Chinese homes are normally quite secure places
that do not suffer greatly from uninvited guests.
For instance, of the few regular visitors there are
often what I call geckos – small lizards that are
beige in colour and about 5 inches long of which half
that is the thin tail.
They are common all over Guangdong and Chinese people
say that they bring Good Luck. When you understand
Chinese culture a little better, what they are actually
intimating is that they bring no harm, are totally
scared of you, and eat of lot of nasty things.
Last year I had one living in my office, which would
scurry around in the hopes I would not see it. This
year we appear to have two of them living in our bedroom,
and I think they are really cool and cute! Last week
I saw one make its way down behind the bedroom door
and when I was free I stopped to peer at it. I was
trying to leave it the message that it was safe here
and we would not harm it. However, when I returned
the door back to its always open state it ran for
its life – so I guess this will be a long job.
This couple of geckos are only the first representatives
of many uninvited guests we have endured this year,
the rest of them being mainly of a far more unwelcome
Like many other Chinese expressions, ‘Dan Fong’ is
a collective meaning derived from two other words
that at first sight appear to be unrelated. This is
of course a Cantonese expression, and I have absolutely
no idea if there is a Mandarin equivalent, as the
beasts in question may not exist in colder climes.
‘Fong’ is easy to interpolate, meaning ‘wind’, or
perhaps as in this case, ‘air’. Typhoon in Cantonese
is ‘Dai Fong’ or Great Wind – Cantonese people swapping
the ‘T’ for their natural ‘D’ pronunciation. ‘Dan’
is a lot more complicated, being a Cantonese word
that is used in only specific circumstances, and always
related to another word. Therefore ‘Dan Chair’ means
bicycle, whereas ‘Mai Dan’ means The Bill. Being personally
very aware of the threat that ‘Dan Fong’ represent
to me personally, I have come to interpret ‘Dan’ as
meaning something that does a person harm, or perhaps
represents a personal hazard or hardship.
Chinese; whether it is Cantonese or Mandarin - remains
a conceptual language, not a logical one.
However, forgive me if I begin this tale by travelling
back in time two weeks, and to an evening where we
were beset by an invasion of mosquitoes. Now normally,
we get a mosquito in our Toisan (Tai Shan City) home
about twice a week. The ones that bite are always
female, and it is a part of the nipper’s reproductive
cycle. They like ‘O’ blood the best, and whilst the
British health service still seeks to shroud my blood
group in total secrecy, I know that my blood tastes
better to a female mosquito than my wife's does …
simply because the bitches always pick on me first!
However, I do operate a Zero Tolerance policy with
the twat's, and so none of them ever live long enough
to breed : -)
My last missive touched upon a heat-wave we had been
experiencing, but this became tempered by unseasonable
and monsoon storms heading up from the South China
Sea. This brought the mossies indoors and they delighted
for several hours in eating us to pieces. I killed
an unprecedented eleven that evening, before my wife
got the last one – as it was injecting my leg as I
Moral of this part – never doubt your wife when she
hits you; and know she has your best interests at
Having repressed the mosquito uprising I was not
quite expecting to find mouse/rat droppings in our
living room the next morning. Chinese people do not
distinguish between rats and mice; nor between sheep
and goats for that matter either ... Durrrh?
This is where you cross cultural boundaries of perception,
but anyway's; I had a Chinese ‘rat-mouse’ in Foshan,
which was like a small and brown mouse that had the
physiology of a baby rat. It seemed to live outside
the kitchen window … which was on the 26th floor.
The rat or mouse seemed to come and go over days
of time, and it was our daughter Rhiannon (18 months)
that caught the parent and child one day as they casually
wandered in through our front door. She cried ‘Mama!”
and pointed to the critters, who caught - made a very
However, with another cyclone hitting The Philippines,
it was the invasion of the Cockroaches that I reacted
to with temerity. They have also earned the respect
of Zero Tolerance by yours truly, and whatever it
is about them, I really cannot stand it. I would let
them live outside, but once in my home there is only
one answer … splat!
I am probably the only person in the whole of China
that kills cockroaches, and I have learnt all their
ways and all their habits. Do you know that if you
strike them with a wounding but not fatal blow, they
will play dead (Lifeless and upside down); and then
disappear once your attention is distracted?
They are also immune to very high doses of atomic
radiation, and have this ‘twitchy’ thing going for
them that I really detest. I kill them, and killed
dozens over the next few days until they finally seemed
to get the message and stopped bothering me.
