In China, I’ve heard people say you might have rats or cockroaches in your apartment, but never both.
If only they’d lived where I did. That creaky old wooden Shanghai townhouse — in the same 1920s style as the surrounding neighborhood — oozed a lot more than just character after we moved in.
John and I returned home one balmy evening and turned the lights on to find a black spot on the ceiling that moved. And just as I shrieked in disgust, it then began to fly, darting around the ceiling with a defiant buzz, as if to say “Go ahead, just try and kill me. I dare you.” Not even John’s whacks to the ceiling with a broom did any good, as the cockroach scrambled — and flew — away from our reach. We looked at each other with a tired grimace, and almost didn’t even need to say what was on our minds — yet another cockroach infestation.
Not long after that, we found the other offending party.
It was late at night, just after John and I retired to bed, when I heard it, this pattering across the floor that could not have been the wind, or the neighbors. “What’s that?” I whispered to a half-comatose John laying next to me, gently nudging him out of sleep. “Did you hear that?” He yawned and and began to open his eyes, just conscious enough to listen to that same pattering, which seemed to move from one side to the other. And then came the answer from John, confirming the worst: “Laoshu,” he moaned. A rat.
So began the war within our home. For the cockroaches, we drew the battle lines with cockroach chalk, said to kill any roach who dares to cross over the deadly white streaks we left on the walls, floors and stairs. For the rats, we left deceptive rat boards on the floor, their sticky goo said to imprison the vermin for life (or, rather, for death). But even with the chalk and boards, we still had crawling spots on the ceiling, and pattering at night. Roaches. Rats.
After a summer and fall of infestation, we decided to move to another apartment by the end of November 2003. In the end, maybe the reason people say you can never have both roaches and rats in your home is because no one will put up with two pests at once.
Have you ever faced cockroaches, or rats, or both?
Memoirs of a Yangxifu in China is the story of love, cultural understanding and eventual marriage between one American woman from the city and one Chinese man from the countryside. To read the full series to date, you can start at Chapter 1, or browse the Memoirs of a Yangxifu archives.