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“Frogscript • Cockroaches”
by Evette Kwok
A resident of a village house, I enjoy immunity with regard to the majority of insects and am generally not afraid of them. For this reason, if an insect makes an appearance in at the office, I will, of my own accord, catch it alive and release it into the garden-beds of the university campus where I work. That is, unless it is a cockroach. In that case, my colleagues will want to exterminate it as soon as possible, meaning that unfortunate insect is doomed.
My fear of cockroaches is a shadow from childhood days. When I was about seven or eight, I remember changing into a pair of school tracksuit pants and feeling both itchiness and pain in one leg (my calf) so scratched on the spot. As it turned out, there was a cockroach in one leg, and I had managed to both strangle and scratch to death (it was dismembered in the process, the head having become separated from the body). To this day I remember the look of that mangled creature and the horrible smell, although I realize that the fate of the cockroach was a hundred million times worse than mine! But from that day onwards, I was they really gave me the creeps.
I think I was least afraid of cockroaches when I worked at Kadoorie Farm. Every fortnight I would lead a party of high-school students on a forest walk to learn about forest ecology in nature’s very own classroom. The best part about taking students up into the hills were the different creatures we would see each time.
Sometimes we would see a kind of insect known as the Eastern Opisthoplatia. This is also known as a mountain cockroach, and I’m not afraid of these at all — I even feel cheered up when I see them. Generally when I introduced these insects to my students — and before the girls had a chance to start screaming — I would tell them that this kind of cockroach wasn’t at all laa jaa or dirty. We normally steer clear of cockroaches because we are disgusted by their filthiness. Because urban cockroaches in Hong Kong are, for the most part, “illegal migrants” from America, Germany and Australia and so live in drains, dark kitchen corners, and even tucked away hiding in offices. Mountain cockroaches, on the other hand, live in the forest, eating decomposing leaf litter and rotting flesh, making them the street sweepers of their environment and are actually much cleaner than we are.
People in Hong Kong have lived with cockroaches for so long that they have in the course of time come to develop certain “feelings” for them. Stephen Chow turned an Cantonese opera into a silly comedy called The Flirting Scholar, and one of the scenes in it about keeping cockroaches as pets successfully created for the cockroach the common nickname known to all, Siu Keung or “Little Toughie”. Why did the people of Hong Kong pick up on this name so readily? The reason is simple. Although cockroaches are small in size, they have spread throughout this huge city of Hong Kong. Moreover, people have tried everything but they have not been able to wipe them off the face of the Earth: new types of insects spray and special poisonous baits are always coming on to the market, but all they do is increase cockroach resistance and make the insects stronger. And although the so-called “cockroach houses” (or “cockroach bait stations”) can entice cockroaches inside where their feet get stuck fast and they can’t get out again, they also attract greater numbers of the creatures into your home. Add to this the fact that their powers of reproduction are strong and their ability to survive is strong and they really are worthy of the name “Little Toughie”.
It occurs to me sometimes that humankind’s relentless destruction of the natural world and their eventual exhaustion of all natural resources will — if we don’t hurry up and change our attitude right now — one day lead to the dying out of human beings on this planet. The weird thing is, after the disappearance of humankind and once a certain period of time has passed, Mother Nature will find ways to restore herself and when she has done so, which creature will lead and control the Earth? I have this vague sense that at that moment Little Toughie the cockroach will have her chance . . .
Translated by Simon Patton