Moving to the big city introduced us to horrors unencountered in the New Territories.
We're talking about creeping, crawling horrors that give people nightmares.
In the kitchen, I spotted two large, ugly cockroaches waving their antennae at me, so I killed them.
Then I went to a housewares store and bought poison bait stations and spray. In the old flat, we had no roach problem. I saw a total of three small ones in the year I was there. These roaches were much larger; I placed the stations, hoping they'd do the job.
No such luck.
These were American cockroaches, which don't live and breed in a flat; they invade from outside, seeking warmth, food and water. They grow between one to two inches in length, and they're fast. I searched to find the source of ingress.
Bingo! The cupboard wasn't flush against the concrete wall under the kitchen sink. I sprayed roach poison and ventilated the room with the fan.
Ten minutes later, I found three more roaches in the kitchen. These were sluggish; clearly poisoned. I disposed of them and went to bed.
The next morning, I found more dead roaches in the kitchen and one in the bathroom. I was beginning to wonder if we'd made a big mistake renting this place. Ugly beasties weren't part of the lease agreement. I sprayed more into the gap and prayed that would be the end of the roach problem.
How naïve I was.
During that day, and the next morning, I disposed of a few more of the unsightly critters. I realised I'd have to block the gap, so I stuffed an entire newspaper section into the gap. Finding another hole in the corner, I sprayed poison and jammed in paper. For the rest of day, no more roaches. I learned afterward that roaches eat paper, but there was so much poison in the gap I wasn't worried.
I congratulated myself on my resourcefulness, reckoning I had the problem licked, but the next morning, a dead roach lay in the bathroom. Behind the toilet, near the floor, was a drain.
Aha! I sprayed poison into it and waited. The lessons learned from the kitchen had paid off. A few of the buggers were in the drain and they bolted out. I killed them and waited a while longer. No more came out.
During the day a northern monsoon swept in and temperatres plunged. By nightfall, it was 10C. Cockroaches would be looking for warmth; I decided to spray the gap in the bathroom one more time to ensure I had full coverage.
All hell broke loose.
A roach came out from behind the toilet. Then another... and another. In ten seconds I counted five.
I grabbed the broom and the long-handled dustpan. As they scampered toward the door, I swept them into the dustpan and flipped them into the toilet before they fell out. Cockroaches don't swim well; I zapped them with an extra shot of poison that exterminated them within seconds.
No sooner had I disposed of those, more swarmed out. It was a nightmare; I couldn't understand where they were coming from.
While spraying more poison, I discovered a gaping hole in the wall around the toilet outflow pipe: the roach parade route. I bombed the hole with roach spray.
Between midnight and 2.00am, I killed and flushed over 35 cockroaches. I sprayed, swept and flushed; sprayed, swept and flushed. I was prepared to stay up all night to do battle if that's what it took.
God, it was creepy. I feel oogie just recalling it.
All of a sudden, they stopped coming. Between 2.00am and 4.00am, two groggy-looking roaches came trundling out and died.
I prayed the worst was over, cleaned the bathroom and went to bed.
The next morning, not one roach, but I'd had enough. It had to stop, and I wasn't satisfied with poison spray. It was strong and I didn't want to poison myself in the process.
Fumigation was out of the question; it only works on insects living in the flat, and we didn't have any.
I decided to wage all-out war. The best way to handle the situation was to block all entry points to the flat. In Wan Chai I found several hardware and paint stores. I bought expanding insulating foam, caulk, and some tools.
The bathroom was the top priority. After cleaning the wall and floor around the pipe, I jammed the tube of the foam can in the crevice as far as it would reach, spraying foam until it filled the hole. Next, I sprayed the wall and the pipe, letting the foam expand to about 6 inches thick. The little bastards wouldn't get through that in a hurry.
In the kitchen, I yanked out the paper I'd stuffed in the gap and foamed it. Grabbing the caulk, I sealed every gap I found in the cupboards and along the wall. I sealed everything.
Since then, we've had no more cockroaches. The flat is secure, clean and pest free. We can use the bathroom without anxiety.
American cockroaches may be aggressive, but so am I.
After this experience, I relate to the song by the Shuffle Demons: Get Out of My House, Roach.
But unlike the video, I didn't have to resort to dynamite.
January 21, 2000
Next Tale: Translations, Toilets, Travel & Trampolines