Sometimes Asia's abundant insect life can get a man down.
I have spent the best part of the last two hours trying to kill cockroaches and
find the caterpillar that has been eating my house plants. In other words, I
live in Asia.
Well, I grew up in Asia, so large crawly things with lots of legs and
shell-cases and even wings are normal. Except that, after a while, they get me
down and sometimes I wish I had chosen a slightly less threatening environment -
like England perhaps - when I had the chance.
The tropics are wonderful, they say, and Asian governments love coining
imaginative phrases like "Island in the Sun" to lure travelers to some boiling
Equatorial place where a few minutes in the sun is likely to curl up your skin
like an overdone frankfurter and give you skin cancer 10 years down the road.
The sun bit is fine for European tourists. But for Asians? Who grew up loving
But back to the aforementioned creatures. I moved to Manila three months ago and
I'm willing to swear that Philippine cockroaches are the toughest and most
adventurous of their tribe. To the roaches in and around my house an expensive
Rentokil raid was nothing more than a routine drill. The only thing that
succeeds against them is heavily armed guerilla warfare by a lone, highly
motivated individual in the middle of the night.
I'm glad to report some headway.
And, oh yes, the caterpillar. When I found him, he was large and green - which
did not surprise me because he'd eaten half a kilo of green leaves in about a
week. I killed him, feeling a pang of guilt and wondering who knows the answer
to the question: If you exterminate caterpillars, are you by definition
Flying cockroach stories make great conversation pieces over dinner, I've
discovered. A surprisingly large number of people dislike them - and some, like
me, are terrified of them. It's amazing how many kindred spirits you can find if
you confess your fear of roaches, or large spiders, or lizards, or snakes - even
I once lived in a house in Delhi whose landlady was terrified of spiders. She
would call on me to kill spiders and I would call on her to kill roaches.
Sometimes. when I look back on those days, I think we would have married each
Over dinner recently, I met a fellow journalist and Asia hand - a Scotsman - who
told me he was dismayed that the New Territories police in Hong Kong had a Snake
Squad. He told me everytime his sister called from UK and described her tranquil
garden with its lily pond, he felt a distinct twinge of envy.
"I love nature as much as the next guy, and I had a pond nearby Hong Kong, but
no way would I wander out there for a walk in the middle of the night," he
sighed into his San Miguel.
Quite I have a story to match, of course as most self-respecting journalists
should. I had a spot of bother with my stomach once in the Sarawak rainforest,
where I was spending a couple of night with the Penan tribe to hear their side
of the logging issue.
So I trotted into the rainforest and did my bit - afterwards looked down to find
columns of inch-long red ants emerging from the undergrowth heading straight for
me with obvious haste and evil intent.
Now, if that had been an English wood, nothing would have come marching out to
bite me, right?
My Scottish friend also swears that mosquitoes in the New Territories are the
worst in the world. "They're like hawks," he said in a confidential, whisper,
looking around him to make sure none of their local cousins were listening.
"They've been known to carry away babies."
I chose to stay in Asia because I love it - and, being into wildlife
conservation and photography, I find it depressing to live for very long far
away from elephants and rhinos and tigers. Impressive things, they are.
could do without the indignity of Asia's greatest levelers: all those
distinctly unattractive things that crawl, creep, buzz, go hump in the night and
invariably bite like hell.