Gold

by Marissa M., age 12
Gold Marissa lives near D.C. with her pet dog. She is very active in a wide range of activities including taekwondo and enjoys writing fiction.

“I woke up today to the usual chorus of whining dogs on the farm. I arose from my small bed and looked over to the clock. 5:27 AM, it read. Mama and Baba would still be asleep. Time to start the morning chores.”

January 19, 2017

I woke up today to the usual chorus of whining dogs on the farm. I arose from my small bed and looked over to the clock. 5:27 AM, it read. Mama and Baba would still be asleep. Time to start the morning chores.

I put my shoes on and went over to the small kitchen. I had harvested the wheat yesterday, so I still had enough to make a whole batch of baozi. I kneaded some dough and went outside to harvest some cabbage for the filling. As Mama had taught me, I left some for later. I trudged back to our house with three small cabbage leaves. I added them to the flour and meticulously pinched the top so the cabbage would stay inside. I filled our only pot with water and dropped the dumplings in, one by one. I put them on the stove and waited for them to cook.

As I was about to harvest some rice for tonight’s dinner, I witnessed Baba’s sleepy face coming into view.

“Good morning, Baba,”  I said to him.

Baba nodded and went out the back to the dog meat farm.

I turned off the heat on the pot and took out the dumplings, careful not to burn my work-worn fingers. Baba came back from the farm and asked to talk to me. I nodded yes and sat down on the concrete floor with him.

“HuiNing,” he started, “I come with great news!”

The only thing more joyous than the words he was speaking was his face. It was the first time in about ten years that I saw him smile. He was smiling so wide that his gold tooth was showing, and the tips of my mouth curled up as well.

“We have received an offer from a kind gentleman by the name of Mr. Chen,” he continued. “He runs the Lychee & Dog Meat Festival in Yulin, and he has offered one hundred thousand yuan in exchange for 2,000 pounds of dog meat!”

I smiled, but it wasn’t as full as Baba’s. I knew it was a big deal, since our farm had never been successful. Furthermore, I was never a dog lover, but something didn’t seem right.

“That’s great news, Baba!” I half-lied. “I’m off to school now.”

I grabbed my small school bag and trudged out the door. When I got to school, I sat in the back of the classroom as usual. I couldn’t focus on what the teacher was saying today. My mind kept drifting out to the deal and what would happen. I knew Baba was never a big fan of our dog farm, but I knew he did it for our own good. Before, the dogs seemed like just a way to keep food on the table. But now, I wasn’t so sure what would happen to the dogs.

 

January 28, 2017

Today is the start of the New Year. We are off from school, so I took the day to prepare for the feast tonight. I harvested some yu, or fish, from the rice paddy, a symbol for prosperity. I also harvested some rice and turnips to make tang yuan and luo buo gao. I spent the whole day cooking, but my mind was drifting off again. The whines of dogs drowned out all my thoughts so much that I almost burned the fish.

As I was setting the food on the table, Baba came home with a huge tray of dumplings.

Mama gasped. “Are you sure we can afford those?” she said.

“We might as well use the money to treat ourselves ahead of time,” Baba smiled. “This will definitely be an auspicious year, starting it off with a promise to live a comfortable life!”

That was when I knew the sale was coming closer – and quickly.

 

January 29, 2017

Baba was sick to his stomach today since he ate so much last night. Since he couldn’t feed the dogs, I volunteered to take care of them for the day. It was a long walk, since the dogs were kept such a long distance away from the house. As I got closer and closer, the whining became more and more clear. But the only thing that was worse than the sound was the sight. About five dogs were stuffed into each of about twenty tiny cages. The barbed wire cut into their skin.

Mama had directed me to give them only a small bit of food. But my morals instructed me to give them at least twenty ounces per cage, so that’s what I did. As the dogs ate with great gusto, I noticed one that looked too scared to even eat. Instead of eating like the others, he looked up at me with his big, hazel eyes. He had golden fur, and he was a bit smaller and frailer than all of the rest. He looked just like me, a little part in a big world. Immediately, I knew I couldn’t leave him in this cruel place. I had to save him.

