Wednesday, March 16, 2011


We share the world with an abundance of other animals, whales, plankton, albatrosses and aardvarks. There are more bacteria biomass than that of all vertebrates. In NZ this abundance of life is most noticeable by birdlife and roadkill possums. In China our shared world is mostly evident by the little invaders, cockroaches and rats.
Cockroaches are not a daily thing. They might not even be a weekly thing in the apartment but when they're there it is horrible. Huge ugly things that can critter at a rapid click. They can fly when motivated. I used to not be able to bring myself to crush them with a slipper but usually give them something more painful, like spraying them with Mr Muscle. Now it is all on. Even the littlest one will be splattered mercilessly. I feel so barbaric.
Today probably raised the level of brute force to another level. It is important to know that most buildings have an ongoing rat problem. Both schools I've been in have had them in and out of the offices, sometimes they sound like they're playing bullrush in the ceiling. I used to be oblivious to it until someone pointed out the sound and now every time I hear it my ears prick. Mouse excrement is sometimes around the place but that surprisingly has not been as bad as actually meeting the guests (or are they the hosts?) when they fossick in our world. At my other school, I came back into the office to see one deposit gifts on the senior teacher's desk before looking over at me and bolting down a cord hole. And just to make you glad for the joys of hygiene, there was a day a few weeks back that the air conditioned air smelt of... urine, presumably theirs but who can be sure.
Recently in my new office I saw a mouse cross desks in broad daylight before going down the cord hole on my computer. I moved back quickly and it took only a fraction of a second for the office girls to read that reaction to know that it was time to stand on chairs again. Tonight, tonight, tonight, ohhhhhhh, I was sitting at my desk in the office when I heard a sound to see a rat (a rat rat, not a cute mouse) walk into our office. Pursuit was engaged. I, at one stage, had my leg kicking along a window sill to deter it. Rats are sneaky though and he dropped down to the ground and scurried out the office. Students saw it. Potential clients saw it. Fortunately for all concerned it didn't know the floor plan and ran into a dead end. It hid below cabinets before bolting out and straight under my nimble foot. Such a move cannot be done with delicacy, so when it was apparent that it's tail wasn't moving, it was obvious that I had taken him out.
I'm pretty OK about all these critters, to be honest, but it's sad that there can't be a way for them to be a rarity. How is it that NZ has so few? A few colleagues raise legitimate concerns. Such places are unhealthy. There is a very small chance that we'll all contract the plague. There is a distinct possibility that some of our sick days are the direct result of rats and mice. The school fortunately is not waiting for the building management to act any more and is doing its own thing. Thank goodness is all we can say.


Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The Shaky Isles

It is a week since Christchurch shook its fatal shake. Not being in NZ as something so big happens is hard. I wanted to know everything: The Herald with its videos were my breakfast. By the time I'd got on the metro, I was reading it in the Chinese media: Chinese too died in the quake. The day after it was front page news for that reason. A picture of a father watching forlornly at the TV broadcasts. His daughter, a Guangzhou native, was in the quake, she was trapped in a fallen building but had managed to text him saying she was struggling; she texted again for him to take care of himself and then her messages fell silent. She almost certainly perished. The news of the quake reverberated around the school. A large number of students could raise the name of the CTV building, which is a temporary tomb for a large number of the victims. A language school inside made it even more relevant and poignant. That tragedy made the comment that this was not just New Zealand's disaster all the more apt.
Though I'm far away from home, the inundation of news about it became a compulsion. I sometimes hear people repeating the sentiment that it is sick to be so interested in the images of disater. But there is something very human about this. It is rooted in many emotions: sympathy, grief, astonishment, curiosity and fear. Disasters are when again the veil of routine life is pulled violently from before our eyes and brutal realities strike us again. One cannot appreciate normality until they accept the true normalness of this tragic event.
The scale of it is hard to really interpret. Any shock happening or development can be hard to really grasp, and only with time can we really know. The Erebus disaster (which occurred during my lifetime) will likely still stand as New Zealand's worst disaster. But its impact on the New Zealand, beyond the lives lost, was mainly psychological. The Napier earthquake at number two can only be imagined. 256 lives disappeared in 1931 in that tremor. It is almost frightening to think that in that in what was a small town, everyone must have known people who died. With 80 years to accept the tragedy it is remembered for the positive effect of Art Deco rebuilding and land for an airport. Beyond the immediate carnage and death, one can only think about the fear after the quake. One clip was taken at Christchurch airport where people were fleeing the city. People were vowing that they would never return. But there is no place of earth where the earthquakes didn't stop shaking. Let's hope that this last series is the last and the true rebuilding can begin.
In Guangzhou the spring festival feeling has gone and the spring weather has come. About the time of the quake, the Guangzhou temperature became warmer than Auckland for the first time in the year. It is a world away in feeling, and creates almost a contradiction in my head.