At last I thought I was free of pests, but then The
Ants tried to take over my kitchen! Now, Chinese ants
are not really a problem, they are simply an annoyance.
They are very easy to kill, and are very small to
boot. Having been invaded by ants in UK several times
I know how to deal with them, but these things are
just bothersome; not invasive.
They also appear to like eating cockroaches – or
at least the dead one I hadn't bothered to collect
and throw out of the window. It was completely gone
inside 24-hours, nibble by nibble! I just watched
it disappear as the industrious insects used it to
feed their progeny. Then I sprayed the nest and they
were also history!
I endured a few ‘bugs’ after that – sort of tree
beetle kind of things. They made a lot of noise, but
were actually dying as they came and went; so I didn't
bother very much about them. The next things to catch
my attention were the centipedes. Now UK has centipedes
and they tend to be small and orange, and live in
the earth. So imagine my surprise one morning when
bleary eyed I went to make my first coffee of the
day, and found a black, 6-inch long one gallivanting
across to the fridge!
Siu Ying trapped it with hysterics as I went to get
the splatter and eventually this was cordially dispatched
to ‘insect with far too many legs’ heaven. I got two
more that day – both in my office, and one as it tried
to inspect my feet! Sacre Bleu!
Then I decided to take a moment and leaned to look
out of my office window. There fluttering around the
roof next door was a most remarkable butterfly. It
was really large – larger than a UK ‘Peacock’, but
white with loads of orange like an orange-white, but
on the upper wings. I marvelled at it for a while
before noticing a bright red Damsel Fly sunning itself
on the neighbours rooftop clothesline. Some insects
are really beautiful and do a lot of good. With this
I returned to my desk and carried on with my work
in a very nice frame of mind.
That night I worked late before hunger struck and
I decided to cook a really big meal: Pork steaks with
eggs and a ton of chips. For those of you that either
do not know me well, or think I may be slightly ‘odd’?
Well, I tend to only eat once each day, and this is
a very big meal that will send me to sleep immediately.
When I was doing heavy manual labour as a Chippy (Carpenter)
for exhibitions I used to enjoy the 10 am breakfast
– especially: Bacon, sausage and runny-egg butties
at the NEC. They were one of the world’s culinary
wonders for hungry men – but only available to contractors;
not the general public.
What sealed this for me as one of the world’s greatest
foods was that after buttering the toast with real
butter, they sat it in a galley steamer to keep warm,
and the whole mixture simply tasted like heaven! Perhaps
I should do a new section related to my personal Top
Ten Meals ever – the results would probably never
appear in a Michelin Guide or Egon Ronay publication;
but would include some Chinese dishes as cooked in
Anyway, I went to bed and had a bat flying around
the room for a while, before she decided to make a
perch on the cupboard near the ceiling; and very adjacent
to my head. Siu Ying came in and seeing the bat, stated
that I was very honoured and lucky. I thought nothing
of this and went to sleep.
The next morning I ambled through to the sitting
room, thinking to have a long drink of cold water
before attempting a coffee. I was surprised to see
that being certain I had left half a dozen chips from
the night before, my plate was now empty! WTF!
I found bits of them on the floor, along with Chinese
mouse/rat droppings, and a trail leading to the door.
I haven't even seen these things yet, and they think
it their right to eat my left-over food? Obviously
the culprits are long-gone, so I meander into the
kitchen thinking to try and make a coffee - and find
a cockroach eating the potatoe peelings. This has
definitely gone too far, so I bop it on the head,
then mutilate it, and toss what's left of it out of
the window. Job Done!
Mind you, I can understand why Chinese vermin and
bugs prefer potatoes, as they have this thing going
with rice – or didn't you know? The one thing that
I really don't get along with is Chinese rice as cooked
in China. It is cooked in rice cookers with absolutely
the minimum amount of water, so the grains are still
the same size as when they started out, but completely
edible. You may presume this is ideal?
My wife thinks I am totally crazy, but after washing
I throw the rice I am to cook into a saucepan with
enough water to cover my nail; add a little salt and
a knob of butter, and cook it until done … and twice
the original size! Note that any remnants left in
the saucepan overnight will again double in size once
left to soak = four times larger than ’cooked’ Chinese
I normally eat rice with Indian curry – unheard of
in China, which has a lot of gravy and juice. Chinese
people tend to eat their rice as a separate bowl with
no gravy, so what will happen?
