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How life in Hong Kong was wilder than I expected

By: Rachel Williams

It’s not the best start to the day when you pull open a bedroom drawer and catch sight of a cockroach – in all its rich, conker-brown, glossy glory – scuttling around under your undies. But it’s still a better start than stepping out of the shower and enveloping yourself in the comforting embrace of a fluffy towel, then feeling something slightly scratchy on your skin, which, on closer inspection, isn’t the label that you’d suspected, but a big, rigid-armoured cockroach who – it turns out – is also a sucker for a bit of spa-style luxury towelling.

Life in Hong Kong is full of surprises!
Life in Hong Kong is full of surprises!

And these are both still less disturbing experiences than being woken in the small hours by a tickling sensation on your cheek which, when you go to drowsily brush with your hand, you find is a cockroach who has been enjoying a night-time excursion on your face.

Where these pesky roaches come from is anyone’s guess. You never see them in the bright, scrubbed, baited and drain-covered apartment by day – they just seem to lurk in dark places, then make their appearance when you are in all your sleep-groggy glory, a move they have clearly calculated for maximum horror-movie style impact. They are the attention-seeking wing of the insect world, perfectly at home in our “look-at-me” Kardashian age.

But it’s not just cockroaches that we’ve had to get used to since moving to the Fragrant Harbour. Back home in UK suburbia, the most insect-based pestilence we had to deal with was the odd mildly annoying fly, wasp or bee disturbing a sunny picnic, but as soon as we landed in Hong Kong we knew things were going to be different. Instantly, we became red-dappled mosquito magnets (mmm – fresh blood!). We quickly learnt all the steps and limb-slaps of the mozzie dance that you see at all the bus stops in Discovery Bay, and started dousing ourselves in mosquito repellent liberally and frequently.

And once we’d got used to the mozzies, we made the acquaintance of the somewhat cuter geckos who occasionally cling to our apartment walls. Although we like these new reptilian room-mates, they are still capable of causing the odd gasp of shock, like the time when my son wriggled his foot into his school shoe, only to find a gecko hastily wriggling his way out.

Moving outdoors, our terrace has also played host to some unwelcome guests. Once, as we fired up the barbecue for a Sunday evening sizzle, a swarm of particularly vicious wasps rose up from its underside, furious that we had the audacity to disturb them. Result? Two stings to my (allergic) husband. He still bears the scars.

And once we leave the relative safety of our own four walls, the wildlife seems to become even wilder. On our walks in the hills we’ve come across spiders as big as saucers and snakes curled up in the sun, and one night, while strolling the streets, we joined a large crowd gathered to watch the snake-catcher entrapping a very large snake with what looked like a cat-shaped lump in his tummy.

So, when people ask me how life is amongst the glamorous skyscrapers, shopping and sundowners of Hong Kong, I tell them straight. It’s totally wild.

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Related: What it’s like to leave Hong Kong

This article first appeared in the October/November 2017 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.

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