Archive for November, 2007

Shock and Awe in Hangzhou

Monday, November 5th, 2007

a steam in Xixi wetlandbiodiverse habitatawe-full weapon

[click on a photo to enlarge it]

“Xixi Wetlands” is a laudable attempt to preserve some of the original marsh environment in northwest Hangzhou. That has been the direction-of-choice for Hangzhou urban expansion — you’ll recall my earlier note that the new Zhejiang University campus is built on a swamp. The Xixi effort seeks to preserve the area’s biodiversity and to make the terrain physically more accessible with an extensive network of boardwalks and observation platforms.

Also preserved is the biomonotony of mosquitos. The infamy of Hangzhou’s mosquito population is not recorded in the travel guides — not even in the Rough Guide — though mosquitos are one of the roughest features of life here. That I am still doing battle with them in November says something; I killed 12 in my bedroom just this morning. Don’t even broach the topic with Judy!

The white wall next to my desk at the Medical School also sports a mural, “Le Rouge et le Noir” would be an apt title, of smashed mosquito carcasses, corresponding to those engorged and those not.

If the guide books are silent, the rest of China’s 1.3 billion seem to know about the problem, perhaps as a sort of sadistic counter-point to Hangzhou’s self-proclamation as the “most beautiful city in China.” And the local entrepreneurs recognize the problem by way of offering for sale an impressive anti-mosquito weapon. I know no name for this weapon, neither in Chinese nor English, so have only to describe it: it looks rather like a badminton racket, with rechargeable D-size batteries in the handle, and a wire mesh in place of the netting, apparently capable of generating a good wallop.

If you snare one of the little suckers in mid-flight with this device, particularly in the dark and quiet of the night, you are rewarded with a flash and a pop, as their tiny bodies are electrocuted by the hopped-up juice in the grid. I want to believe that the brighter flashes and louder pops are delivered by those filled with my blood.

Even so, the score is not good. I reckon that for every one that I have nailed, five have nailed me. And the spectacle of a 100-kilogram human flailing after a 100-microgram insect might invite speculation on whether the juice is worth the squeeze. I am reminded of an article I read in Scientific American years ago, written by a military historian and claiming that the musket, still four hundred years after its invention, was inferior to the long-bow in virtually every respect: range, accuracy, portability, rapidity of reload, cost of ammunition. Every respect but one — the flash-and-pop! This so enthused the user and terrified the enemy as to compensate for its deficiencies. DEET of course is highly effective, but so cowardly, not depriving the ogresses of their lives, but merely confounding the directions to the dinner table. Lethal injection is altogether too wimpy.

So I shall continue to flail until a God-given change in the weather finally allows the one in His image to triumph over the one with the proboscis (or I fall off a chair trying, whichever comes first.)