Unwelcome Wildlife Encounters
Ho Chi Minh City has changed a lot since we lived here last.
It’s cleaner and the traffic is calmer. A lot — and I mean A LOT — of construction work that was underway in 2010 has now finished and there are new bridges, new highways and new canals.
And in this incarnation of our Vietnam life, we are in a fancy new suburb. A new area that’s been built kind-of in the middle of nowhere.
Darling Man likes it here. He likes driving around our neighbourhood. He says it feels like being in a village in the countryside.
I like it here. I like it because it’s quiet, with hardly any traffic. It’s so quiet, in fact, that we can hear frogs. And foghorns from the ships sailing up the Saigon River.
Last time we lived in Ho Chi Minh City I used to comment on the lack of wildlife in the city. There were sparrows and rats and once I saw a beautiful snow-white owl as I drove home from the night shift at the newspaper.
But in more than three years, that was all I saw. I used to joke that there was no wildlife left in the city because people had eaten everything. (Because people do eat dogs, cats, frogs, turtles, mice and insects here in Vietnam.)
Here, in our new neighbourhood, there is wildlife. The first day we went for a walk we found a rice paddy crab running across the road. Darling Man picked it up and threw it gently into a grassy area.
The next day we found a frog in our bathroom. Darling Man caught it and took it out to the garden.
The other night a bat flew into our house, flew around for a bit and then flew out.
Lovely. I’m in my element. I’m Australian, from the land where everything is deadly, from seashells at the beach to giant birds with rocks on their heads and enormous disemboweling claws on their feet. I love a bit of wild in my life.
But last night there was a spider.
A giant spider that leapt out at me as I walked into the bathroom. I screamed, involuntarily. A horror movie scream that I cut off as quickly as I could because my mother has lectured me on the evils of passing my phobias onto my daughter.
“What’s doing Mummy?” the little one says.
“Er, nothing, sweetie,” I say, as I high-stepped along the hallway, trying to shake off the shudders. “A spider gave Mummy a fright, that’s all. But it’s OK. Daddy is going to save the spider and put it in the garden.”
Daddy continues to stare at the TV news, which is in Vietnamese so to me it’s just noise. I forget that some people might want to pay attention to this particular type of noise.
“Honey?” I say.
In response, I get the universal man-language grunt that means “what?”
“I was just telling Miss M that you are going to save the VERY BIG spider in the bathroom and put it in the garden.”
“Do it later,” he says. And I issue some satanic hissy-whispers until he starts to move.
He gets up and disappears down the hall.
“Miss M help you,” a little voice says. And once she’s out of the room I do a full body shudder and some ultra-high stepping jogging on the spot to try to expell the ickness out of my system.
Darling Man returns to the room. “OK,” he says in a business-like tone. I watch the Vietnamese noise for 10 minutes, trying to calm down a little. I don’t ask what he’s done with it because I don’t like things being killed. I expect he has thrown it into the garden because he doesn’t like things being killed either.
I have had a severe spider phobia since I was a kid and one of the things I’ve liked about living in Asia is that there doesn’t seem to be as many spiders here as in Australia.
In Australia my nemesis is the gigantic huntsman spider, a spider that takes great delight in jumping out at arachnaphobes. And huntsmen are territorial, so once they discover you will shriek and carry on when jumped-out-at, they will continue to do it. They do not, if left alone, go back outside. No, they lurk right where the fun is. Horrible, creepy, eight-legged, eight-eyed, jumping stalkers that are INSIDE YOUR HOUSE.
(Photo from John Tann’s photostream.)
Our bathroom spider was slightly smaller than a huntsman, and black. But still a giant spider.
So, trying to show no fear to my daughter, I resume my quest to take a shower.
I walk into the bathroom and check behind the door and under the wash basin. I shake the shower curtain and pick up my towel and give it a shake. No giant spider. Fabulous.
I get undressed, still quite creeped out, and think about what a great parent I am, setting such a brave example to my little girl, who couldn’t care less about spiders.
Naked, vulnerable, exposed, and still very jittery … I reach out to turn the shower on. And something drops on my arm.
I draw in a huge gasp of air. Silently. Because I’m being a good parent.
I look at my arm and it’s a tiny baby spider. Another gasp as I flick it off. And I jump back into the shower curtain, and then lurch forward to get away from the shower curtain.
And then I look up to see where the tiny baby spider could have come from. And on the ceiling of the bathroom, tiny baby spiders are massing like something out of a sci-fi horror movie.
I can’t even gasp. I start to bolt out of the bathroom but I remember – just in time – that all the doors and windows are open, giving the neighbours a lovely view of our lit-up hallway. I look at the towel. I’d shaken it to dislodge any GIANT spiders that might be sitting on it. I had not checked it for teeming baby spiders. And I did NOT want teeming teeny tiny baby spiders pressed against my vulnerable naked flesh.
I can’t put my clothes back on in case they are infested. I am stuck. I decide to save myself. I grab the shower hose and try to blast the alien spiders. But Darling Man has turned the water pump off to save electricity, so I don’t have enough water pressure to spray the ceiling. The mass of tiny spiders is expanding and some of them are running down the walls and blending into the brown tiles of the shower area.
I retreat. I start shaking the towel manically. I wince as I wrap the towel around me. And then I rip open the door and charge down the hallway.
Darling Man is still watching TV. Miss M is using a marker to draw on her face.
“Honey,” I gasp. “There are spiders all over the bathroom.”
He gives me a quizzical look. “No, I took it outside,” he says.
“No,” I say in a hoarse whisper, trying to not inject any fear or nervousness into the room. “There are baby spiders everywhere. Please save me. Please get rid of them. All of them.”
And I run back down the hall to where the clean towels are stacked. I grab one and dash off to another bathroom. (Vietnamese houses usually have LOTS of bathrooms.)
And I stand under the shower, twitching and shuddering and eyeing the possibly infested towel I’ve flung into the corner. Of course, the water pressure isn’t enough to drum the spidery feeling off my skin.
I finish the shower and gingerly return to the scene of the infestation. The bathroom door is shut and Darling Man is back watching TV. Miss M is animatedly talking about spiders and Daddy saving them.
He sees me and gives me a casual wave. “Ah, I can’t get them. I’ll get them in the morning,” he said, as if it’s no big deal.
I am expected to sleep across the hall from a spider invasion??? Sleep while the arachnids silently creep under the door and infest the bedroom, the bed, my nostrils, my ear canals, lay eggs under my skin and infect me with the deadly diseases on their razor-sharp tiny spider teeth?
No, I don’t sleep particularly well that night.
Darling Man, superhero that he is, went to the market at 6am to buy insect spray.
And for the first time ever I am pro-poison and pro-death. I can live with the thought of one giant spider lurking in the garden but I cannot live with the thought of thousands of tiny spiders hiding in the house, growing bigger every second.
So now I feel guilty when I walk past the bathroom (I can’t go in there just yet), as well as creeped out.
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352 days ago