Well, you are going to feel hungry again a few hours
later that's what. The rice will absorb all the fluids
in your stomach and expand, bloating you into thinking
you are replete – when all that has really happened
is that the rice has grown and will disappear just
as quickly. Perhaps this is why Chinese eat a lot
of rice, and eat five times per day?
But leaving this behind; the next couple of days
pass without anything to write home about. I killed
the usual couple of cockroaches each day, and fried
mossies with my Chinese electronic mossie bat whenever
they appeared to eat me. I also got two more of the
gigantic centipedes, both in my office (?) and admired
a very large moth one night that settled on the ceiling
above my computer.
I was working fine until 4 am (I am not very good
with ‘time’), when a very large wasp flew in through
the window and decided it really like my strip light.
I fled and watched it from the doorway for some time,
trying to determine exactly what it was. Ok, it was
almost 2-inches long and had very large and orange
composite eyes. I really did not like the black body
with three orange stripes, one of which was extremely
prominent on its abdomen.
I switched the fluorescent tube off and went next
door (Sitting room) to consider, as this thing rang
a bell with me. Then I remembered going to a farm
in the middle of absolutely nowhere, about 30 miles
from where we now live and north of Hoipeng (Kai Ping)
city. The thing is the locals were marvelling at a
local honey concoction that was probably also 80%
proof. It was decanted from these same critters –
I was sure of it.
My problem was that one of the owner’s son stated
very openly that he lost a younger brother because
he was stung by one of these wasps – and then he stood
back from us for a moment seeking a personal moment
(For his tears). Perhaps now you will appreciate my
This thing simply stayed there on my strip-light
for a couple of hours, and then as dawn approached,
decided to fly around the living room. I was not impressed,
but this did enable me to return to my office and
collect my mossie bat and cockroach swatter. It then
took up residence under the table lamp at the entrance
to my office – so I closed the door on it. It was
gone a few hours later.
Understand I was still not sure exactly what it was,
what threat it possessed, and how it operated = how
to kill it. When Siu Ying got home I tried to tell
her about it, and all she would say was “No say me!”
before becoming deliberately engrossed in the TV.
We went to bed later with me in an uncomfortable frame
Over the next few days I noticed one of these was
always hanging around outside our southern window
– the one Nonni loves to sit on the sill and look
out on the main street below. I decided it was not
a good place for her to be, and despite her protestations,
removed her. I think this Dan Fong was a female and
trying to attract a male to build a new hive with.
The reason I say this was she was not aggressive and
spent a lot of time resting. However she did attract
larger specimens that zoomed about all around the
room, and never rested – leading me to suppose these
were the males.
Over the next few days this female became more active
in her attractions, and started to take over our main
balcony and that area of the living room. I simply
could not get near her to finish her – knowing that
they might mass on me if I missed and swarm to her
On the forth night I was tapping away with a great
piece of writing near the climax of my second book,
when movement indicated the 4 am arrival of the Dan
Fong. I fled out of the chair almost knocking it over
and grabbed my trusty bats. In those few seconds 14
of them had arrived in my office and more were on
the way in!
I screamed for Siu Ying and leapt to close both windows
before any more arrived. We then sealed down the entire
house to stop the invasion. I still did not understand
how to kill them, for whilst I had good shots at one
– having several more a few inches away was not a
good thing I reasoned.
Siu Ying grabbed the electronic mossie bat and was
straight in there – and then I realised that if you
touched them with the bat they sort of stuck to it
… and most importantly – the others did not seem to
mind. She got 8 of them on her first try, of which
one was on the other side. I teased them off and splattered
them with the cockroach bat, finding only 7 bodies
= meaning one had flown off!
I was definitely expecting a war zone, but they seemed
content to hang around the strip-light in their madness
as my wife picked them off two at a time. That night
we killed them all, and over the next couple of days
doubled this figure as they were definitely thinking
of forming a new hive in our home. Not good!
This time coincided with a change in the weather
where we moved back to daily temperatures in the high
30’s. It was simply impossible to keep all the windows
and doors closed, so we learnt to take our chances.
Rhiannon had already been despatched to stay with
Siu Ying's mother until the crisis was over.
My office was extremely hot and smoky, so at length
I had to open the window for some fresh air, and thinking
of nothing in particular – except for Elves and Dwarves
fighting Ogres; I gazed out over our neighbour’s roof
… and then I saw it!