I cut the wire with my pocket knife and took him out, but he yelped as the barbed wire poked into his leg. I examined the spot. Fortunately, it didn’t look too bad. I gave him some more food, and he ate it quickly. He must have been starving in there. He licked my face, and it brought up a feeling that I had never experienced before, a mixture of compassion and raw emotion. As I was carrying him back, I forgot an important aspect: Where would I keep him? That’s when I was struck with the sad feeling that the rescue may not be successful.

But then, I remembered something: there was the box that contained all the dumplings Baba bought. It would definitely be big enough, and it could go under my bed.

Now, what would I name him? The first thing that came to mind was jing, or “gold.” He may not be worth much to somebody else, but he was gold to me. I stuffed Jing under my shirt so Mama wouldn’t notice him. He started to fall asleep, breathing slowly and steadily. When I reached my small room, I placed Jing on my bed. He stretched out, and I could have sworn that his lips curled into a smile. I stroked his fur, which was rough and coarse. I made a mental note to bathe him at some point.

Trusting that Jing would wait there, I snuck out to the kitchen to take the jiaozi box. I brought it back to my room and poked some holes at the top so Jing could get some air. I divided it into two parts: one for sleeping, and one for going to the bathroom. I added some cotton, from my small pillow, and some old paper and moved Jing into the box. He was so quiet. It seemed as if he knew that he might be caught and sent back if he made a sound. Jing curled up again, but kept his beautiful smile.

 

February 11, 2017

I had saved up my money from the last week to buy a small bottle of shampoo from the market. I ran back home, hoping Baba wouldn’t catch me and be suspicious. When I got to my room, I took Jing, who was playing with the cotton at the bottom of the box. I laughed but stopped myself, hoping nobody would wonder what was happening. I took Jing to the stream and squirted some shampoo on his fur. I rinsed him off with some of the water and stroked it through his now silky fur. He shook the water off, and he looked exactly like a cotton ball. It was the first time I’d really enjoyed myself for as long as I can remember.

 

February 23, 2017

It had become part of my daily morning routine to take care of Jing. I changed the paper, and I put half a baozi in the pocket of my mianpao to save for him. I go to my room, stroke Jing, and give him the baozi. He eats with great relish, and I usually start to smile. But not today.

Today, I noticed a drop of blood coming out of Jing’s left front leg. I looked closer, and the top of his leg was swollen. Jing was still eating, and he didn’t look like he was in pain. I knew I couldn’t afford a veterinary bill for Jing, so I put some soothing herbs on it for now.

That day, at school, I wondered what it would be like to not worry about money. I know that’s why Baba wanted to sell the dogs, but there had to be a better way.

 

March 2, 2017

Days have passed, and the soothing herbs weren’t helping. I’ve started saving up some money to buy him some ointment. I hugged Jing tightly. I didn’t want to let him go.

 

March 14, 2017

I’ve saved up the money to buy some ointment. After school, I ran straight to the market. With the pharmacist’s recommendation, I bought a small tube of ointment and some gauze to wrap the wounded spot. With no time to waste, I ran home to Jing. I lathered some ointment on the wound and wrapped the gauze around it. Jing yelped when I put the gauze on. Beads of sweat started forming from my forehead. What would Baba say if he heard that? I told Jing to quiet down and hid him under my bed. Just then, Mama walked in my room.

“HuiNing, did you hear something?” she questioned, looking confused.

I shrugged my shoulders. “Maybe from the dog farm?” I suggested.

“Yeah. Probably,” Mama replied and walked off.

Phew!

