Well, the timing’s good for getting out of town, anyway. Yesterday began everyone’s favorite annual event – when the hot water gets cut off for two weeks while they service the pipes, and what does issue from the hot water tap attains a hue somewhat akin to weak, day-old coffee.
Lots to do today before the midnight flight since yesterday was dominated by cat drama, generated by the usually serene and accommodating Korean Airlines. Onon (no biblical jokes, please) at KAL’s Ulaanbaatar office was seeking permission/confirmation from Seoul for my feline baggage. I had gotten one largish cage to put both of them in, thinking they’d be a comfort to one another on the long, scary ride. It’s big ol’ Moojie, actually, who tends to be the cowering baby in these situations. Nita just hunkers down and you can almost see the thought bubble: “If I can survive being abandoned on the street in Mongolian winter, I can weather this, too.”
My phone rings. “Mr. Thomas?”
“Um, sort of, yes?”
“Korean Air says your cats can’t be in one cage.”
“The rules say only cats between 6 weeks and 18 months can be in a cage together.”
“Why? They’ve lived together for years. They really love each other. I mean, you know, in a brother sister kind of way.”
“That’s the rule.”
The Rule. OK, I agreed to exchange the large cage for two smaller ones once she got confirmation from Seoul of this plan. That was Thursday. Yesterday at lunch my phone rings.
“Korean Air says you can only take one cat.”
Aroo? “But, hang on, yesterday two cats were OK. They need to be with each other and there’s nowhere here for them. My plans are all set. I leave tomorrow for heaven’s sake.”
“That’s what they say.”
I can hear that Onon is abashed and kind of sympathetic. “Um, Onon? Please, there must be some way to do this."
Onon ponders a moment. “Is one cat small? Less than five kilograms?”
“Nita? So small. Practically fits in your shirt pocket.”
“Less than five kilograms?” Onon was all business.
“I’m sure, yes. We weighed her at the animal doctor last week. In fact, she seems to be shrinking.”
Pause. “I’ll call you back.”
I’m in frantic Plan B generation with my friend Dolgor, who’s been my indispensable translator/helper this week, when the phone rings.
“Mr. Thomas, can you bring your cats in?”
“Can you bring your cats to the office so we can see them?”
“No. Is it possible?”
Pinching my eyes. “Of course, Onon. Be happy too.”
So off we trooped to stuff Moojie and Nita in their carrying case and haul their carcasses over to the 2nd floor of the Chingghis Khan Hotel. On the way I whispered, “Hey, Nita. Contract yourself some, OK? Look waifish and tiny. And Mooj? Just try not to barf on the office carpet, buddy.” I summoned whatever persuasive charm I could manage, and in we marched.
First I brought Nita out for inspection. The issue at hand was whether I could bring her into the cabin and stow her under the seat. This had become, apparently, a whole office project and they all came to look Nita over, one even taking her from me, hefting her a bit and, I swear, setting her on a desk and measuring her with a plastic ruler. Nita struggled only a little and was mostly stoic, and I had enough Mongolian to get that they were remarking, “Say, she is kinda petite.” I sensed victory and assured them I could get a smaller cage for The Mooj and a canvas animal tote bag from the pet shop for Nita in Economy. I didn’t show it, but I wasn’t at all happy about this, thinking about Moojie all alone and frightened for the very long flight in the baggage section when there seemed no good reason that we couldn’t have executed Plan A. Nonetheless, there we were. Onon punched the phone buttons for the Seoul office and did an admirable job of laying out a positive case for two beasts on the plane. Seoul put us on hold and Dolgor and I held our breath.
After Seoul clicked back on I could tell they’d relented. Moojie and Nita were on for their Big American Adventure. My elation was to be short-lived, however, when I asked through a fading smile, “Now, how much is this going to cost, exactly?”
Onon nodded thoughtfully. “Well...” said she, and proceeded to outline all sorts of Korean Airlines baggage regulation minutiae while earnestly poking at her calculator. It boiled down to this: beyond two pieces of luggage, other bags are extra and animals are double. $400. When we had talked the very first time about both cats in one cage, it was $200.
“So,” I inquired, “two hundred extra dollars to bring a tiny cat into the cabin?”
Onon nodded sadly. “Yes.”
All out of options and not wishing to push my luck, I nodded sadly in return. “So be it.”
With the final vaccinations and de-worming, production of all the necessary letters and documents for the Mongolian government, and the issuance of government health certificates, earning the right to schlep my little babies to America set me back more than five bills and required a solid two weeks of fairly constant bureaucratic negotiation. But I love them, and feel confident their lives will improve dramatically stateside. And I do look forward to their elaborate service in some future lifetime.
Many, many thanks to Chris in Maryland and Todd in Massachusetts for happily agreeing to be American foster daddies. I’m hoping that by September my life will stabilize some and the three of us can finally download Peaches ‘N’ Herb: “Reunited, and it feel so good...”