The next but one building is at our height and I
looked straight across to the corresponding window
with mounting dread. The typical wasp’s nest was sandy
in colour and about 2 feet long by 10 inches wide,
and had encompassed the security bars, making it over
6 inches deep. The air around was black with Dan Fong,
who numbered in the thousands!
Siu Ying was out this afternoon, but came home to
my call. She thought I was being stupid when I dragged
her into my office and opened the window. Then she
saw it and fled in a panic! Now, my wife would not
normally have any dealings with the Police – but she
was straight on the telephone and within 30 minutes
a guy from CID was knocking on our door.
My wife brought him into my office where he gazed
out of the window trying to appear relaxed. They were
in animated conversation all the same, and in the
local Toisanwah language, which I don't quite get
yet. I offered him one of my (Illegal to buy) cigarettes,
which he accepted with gratitude and thereafter started
speaking in Cantonese so I could follow some of it.
He stayed for another ten minutes before they both
went off to speak to the adjacent property's owner.
Some hours later Siu Ying came back with a progress
report, saying the owner was a really nice guy and
had no idea because their internal drapes completely
covered the nest. It turns out he runs a visa operation
for a Guangzhou company, which also has a second office
in Toisan. It appears he can fix her up with a UK
visa – Toisan being one of the very few places in
China where this is comparatively easy – perhaps because
¾ of Toisanese live in the west.
The next day I noticed there was a lot more activity
with the Dan Fong around our living room window, she
having acquired several suitors it seemed. I did not
like this so went to my office and shut the door.
Later I noticed the nest had disappeared overnight,
and was delighted – although being mindful that perhaps
not all the blighters had been accounted for. This
would explain the increased activity at our living
room window for sure.
My wife came back for lunch and together we managed
to get rid of several Dan Fong, but not the female
who was always elusive. I then showed her the hive
was gone. She called the guy directly, and then disappeared
immediately to investigate. The upshot was that a
friend had come round to remove them wearing a fully
protective body suit and using some smoke and a net.
He had succeeded, but in their wrath some had got
into the home and one had stung the owner on his cheek.
Siu Ying told me later that the whole of his cheek
had erupted and was greatly swollen. He had spent
the night in hospital, but would recover in about
5-days. In the meantime he would have to carry-on
as best he could, suffering a closed eyes and being
unable to eat at all until the swelling reduced.
2-days later I actually got the female that was hovering
around our sitting room window. She had been showing
a new suitor around and rested whilst he zoomed around
in ominous fashion. Then he left and she was perched
on an internal upright of the aluminium window frame,
and I zapped her! Hurrah!!!
For interest, I beat her with the cockroach bat and
she became four distinct pieces: a head; a thorax,
a venom sack; and a sting. The latter was measure
at 5/8 ths of an inch long – and this was across the
90 degree hooked curve. I guess it was an inch long
if straightened out!
After that we never had a single one come into the
house, although over the period we must have killed
well in excess of 100 between us.
Looking back with added information, this was not
a deadly threat, and they turned out to be fairly
simple to kill, helped by their usually non-aggressive
nature. However the threat they possess is similar
in many respects to that of a British Adder – a snake
of the Viper family that is Britain's only deadly
snake (The very few smooth snakes excepted).
For readers who do not know this snake, then it is
around 3 feet long and is usually not fatal to a healthy
adult. That stated, a bite will land you in hospital
and recovery is a painful business lasting for up
to one week. Each year in UK a few adults die from
the bite of this snake, which would be a lot more
deadly regards children and older people who fortunately
are highly unlikely to come into contact with it.
That stated, one of my father's dogs – a very large
and manly Alsatian cross, was once bitten buy this
snake, and the vet (Jim Mundel) held out little hope
in spite of his size and his best care. Five days
later he recovered, but it was very ‘touch and go’.
The Dan Fong represents a very real and similar threat
in Canton. Whilst the similarities are great, there
remains one distinct difference – annoyed wasps will
strike as a swarm!
Now I am quite sure that both my wife and I (Just
like the guy across the rooftops) would have had a
rough time if stung, but would have recovered within
a week; even if we received a couple of stings. I
know our daughter could not withstand one single strike!
And so our days returned to normal, although they
did continue to provide unexpected ‘amusements’. One
of these was a large spider that I caught coming in
seeking protection from the next Dai Fong (Typhoon).
