A miniature (mini) pig, standing in the lower half of its portable cage, peers at passers-by in Shida Night Market (師大夜市). One look at the animal, approximately 10 – 12 kilograms in weight and about 30 centimetres tall, and one can see that he is not like his cousins on farms across Taiwan.
He will never grow up to be as tall or as heavy as they are. And, while pork is a very popular meat among Taiwanese, this pig can rest assured that he will never go to market – will never end up as animal protein in one of the many dishes that makes up the Taiwanese cuisine.
The pig is a pet.
Mini-pigs have only recently become a pet of choice in Taiwan and only a small percentage of Taipei residents opt for mini-pigs as their companion animal. Dogs, bringers of luck according to Taiwanese folklore, are the preferred animal; cats, though less favoured are next in line.
However, pests, traditional and exotic, are a vital part of Taipei residents’ existence. A visit to any of Taipei’s pet shop or night markets will prove this to be so.
In addition to the many shoppers and passers-by with their dogs – some of which are even dressed or peering out from strollers or carrying bags – you are also more than likely to find and assortment of animals on sale.
Taiwan squirrels, hamsters, hedgehogs, several species of bugs and beetles, birds, frogs, fishes, rabbits and even civic cats – a mammal resembling a miniature skunk – are among animals available for a price.
As with people anywhere, there are many factors influencing Taipei residents’ decision to own a pet, including economics, space and time. The greater challenge still, lies in deciding what type of pet to get.
However, some pet owners were relieved of these challenges. They did not set out to look for a pet. The pet found them.
Take Matthew “Matt” Fryslie for example. The 46-year-old American, who has been living in Taipei for the past 11 years, owns a seven-year-old Miniature Schnauzer named Candy.
Fryslie says that prior to coming to Taiwan he had not owned a dog since he was about 12 years old.
It was one of Fryslie’s neighbours who had paid NT$4,500 for the then eight-week-old Candy. However, since Fryslie’s, an English language teacher, had more free time than his Taiwanese neighbour to care for the animal, “The dog ended up liking me more,” Fryslie explained.
Time, according to Fryslie’s who now lives in an apartment in the vicinity of Taipei Main Station is one of the one of the major elements affecting the quality of the relationship among residents of the city and their animal companions.
He noted that Taipei residents like their fellow citizens across the island, work long hours and often do not have the requisite time to donate to the care of their pets.
He, however, said that people with pets can live more fulfilling lives. As for his personal experience with his dog, Fryslie’s says:
“Candy is very good-natured. She has certain behaviour that I am grateful
Additional, the dog, he says, has made life in public places easier for him.
“Before I had Candy the only reason people would have to talk to me was to practice English. With the dog, people come over to talk to him and me,” he explained.