Shock and Awe in Hangzhou

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.)

2 Responses to “Shock and Awe in Hangzhou”

  1. Judy W. says:

    Bob, I’m so glad you included a photo of your weapon! Alas, it is not electrically compatible with U.S. specs, or I’d ask you to bring me one!

    I remember on my second or third day in Hangzhou, realizing that I had at least a dozen little red spots adorning my face. Putting Deet on said face turned the skin to leather. (thank goodness the effect was not lasting) I s’pose that’s one advantage of being in drought….few mosquitos here in atl!

  2. aldo bagnara says:

    Hello Bob. Ready for a blast from the past? Today, we received an e-mail from Judy which gave details of your blog and I’ve read just a little of your news; I’ll probably read through all of your chapters over the next few days so that I can catch up on the rest of your great Chinese adventure(s).

    Until such time as we can converse in more detail, suffice to say that I too have formally retired from my university position (more than 3 years ago) and that Gloria and I have moved away from Sydney (home for 30 years) and resettled in a new house in countryside Victoria (our original home state) about 100 km (60 miles) out of Melbourne – in a region where my family farmed and where I went to primary and high schools. However, like you, I’m keeping the brain active by working part-time with a local branch of the Victorian Government’s Department of Primary Industries. I do lab work as well as mentoring/advising their young scientific team and I do a lot of editing of their scientific writing.

    In just over a week’s time, we are flying across to Perth (Western Australia) to visit son Andrew (now 34 and married with 2 boys aged 7 and 4) and daughter Alana (now 31, also married and with 1 boy aged 7 months). Yes, both kids moved to Perth (independently) and have settled there – apparently permanently. Our trip will be brief – just a week or so and we’ll be home again before the end of 2007.

    I’ll try to send a newsy e-mail back to Judy with some pictures of our new house, and some of the kids and grandchildren, of course. In the meantime, if you have the time (and inclination) to drop us a line or two, our e-mail address is: aldo3@optusnet.com.au

    Judy mentioned in her e-mail to us that you tired of the bureaucracy at the CDC during the Bush years. I think I know EXACTLY how you must have felt – but things have recently improved for us. You may not have heard but at our Federal elections held on Nov 24, our obsequious Prime Minister, John Howard, was not only thrown out of office but he lost his parliamentary seat as well, and I would have thought that part of the reason was his obvious love affair with George W. So, you see, there’s hope yet……..

    Hope you are well and enjoying life, although I’m sure that you’d be looking forward to going back home again early next year. Stay in touch.

    With best wishes. Aldo and Gloria Bagnara

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