I wiped the sweat off my forehead and hugged Jing. Then, I thought of something. Jing is only one of the thousands of dogs being treated like he was. What if I could help them out, too? But the more I thought about it, the more impossible it seemed. What could I do? I’m just a small part in this big world.

 

March 21, 2017

Jing’s leg was looking somewhat better, but maybe I was being optimistic. I tried to lift the gauze up to see how the wound was doing, but he moved it away. That couldn’t be too good. I gave him his baozi, stroked his fur, and walked off. Healing takes time, right?

 

April 3, 2017

I sat in the back of the classroom as always, constantly biting my nails. Jing’s leg wasn’t looking much better this morning. When I was doodling on my paper, the first thing that came to mind was Jing. I wasn’t taking note of what would happen if anyone saw me, but someone did. Meixin, the most popular girl in school, was apparently looking over my shoulder.

“Is that your dog?” she whispered, paying careful attention to where the teacher was looking.

I blushed and nodded. Why was she looking over my shoulder? I was starting to feel uncomfortable.

“Why is his leg swollen?”

“It got infected from the barbed wire in his cage,” I whispered. “He would have been slaughtered and eaten.”

Meixin gasped, “You’re joking. Who even eats dog meat?”

“Tons of people,” I started. “There’s a whole festival.”

I was too embarrassed to tell Meixin about our farm.

“Someone’s going to have to stop that,” she said, scrunching her face up.

“It’s hard, okay? We’re just little parts of a big world.”

Meixin started to shake her head, but the the teacher caught a glance of her. She shrunk back into her seat. She scribbled something on a paper and handed it to me.

Meet me at my locker after school, it read. So that’s what I did.

“Operation: Dog Rescue,” Meixin started.

I just shook my head. “It’s not worth it! Nothing’s going to happen. Plus, what do you even know about this?”

“There’s no harm in trying,” she said optimistically. “I’ve researched it during lunch,” she added.

I sighed. I knew Baba wouldn’t be too happy about this. But I couldn’t just let all those dogs die.

“Okay,” I replied, still shaking my head. “I’ll help you with this, but just don’t get your hopes up.”

“Hey, it’s okay. We have a chance. Chances can go a long way. First, we start schoolwide,” Meixin started. “Let’s hand out fliers and make a club. We can use my computer.”

“Okay, then,” I said, a little more positive.

Then, I sighed. What luxury to have a computer at your fingertips!

“I’ll come back tomorrow with the fliers,” Meixin said. “What’s your dog’s name anyway?”

“Jing.”

She nodded. I knew she knew why I chose that name.

We both said goodbye to each other. For once, I actually thought this idea had a chance. That was more than I could ever ask for.

 

April 4, 2017

Meixin and I posted the fliers around school. By the end of the day, we already had seven people asking to join. I smiled almost as wide as Baba did when he was first given the offer. This really meant a lot to me. It meant that we had a chance of saving thousands of dogs’ lives. But I felt a tinge of guilt about Baba.

I checked the time. I said a quick goodbye to Meixin and darted back home. Baba would be really suspicious if I stayed even a minute later. I checked on Jing, who was sleeping. I hugged him, and he licked my face affectionately. I smiled. Jing went back to sleep. I noticed that he was sleeping a lot more these days.

 

April 17, 2017

When I went to school this morning, I received some of the best news I’ve ever heard from Meixin.

“The website is almost ready. All we need is specific information, maybe something about your dog,” she said.

“Thank you so much!” I exclaimed and threw my arms around Meixin.

We embraced for a second, and then I nodded. “I’ll bring my dog tomorrow. We can take pictures and write about him.”

Meixin raised an eyebrow. “You really think nobody will notice him?”

I nodded confidently. “Believe me, if I’ve been keeping him in my house this whole time, keeping him at school for a day is nothing. He never makes a sound.”

 

April 18, 2017

After stroking him a couple of times and making sure he did his business for the day, I moved Jing into my schoolbag. Today, I was careful not to jumble my schoolbag around too much on my commute to school.

