Friday, June 4, 2010

Afraid of rats, or the rat race?

This is one column that I would always look forward to. Presents the other side of life, the other view, a different perception - and usually, the insight is quite different from the rest of us - a standout, for the uncommon truth and fact of life, in Singapore.

It could be true in other countries as well. So, read on...


Encounters of the rodent kind

by Tabitha Wang

The emails from my Singaporean friends were incredulous: "Really ah? Hong Kong got rat in Central? As long as 30 centimetres?"

Apparently the story of a tourist being bitten by a rat in the middle of this modern metropolis had spread far and wide. For those wondering what I am talking about, a British tourist was bitten on her heel by a rat outside a shoe-repair shop in Pedder Street last week.

Pedder Street is right smack in the middle of Central, in the heart of Hong Kong's business district. Though nothing more than a small lane lined with shoe-repair and key-cutting stalls, it is surrounded by banks and high-fashion shops. The site of the grievous bodily harm offence, so to speak, is just outside the wrought-iron gates of high-end boutique Shanghai Tang.

It also happens to be the MTR exit that I take on my way to and from work. The day after the story came out, I was assailed by the smell of heavy-duty disinfectant and bleach the minute I turned into the lane. Usually, you can hardly see one road sweeper in the area but on that day, I counted five sanitary workers pushing out huge rubbish bins and scrubbing down the entire lane.

As the old joke goes, dog bites man is not news but man bites dog is. Besides, the Food and Hygiene Department says last year's rodent infestation rate in Central was a low 4.7 per cent compared to 12.3 per cent in districts such as Kwun Tong.

So why did the rat-bite story create such an uproar?

Mostly because it happened right smack in the most modern part of this modern city. But also because the rat picked the wrong person to test its incisors on - a tourist. If it had happened to a local, I doubt there would have been much hoo-ha. In a place where old tong laus (walk-ups) jostle for space with mirrored skyscrapers, you come to expect some close encounters of the rodent kind.

After all, look what happened to the rat in question. After the tourist cried and had to be taken to hospital in an ambulance, the shoe-repair stall owner simply stepped up to it and killed it with a broom. Without fuss.

At dai pai tongs (street stalls) in Central, I've seen locals lift their legs to let a rat scurry through without even pausing to lay their chopsticks down.

When my brother and sister-in-law were visiting, I took them to an upmarket burger joint in the area. As we were unwrapping our pork-chop burgers, a rat as big as a cat (no wonder the cats here don't dare to tackle them) scurried over our feet.

My sister-in-law screamed. The rest of the diners glanced down at the rat and then continued eating - and so did my sister-in-law after she calmed down.

Admittedly, coming from spanking clean Singapore where miniscule cockroaches cause major rubbish-chute fumigation, my equanimity has been hard-won. But I have learnt to take such unexpected meetings in my stride.

I've actually even come to accept that it is part of the charm of this city. In the same way that food eaten next to a drain always tastes better, cities that are a little grubby always seem to have more character.

That is why I can understand when some people tell me they think Singapore is soulless. It's because they, like me, secretly prefer a scruffy but enchanting ragamuffin who gets into scrapes over a well-behaved, over-polite child without a single spot on his outfit.

I like that the graffiti on walls are allowed to stay there for a bit instead of being whitewashed immediately. In fact, one graffiti artist, dubbed the King of Kowloon, has even had his manic scribblings dubbed works of art.

I like that I have to pick my way carefully through a wet market when I do visit one. It makes the whole experience more real.

Maybe it's just me. Maybe deep down inside, I think a lot of enjoyable things in life are a little messy. Trekking, paint-balling, going on a Jurassic Parks Rapid Adventure, eating chilli crabs ... and, of course, visiting Hong Kong.

But if you're still worried, then do what the locals do - wear boots.

Tabitha Wang is more afraid of the rat race than real rats.

From TODAY, Voices - Friday, 04-June-2010
Encounters of the rodent kind

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

No comments:

Post a Comment