One of the things you start to get used to in China, is that even a dull day can have an extraordinary twist. This story dates back to our first couple of months in Shenzhen, and explains the time that my father once nearly knocked my block off when I’d snuck into my parents room late at night, and not wanting to disturb them both I’d gently tried to shake him awake. If my reactions had been a little slower, I’d still be picking my teeth out of the wall – as his first reaction to his surprise rousing was to throw a punch, at my head.
Fortunately I managed to duck the blow, and once he was fully awake he seemed far less committed to killing his eldest son, though he probably regrets that occasionally even now. (Only joking, Dad – at least I hope).
We’d been out shopping for the day, and like all trips to Dong Men it had left me physically and emotionally exhausted. Falling asleep was a doddle that evening, I jumped into bed next to my wife and passed out instantly. An hour or two later I woke with a start, which is unusual for me given that I can sleep through almost anything; there was someone in the house!
It was pitch dark but there were clatters and bangs from our living room and it sounded like they were going through our stuff trying to work out what to steal. I leapt out of bed with my heart racing, I’d been warned that burglary was fairly common in Shenzhen but had always assumed that our building’s fairly zealous security guards would prevent this from happening to us.
I don’t sleep with a weapon next to the bed, and I’m not sure a towel hanging from the rack is going to help too much, so I jump up – naked, and decide that it’s going to be the element of surprise that works here. With a mighty; “What the **** do you think you’re playing at?” I flicked on the light switch in the bedroom (which adjoins the living room) and peered into the gloom.
I couldn’t see anyone, but the banging and crashing continued and my yowling had woken my wife, who was quite clearly scared out of her wits. I ran into the living room and hit the lights there, and peered into the kitchen to see if the shock had sent the burglars running for cover. Then I heard a scampering by my head, I looked up to see an enormous great rat hurtling along the top of the book shelf and then quick as a flash it disappeared into the air conditioning vent.
Catching my breath, I started to laugh and headed for the bathroom (which is just behind the kitchen) and there, on a work surface in my dining area, to my surprise was a comrade in arms for Mr. Rat, and this one also scarpered at break neck speed for a different hole in the vent. I steeled myself for more company, but thankfully the bathroom must have been as unappealing to our visitors as it often is to me.
Returning to the bedroom, I explained to my wife what had happened (the Chinese word for “rat” and “mouse” are the same, so she insists on calling the rodent robbers “mice” – leaving me feeling like Basil Fawlty) and insisted we speak to building maintenance in the morning. Who could have cared less. Nothing we said would make them accept that rats living in the main vent of the building were their problem, nope. They were our problem.
So we took the line of least resistance and taped up every hole that a rodent could get through in the walls of the house. Three days later we got an apology from the management, apparently now all the neighbours were suffering from the same problem, so they’d have to do something about it.
We haven’t seen Mr. Rat or his friends since, and that is a real relief.