Meixin met me at my locker, waiting for me to open my schoolbag. When I did, Meixin said, “Aww!”

I told her to remain quiet so she wouldn’t attract attention.

“Sorry!” she answered, “Jing’s just so cute! How do people have the heart to do this to innocent dogs?”

“That, I don’t know the answer to,” I replied, thinking of my parents.

To them, the dogs were a way to support our lives.

We took some photos of Jing and loaded them onto the website. By then, class was about to start, so I kept Jing in my locker. We agreed to come back after school to continue.

At class that day, I fiddled with my pencil. The clock couldn’t tick fast enough. I wanted to go check on Jing, so I asked for a bathroom pass. I went to my locker, and Jing was asleep as usual. I stroked his head, and he rolled over on his stomach. My lips curled into a smile. I stroked his soft fur as he slowly went to sleep, his beautiful smile almost as wide as mine.

After giving Jing a stick to chew on, I went back to class, hoping I hadn’t taken so long. Unfortunately, it had been almost 10 minutes since the time I left. The teacher gave me a dirty look.

“What took you so long?” she demanded.

I was able to make up a believable story about losing the bathroom pass and having to look everywhere for it. She nodded and ushered me back to my seat. I sighed in relief. If she didn’t believe me, that could have been bad.

Finally, the final bell rang. I sprinted to my locker, overjoyed to get started. Meixin came along with her computer a bit later. She asked me to write something about Jing and handed me the computer.

This is Jing, I started. His front leg is infected from a rusty barbed wire cage. He was too scared to eat much and would have either starved to death or died of his wounds if I hadn’t saved him. Jing isn’t the only dog who has had these experiences. Millions of other dogs live like this. It’s up to us to stop it.

Meixin read it and started tearing up. “If this doesn’t draw people,” she said, “I don’t know what will.”

 

May 2, 2017

It had been two weeks since the website had been posted. After school, Meixin met me at my locker, smiling.

“We’ve already got 1,000 people to sign our petition!” she said.

We both cheered.

“Meixin, I think it’s time that I tell you something,” I started. “My family actually owns a dog meat farm, and that’s where I saved Jing from. My father got an incredible offer from the festival owners, and I hope you’ll understand that it’s not something that I support.”

Meixin nodded, “I’m so sorry. This must be so hard for you.”

We said goodbye to each other, and I ran home to Jing. I darted into my room, threw my school bag on my bed, and frantically grabbed the box from under the bed.

“Jing!” I whispered excitedly, moving him from the box to my arms.

Jing perked his head up, eager to hear what I had to say.

“It’s working! We’ll be able to stop the festival!”

Jing smiled but looked as if he wanted to go back to sleep.

“How’s your leg doing?” I asked, removing the gauze as he tried to move his wounded spot.

I noticed that it was turning purple. I wiped away a tear.

“You’ll make it, Jing. I know you will.”

But even then, I wasn’t so sure.

 

May 15, 2017

After a week and a half of changing out the gauze and using new ointment, Jing’s leg was looking the same as it was before. When Meixin came to tell me that we had 12,000 supporters. I couldn’t smile for real. Meixin noticed and asked me what was wrong.

“Jing’s leg isn’t looking so good,” I replied.

“Why don’t you take him to the vet then?” Meixin suggested.

“It’s not like I have the money. Vet bills are expensive, you know,” I replied, firmly.

My mind drifted again to how luxurious it must be, not having to worry about money.

“I’m sorry…” Meixin responded quietly.

“Don’t be,” I said, keeping my firm tone. “I’m sure you could afford a vet bill any day. It’s not like you’d know anything about how hard I’d have to work for it.”

I walked away to my first class. Meixin didn’t meet me at my locker at the end of the day as usual. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that?

 

May 26, 2017

Meixin met me at my locker that morning. But this time, she didn’t look like her usual pristine self. I noticed that she was more tan than the last time I saw her, and she had various scratches all over her body. Her eyes also looked more sleepy.