Its body was 2-inches round, with legs about 3 more
inches each around that. I had one when I lived on
the island, and soon splattered it. Most Chinese spiders
are very small and quite cute – in a spider sort of
Most house spiders are about one quarter of an inch
diameter (Total size), jump, and are petrified of
human beamishes. However there is also the Chinese
very big spider, which we have mainly in the countryside.
Its body is a bulbous green, and about 5-inches long
+ the enormous legs. Fortunately I have only ever
seen one from the other side of a pane of glass in
the deepest rural countryside.
Otherwise I am now back to killing Mosquitoes and
cockroaches with gay abandon (Olden use of that word,
please!). However you would be presumptuous to think
that everything remained normal at Chateau Jonno.
My day is just as likely to be: ‘going to bed at 4
pm’, as it is as ‘waking up at 4 pm’. Being still
a few days after I killed the last female of the Dan
Fong, I would wander around the house always accompanied
by the appropriate bat in my right hand and the other
in my left – ready to swap instantly as required.
On the morning in question I arose at 3.30 am and
had a long drink of cold water. I then made a coffee
and set about waking up properly before starting work.
Everything was proceeding normally when I just happened
to notice a movement and reacted instantly. Flinging
the seat back I just managed to get my left foot out
of my flip-flop as it became the personal property
of a very large and feisty green crab!
As I watched the monster in my office, I wondered
why out of our one dozen rooms – why it had decided
to come into my office, with the obvious intention
of removing my toes! Fortunately it had lost one of
its claws somewhere, but the largest one was still
attached and chasing after my feet with alacrity in
search of nourishment.
Perhaps I should explain: The guy that delivers my
beer and cigarettes has parents who go to the sea
and catch crabs to sell in the city markets. Siu Ying
had come back the previous day with a hand-made wicker
basket full of six large crabs. We had eaten two for
breakfast and the others were left in their re-sealed
container on the floor of the laundry room.
This one, being the largest of them all, had escaped
overnight and was feeling a little peckish. Using
my toes as bait I eventually persuaded it to go into
the adjoining bedroom, where upon I shut the door
on it so it could not escape. I then went back to
secure the others within the wicker basket; counting
only two remaining. This meant that another had also
escaped and was loose somewhere in the apartment!
The next twelve hours proved to be quite enthralling,
as every time I moved I took with me: the electronic
bat to kill Dan Fong – searching high first and especially
around the windows, doors and light fittings. Meanwhile
my senses were alert for any ground movement that
might indicate and irascible crab intent on dining
upon my smaller and exposed appendages. I had this
one covered by taking with me a plastic bucket!
Then I also had the cockroach splatter thingymagig
with me also, and swapped equipment according to the
perceived threat in different areas of our home. I
had an eventful couple of days before Siu Ying finally
tracked down the missing crab to the drain connecting
the washroom to the kitchen. We ate it for lunch that
day, and it tasted mighty fine!
For safety Siu Ying has now put the crab basket inside
of the landlord’s washing machine – it is almost identical
to our own, but we do not use it. As a write to wind
up this unusual missive, I note that Mr Feisty has
escaped once more; but this time is confined by the
tub of the washing machine. Nice One!
One last note: when the delivery men brought our
own washing machine up the five storeys to our home,
they complained bitterly that there was already one
there. They simply could not accept the premise that
the one they carried up belonged to us, whilst the
other was not as good and was provided by the Landlady
– it was without their comprehension. Ho-Hum!
I consider the one thing that has stuck with me throughout
this missive is that in spite of what you might all
suppose; I am not completely stupid all of the time.
Now I may have used a little artistic licence in regaling
this tale to engender a humourous aspect perhaps;
but the threat posed by the Dan Fong was very real
Siu Ying actually got the last of the male Dan Fong,
after wounding it with the electronic bat in mid-air;
but then having it chase her around the room in her
short dress. For one moment I was desperately worried
it has found a way up and inside, but then noticed
it rounding to attack her face from a few feet away.
I leapt in with a great backhand volley and wristy
spin that would have graced any international squash
court. She then followed it and fried it on the floor
with her electronic bat. I bashed it to pieces and
what was left of it was thrown out of the window.
Soon afterwards: with our hearts still racing - we
cuddled in front of the TV, forgetting to turn it
on as the inimitable human natures’ of boys and girls
took its course, and love reappeared once more to
play its part in our lives.