don't like people and haven't been given names, but like catnip nonetheless (I sprinkled some on the ground where they are):

Now let's say you're visiting Korea and you want to see some cats that like people. Here's where you want to go:

What this red circle is is a temple called Bongeunsa, right in the centre of Seoul, and just north of a huge convention centre and mall called COEX. You can get to COEX straight from the airport by taking the bus to the City Air Terminal, and then after you get there simply head out the north gate and cross the street, and now you're at the temple.

In the temple there are maybe about two dozen cats, and not all of them like people but a few do, and five of the cats aren't afraid of them at all because they get fed every day and just hang out and impress people with their awesomeness.

Here are a few pictures of these cats:

This is one of them (named makdungi - 막둥이) in a tree when she was a kitten.

Under a tree.

Her sister tuljjae (둘째), the smartest of the three. She also likes people the most.

Playing with an umbrella.

Drinking water with her brother.

This cat is the newest one, called MB. Found him as a kitten in October on the hill crying alone, so we brought him food every day and now he's almost all grown up. This is him about two months ago.

MB's best friend is Baby, who is about three months older than him. Baby used to hiss at everyone as a kitten in order to make sure nobody ate her food but now she's mellowed out.

MB teaching a stick a lesson.

For Christmas we got MB and Baby a bed. It's technically a dog bed but they don't know that.

Whenever I don't give MB food he starts sharpening his claws on my shoes.

Er...MB trying to grab at a rock.

MB in mid-jump, Baby below.

Baby challenging me to a duel.

Baby chasing MB.

MB huffing himself up to look scary. Still doesn't look all that scary.

Now they're back inside the temple building and it's time to eat.

Followed by water.

These cats at the temple are actually pretty powerful ambassadors for human-feline relations because a lot of people here have the impression that cats just don't like humans at all and will always run away, and are quite surprised when they go to the temple and find cats that simply walk up out of curiosity, roll about on the ground, play with string, don't mind getting their pictures taken, etc., and a lot of people walk out of there with a completely new impression of cats compared to the one they had before they visited. Here's a blog in Korean with some more pictures of these cats. And another one here, and another one here.

If you're interested in helping out cats in Korea, you might want to check out Nabiya on Facebook. If you have a Korean friend where you are you might want to find a way to introduce them to friendly cats if they don't like them (I've gotten a few people here that hated cats to love them so it's possible). I get the feeling that Korea's almost on the verge of being a majority cat-friendly country (by on the verge I mean maybe in about ten years), so maybe with just a bit more effort we can put it over the top.


Anonymous said...

Tre bon Dave! Continua!

Io self herberga un cat qui apparteni a vicins!


Anonymous said...

I love cats, who couldn't!? I didn't realise there were cat unfriendly countries.

Anonymous said...

I love cats, who couldn't!? I didn't realise there were cat unfriendly countries.

Anonymous said...

Tre bon Dave! Continua!

Io self herberga un cat qui apparteni a vicins!


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