“What happened?” I asked.

“I’ve decided to walk a few steps in your shoes,” she started, “and it’s harder than I’ve ever worked before. Long, strenuous days with low pay.”

“Wow,” I replied, surprised, “You’d really did that?”

She nodded. “And I made 175 yuan,” she said. “That should cover some of Jing’s vet bill.”

Thank you!” I exclaimed a little too loudly.

I hugged her tightly, tucked the money into the pocket of my school bag, and ran off to my first class. After school, I grabbed Jing and ran to the veterinarian’s office.

“This is Jing,” I told the lady at the front desk. “His front left leg is infected. Can I have an estimate as to how much his vet bill would cost?”

She examined him and turned to me.

“Twenty-five would be generous,” she said plainly.

“Here you go!” I said, overjoyed as I handed her 25 yuan.

The lady looked at it and laughed. It wasn’t a warm laugh, but quite the opposite. It was a laugh that froze your insides with embarrassment.

“No, sweetie. Twenty-five hundred. I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be carrying around that much,” she said as I was checking my pockets.

“Thank you,” I gulped, taking Jing back home.

Twenty-five hundred yuan was probably the combined income we made in a year! There was no chance of getting medical care for Jing. I put him back in his box and wiped away my tears. It wasn’t going to work. I had to face reality.

 

May 29, 2017

“So, how’d it go?” Meixin asked me at my locker.

I just shook my head. “There’s no way I’m getting 25 hundred yuan, even if I skip school to work.”

Meixin just nodded. At least we didn’t argue this time.

“Well, I’ve decided to brace myself for the worst with Jing and move on,” I said, a hot tear rolling down my cheek. “There are thousands of other lives I can focus on. How many people support us as of right now?” I asked, wiping away my tears.

“About 4,500,000,” she replied, but not with her usual enthusiasm. “We need about 500,000 more, but that should be easy since it keeps getting sent all over the internet.”

“Wow,” I replied.

Saving lives of thousands of dogs would be a huge victory, even if I’m letting one go in the process. One special dog, my heart kept telling me.

 

June 12, 2017

Jing’s leg kept looking worse and worse, and he was sleeping more and more. At least his little, golden heart was still beating. He licked my face this morning for what I thought may be the last time.

When I got to school, Meixin told me that we got all the signatures needed, and it was being sent to the owners of the festival. I forced half a smile.

“I’m-” Meixin started, but I assured her that it was okay. I wish I could’ve assure myself that.

 

June 19, 2017

This morning, Jing barely had the appetite to eat his baozi. He only ate a couple nibbles before he went back to sleep. I couldn’t bear to imagine what would happen when he didn’t eat at all.

I got some better news when I went to school, though.

“Look, HuiNing!” Meixin exclaimed with the widest smile I’d ever seen her wear.

She handed me a newspaper. The headline read, Lychee and Dog Meat Festival in Yulin Canceled.

My eyes truly lit up for the first time in weeks. Thousands of lives would be saved! I was in a good mood for the rest of the day… until I got home.

An obvious negative result came into play that I had thought about before. Baba was even worse than his previous sleepy-faced self. He was counting on that offer. All his life, he’d been working so hard for a chance. A chance like the one that I had taken from him.

“HuiNing, I have to tell you something,” he said when I walked in the door. “They canceled the festival. We have to return to our normal selves.”

I felt so guilty, not only because I was responsible for this, but also because I did it behind his back. I felt so guilty that I decided to tell him the truth, something I would never do otherwise.

“Baba, I have something to tell you,” I said. Baba turned around to look at me. I continued, “It was my fault that you lost the offer.”

Baba just shook his head. “I know you feel bad, but…”

“No, seriously. I created the petition that forced them to cancel the festival. I couldn’t just let all those dogs die. But, listen, Baba. I have an idea. How about instead we clean up the dogs and open an adoption center? We could make the same, if not greater, amount of money.”

