Bangkok Phil

The city is theirs!

Thailand - the home of all things that bite, sting, crawl, creep or scurry.

It's midnight and I'm typing out this blog while lying in bed. That isn't something I would normally do but tonight at least, sleep hasn't come easy. And the reason for that is I'm listening to noises - the sounds of scurrying and foraging that seem to be coming from directly above the ceiling. Yes, we've got rats! I'm not interested in exactly how many, but a bunch of furry rodents have obviously decided to share our living accommodation and skip paying rent.

I'm trying to work out exactly what the buggers are doing up there, but one thing is for certain - they're making a proper job of it. Perhaps they're constructing some sort of ‘rat city' - and the scrapings I can hear are ‘rat-sized' bags of cement being dragged across the eaves. I bet there's even a rat standing in the corner with a pencil behind its ear.

When you come to live in Thailand, you sign an agreement to share your life with all manner of creepy crawlies and things that go bump in the night or could carry off a small child. There is no opt-out clause. I, the undersigned, agree to have insects bite me, sting me, fly up my nose, imbed themselves in my eardrums and generally make my life a misery. I will do a minimal amount of complaining for a) they are all God's creatures and b) they were here first.

My first experience of Thailand's venomous insect army came shortly after I arrived in the country. Under the shade of a willow tree in Lumpini Park, I lay down on the grass for an afternoon nap. I have no idea how long I was asleep but when I eventually got up to leave and go home, my right eye had started to itch like crazy. I had obviously been bitten by something disagreeable but not sure what exactly.

I looked in a mirror and could clearly see a smallish red bump just below the eye. I decided to ignore it and retire for the evening. Those famous last words of "don't worry, it'll be gone tomorrow' ringing in my ears. In the morning, I glanced at my reflection in the same bathroom mirror and staring back at me was a cross between Andrew Lloyd Webber and The Elephant Man. I knew that I had to get to a hospital - and fast. Fortunately I had a pair of sunglasses that were large enough to cover my embarrassment. It was either wear sunglasses or shuffle down the soi with a blanket over my head. Those were the only two options.

"You've been bitten by a red ant" said the kindly and knowledgeable doctor. "You didn't keep it by any chance?" he added. This struck me as a rather strange request. No, I hadn't kept it and there was no way I was going back to the park to look. I had far better things to do. The doctor gave me some cream and pills and told me I would look human again in less than 48 hours. He was right, Two days later, I could walk the streets without small kids pulling on their mothers' sleeves and cars u-turning and doubling back for a better look. Thankfully my career as a circus sideshow attraction had been thwarted before it had even begun.

When I'm not behind a computer these days, you'll very often find me in the garden. I come from a family of ‘green-fingered gardeners' and while I'm certainly not in my late grandfather's league - he won many a ‘best kept garden' award - I enjoy pottering around and keeping a sizeable garden tidy and looking nice - to the best of my ability I suppose. But sometimes after an energy-sapping session of sweeping up leaves and re-soiling plants under the hot tropical sun, I will stand there in the middle of the garden, hands on hips, and wonder why the f*ck I bother. I mean, it's not as though you can ever actually enjoy sitting outside.

This of course is one of the joys of having a nice garden in England. Yes. I know there are only four days a year when the UK weather is conducive to sitting outside with a light ale or inviting friends round for a barbecue, but it's four days more than I get. On those rare occasions I do get the urge to unfold my sun lounger and spend an hour in my Thai garden with a good book, it's an invitation for every flying, biting insect for miles around to cancel their plans for the day and come and join me.

Perhaps I should take a leaf out of my wife's book - I don't think she even knows we've got a garden.

Last week, while sweeping up leaves at the back of the house, I suddenly felt a stinging pain in my right arm. Do you remember as a kid when you fell on a ‘stinger' and your mom would frantically search for a doc leaf to rub your injured leg with? Well, that's what the pain was like - only worse.

I ran into the house, rummaged around in the first aid box but as usual, found nothing apart from a packet of pills three years past their expiry date, a sachet of powdered drink for chronic diarrhea (which I never get anyway) and a couple of sticky plasters. So there I was standing in front of the refrigerator rubbing my stinging arm with ice cubes - anything to make the pain go away. Man, did it hurt. Had I just had an ‘on dry land' encounter with the Australian box jellyfish? It certainly felt like it.

Eventually the pain subsided and I went to seek out my mother-in-law (a retired nursing sister) to explain what had happened and possibly get some sympathy. She returned with me to the tree that I had obviously brushed against while doing my gardening chores. She carefully lifted up several leaves and pointed at a small green furry caterpillar hiding under each one. "In Thai, we call them ‘bung" she said. "You must not touch them because they can be very poisonous"

Very astute is my mother-in-law when it comes to statements of the bleedin' obvious.

These ‘bung' creatures aren't the only terror lurking in the garden. Not by a long sight. Several times a year we get invaded by fire ants. These large red bodied creatures take over the garden and turn the simplest gardening task into a nightmare. They are everywhere! Even watering the garden with a hosepipe - a simple gardening duty that's there to be enjoyed and to be cherished - suddenly becomes man's biggest challenge.

Stand in the same spot for more than ten seconds and the fire ants will get you. And oh boy, does your average bite from a fire ant pack one hell of a punch. So you have no choice but to perfect the art of hopping around on one foot whilst all the time trying to direct the hosepipe onto the plants and flowers which need watering. To the casual onlooker, it comes across as a combination of gardening and Riverdance.

And insects are smart. If they can't inflict physical pain, then they will go for your property. You won't be surprised to learn that I have plenty of experience in this department as well.

Years ago I rented a three-bedroom house in Ramkhamhaeng. I only needed two rooms to serve as a bedroom and a study, so the third upstairs room became of those ‘junk storage affairs'. In one corner, I kept a huge pile of magazines, which I used to buy second-hand from the weekend market. One day, in a rare mood to give the house a top-to-bottom spring clean, I made the fatal mistake of moving the magazines. The bottom half of the pile had literally been eaten away by small white wriggly maggots - along with half the plasterboard wall. Yes, on all those nights I had been sleeping peacefully in my bed and thinking all was well with the world, maggots had been literally eating me out of house and home.

But back to the rats in the roof-space. I've just been on a pest control website and the first thing I saw was a photograph of a man in a safety suit and goggles, removing a ceiling tile, and several rats dropping down into the bedroom from above - probably dropping down onto the bed if truth be known. So after weighing up the options, I've decided to leave things as they are. Besides - I haven't got any goggles.


Great piece. We've all felt a sting or two in our time, I had a particularly nasty swelling on my ankle which made walking a difficult affair.

Particularly enjoying this image - 'To the casual onlooker, it comes across as a combination of gardening and Riverdance.'

By Rob White, Glastonbury, UK (16th March 2012)

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