Friday, May 15, 2009

we wimpy westerners

Rats are an often-noted issue here in Chengdu. Especially recently--perhaps the rodents are feeling the crunch of the economic crisis as well--it seems many of my friends have been complaining about rats scurrying around their apartments.

While I've had rats in my apartment walls for quite some time, they don't seem to come inside, so I let them be. In our office, however, it's quite a different matter. They make quite regular appearances, staging late-night races with each other around the second floor, sliding up and down the Internet cables as if it's a fire station in here, and leaving presents* everywhere.

They ate a small cactus I had bought days after I brought it to the office; the other day, I arrived to find they had been nibbling on the soft foam bun-shaped (and scented) keychain my friend had given to me as a present, although I could hardly blame them as every human who passed by it also instinctively held it to his/her mouth. I confess, I also could not resist taking a bite (before the rat did).

Of the four of us who work in here on a regular basis, three of us are, to varying degrees, afraid of coming into contact withe the creatures. So far, we've managed to catch two of them, one with a glue trap (most of the glue-trap attempts failed miserably, catching only fur and feces), which we had to ask the hired cleaners to carry out, and the other after our intern spotted one scramble into the trash can and called our dear designer to come smash it with a stick.

Yesterday, we were having a coffee in a restaurant whose name I shall not mention when I swore I felt something move under the cushion I was sitting on. I decided it must have just been the cushion so I did nothing about it; but then I felt it again and again. After five or ten minutes of this, finally I stood up and proclaimed something was moving under me. One of the girls in the group chimed in, "Yeah, I hear something!"

So we turned to the waiter, who was watching the whole scene, and said, "There's a rat here!"

"有," he replied, affirming our fears.

Naturally we all jumped up and ran to another table.

Not long after, the boss, who we know quite well, came in.

"Hey, you have a rat in here!" we started yelling.

"I know. It opened the fridge the other day and nibbled on the cheese," he replied casually.

"What!? Opened the fridge?" We didn't believe it.

"Really! It did!" And then he went to the back and pulled out a piece of gnawed-on cheese to prove it.

Later I was skeptical. The boss is quite a prankster, and I wouldn't put it past him to carve out a piece of cheese to make it look like a rat had eaten it just so he could tell us that story.

The next day, we were in the office when the boss starts calling my coworker's name.

"What?" he asks.

The boss starts coming up the stairs to the second floor where we work. "Was it him you saw yesterday?" he starts asking.

Just then he comes into view. In his hand, he's got a cage, with a decent-sized rat in it. We all start yeeking and eeewwwing and heebie-jeebie-ing. "Was it him?" the boss asks again, chuckling and pointing at the rat, whose tail and claws are curling out between the bars of the cage.

I like how the boss, owner of a successful, nationwide chain of restaurants and internationally published photographer, is calmly carrying around a cage with a rat in it--even chuckling at it, or us--and planning, he says, to take it out back and drown it in a few moments while we're sitting here freaking out about the idea of a rat being in our presence.

*Thankfully, I have no idea where this photo was taken.

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