Baba frowned and opened his mouth to say something, but I continued talking, “When you were sick, and Mama asked me to feed the dogs, I kept one in my bedroom. He has an infection on his leg and has golden fur. He has the most beautiful smile, and he means the world to me. His name was Jing, and he is slowly dying of infection from his wounds.”

Baba shook his head, but he had a glint in his eyes as he looked deep into mine. “I tell you what,” he said. “We’ll deal with what to do with our farm later. First things first: we have a dog to save.”

My eyes opened wide. “Baba! The estimated vet bill is 2,500 yuan! Where are we going to get that money?”

Baba just smiled. “Some things are worth more than money, HuiNing. We better go before we waste any more time.”

I gave Baba a big hug around his neck. And he hugged me back. I led him to my room, where I took Jing out of the box.

“I guess the jiaozi were worth it!” he joked.

We put Jing in the basket of his two-seater bike. He climbed into the front seat, and I took the back seat. We pedaled as fast as we could, finally reaching the veterinarian’s office. The woman at the desk seemed to recognize me. She started to say something, but she saw that I was with my dad and closed her mouth.

“Twenty-five hundred yuan. Here you go,” Baba said, writing a check.

“Sorry, sir,” the woman started with a grin that matched her laugh. “I would estimate about 3,000 yuan right now.”

Baba gulped but barely hesitated to write another check. Just then, the head veterinarian stepped in.

“Daiyu, let me take care of this one,” he said.

Daiyu rolled her eyes and walked off. The head veterinarian introduced himself as Dr. Yingjie Zhong. He and Baba shook hands. Dr. Zhong examined Jing, and his eyes opened wide.

“This dog needs immediate medical attention!” Dr. Zhong said, and started to speed walk to his office with Jing in his arms.

“What about billing?” Baba asked.

“There’s no time to discuss that right now. A life is much more valuable than money,” Dr. Zhong replied.

I couldn’t have agreed with him more.

 

June 20, 2017

Jing is still at the veterinary office. I visited it this morning before school, but Dr. Zhong told me that Jing was having surgery and couldn’t be visited. I nodded and went to school. The idea of Jing being okay seemed much less distant now that he is under medical care. But there still was a big chance that he wouldn’t survive.

I told Meixin about Jing’s status at school. She looked overjoyed.

“Jing has a chance!” she exclaimed.

A chance, I thought. Not a promise, but a chance.

 

June 23, 2017

The clock barely moved for the last three days. With each tick, I wondered if Jing was still alive and breathing, especially when Baba took me to Dr. Zhong’s office at the end of school. My heart was beating rapidly.

What if they couldn’t fix Jing’s leg? What if it was too late? What if…

I stepped in the door, and my mind went blank. I shut my eyes as tight as possible. The sight of Jing’s lifeless body lying on the table would be unbearable.

After I finally braced myself for the worse, I plucked up enough courage to open my eyes. I was right about one thing. Jing’s body was lying on the table. But he opened his eyes! Jing perked his head up, thumping his tail on the table.

He’s alive!” I exclaimed, maybe a little too loudly.

He had his beautiful smile as he did before. The only thing that was missing was his front leg, but a missing leg could never make him any less valuable. After all, gold doesn’t lose it’s value over time.

 

EPILOGUE

Dr. Zhong charged no fee for Jing’s treatment. Baba vowed to repay him someday. Apparently, the story about how I stopped the festival went all over the news. The President of China was so amazed, that he granted us enough money to turn the dog meat section of our farm into an adoption center, which was also all over the news. Since so many people heard about it, our farm and adoption center became one of the most popular places in all of China. We made even more money than we would have gotten from the offer.

Our first adopter was none other than Meixin and her family.

Meixin just shook her head and smiled. “Like I said before, chances can go a long way.”

 

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