Otter, Monkey, Cat

My friend L is obsessed with watching TikTok videos. More than once he showed me some bizarre clips of unbelievable feats, which I was not interested, causing him to accuse me of not paying enough attention to friends in general. I think that’s an unfair criticism. I am very interested in my friends and actually I can’t live without my friends. However among the Asian immigrants in America, many are engineers or scientists and some are businessmen. Their general idea of life and their general obsession are different from mine. I have a literary bend. A lot of them like music, but I don’t–there must be a genetic connection between scientists and music, I guess. I prefer theater. A lot of them enjoy movies of various kinds, but not my kind–those movies with good scripts and a lot of conversations, which make me feel like watching a play in a theater. Now that TikTok may be banned and I don’t know what will happen to L. I hope Tiktok can be sold and L can continue with his obsession.

Although I laugh at my friend’s interest in weird videos, I discover that recently I start to watch videos about food and animals myself. When L showed me a clip of an amateur chef cutting vegetables like a pro, or a bald guy holding a shovel as a spatula in front of an enormous wok the size of a cauldron, I said to him, “how could you watch such videos and what’s the attraction?” Also I asked him why he prefers this kind of videos to cooking shows on TV, which are much better staged and photographed, with immaculate kitchen, flawless lighting, decoration, makeup. My friend said, “it’s different,” and left it there. I can’t understand him. Is it because of the flawed shooting, the raw footage, the unschooled narrative, the clumsy editing?

Now I’m infected with this craze of watching videos of regular people living regular life online. I can’t explain why. I used to watch news regularly, but now that regularity is transferred to video watching. My favorite is a a Vietnamese family with a little monkey with an occasional kitten showing up. They would venture out to pick papaya, pineapple, mango, and durian from trees and enjoy themselves right there. Sometimes it’s an orchard kept by farmers and sometimes it looks like wild growth not belonging to anybody. So what’s the attraction? Just yesterday, I watched a full ten minutes of gift opening ceremony for the family’s little boy and the little monkey. People sent T-shirt, shoes, toys, nuts, and nutritional bars. It makes me wonder if I should do the same. I ask myself again what’s the attraction. Most of the videos don’t even have English subtitles and I just guess what they are talking about. So what’s the joy? Does this fulfill my own dream of having a pet monkey? So this way I am living a vicarious life through this delightful family. I mean this is not anything like a reality show since the love life, the conflicts, and other aspects of the family are all hidden from the camera. The monkey is doing nothing but wait for his food, which when given to him, was eaten voraciously in a typical monkey fashion. It’s strange that every animal is a good actor but not every human. There’s never a camera shy animal in this world. Probably the monkey eats with such an undisguised appetite that it kindles something wild and premitive and endearing in our mind. Table manner is a burden, and food tastes better without it.

Another group of videos I am watching is a Japanese family with an otter and a cat. The cat is the most good natured cat I’ve ever seen. The otter is so hyper that he doesn’t stop from fidgeting, moving, cooing. He bothers the cat all the time but the cat couldn’t care less. Most of the time the cat just wave his tail and watched the otter’s incessant movement tepidly as if to mock the otter’s pointless actions. Cat can be so independent and indifferent–a born comedian. The husband of the family often brings the otter, whom I say the name is S, to a camp site or a creek, where he could relax while S would dive and play in the water. Sometimes S can catch a fish or two, but that’s not often. When food is readily available, who wants to hunt? The otter understands this as well as humans. What’s the attraction here? I never really want to pet an otter or keep a pet otter. For one thing, how to toilet training an otter? For another, it is said otter has smells that’s rather distinct. Also in many countries it is not allowed to keep an otter, but I guess Japan is not one of these countries. Since I never want a otter to start with, why is this attractive to me? I don’t know. Curiosity?

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