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A Prisoner in My Own Apartment

Here’s the epic tale of one man’s stand against an army of mosquitoes.

Of all the problems I had living in China, mosquitoes were perhaps the biggest challenge.

And also the most potentially dangerous. Mosquitoes carry a whole host of diseases. While Southern China is mostly free of Malaria carrying mosquitoes, it’s possible to catch other serious diseases from them, such as Dengue Fever. Dengue Fever cases have been rising rapidly in the last few years. This illness can prove fatal, and  it is especially worrying as there is yet no effective vaccination or cure for Dengue.

So if you’re contemplating living abroad, then you need to take the mosquito threat seriously.

First up, if you can afford to live in a decent apartment or a hotel in China, then do it! Better places usually have better mosquito defences.

Sadly though, I’ve heard that the Cantonese in particular are quite blasĂ© about the mosquito threat, and don’t mosquito proof their homes as much as the Northern Chinese folk do.

At first I tried using chemicals to discourage or kill mosquitoes. I bought a machine to plug into a wall socket and emit a vapour that mosquitoes apparently don’t like:

My mosquito machine. Surprisingly uneffective at stopping mosquitoes...

My mosquito machine. Surprisingly ineffective at stopping mosquitoes…

I’m not a big fan of using chemicals in the house. Which is kind of different to the Chinese, who will use all kinds of potentially toxic incense coils and other dubious looking chemicals to rid their house of bugs.

I was pretty sure that the vapour wafting out of my mosquito machine was damaging my health.

But the major problem these kind of devices are that they will only prove effective if the mosquitoes have somewhere else to go. I’d already put a net up on the balcony door to stop them coming in.

Ah, nets…

The net on the door was fairly effective at keeping out the worst of the airborne pests. But on the downside it had the unwanted side-effect of keeping hungry mosquitoes in my living space. And the mosquitoes in China were ravenous – as this photo of my leg shows:

Some rather nasty mosquito bites...

Some rather nasty mosquito bites…


China is the only country I’ve visited where the mosquitoes don’t just bite once, but will bite 3-4 times in a single go. And these bites would itch for 3-4 days at a time. It didn’t help that the mosquitoes had a definite preference for biting feet, which made walking quite painful at times.

So now you see what damage these pests can inflict – what else did I try to prevent them?

I tried natural prevention, including buying this very nice pitcher plant:

My rather impressive pitcher plant. Sadly it didn't have much of an appetite for mosquitoes...

My rather impressive pitcher plant. Sadly it didn’t have much of an appetite for mosquitoes…

This plant was quite effective at trapping small flies, but mosquitoes didn’t seem to be attracted to its sinister bottles…

I tried a blue/ultra-violet anti-insect light. Small flies seemed to be attracted to this light, but not mosquitoes. More wasted money in my quest to find a solution to the age old problem of preventing mosquito bites:

Mosquitoes did not seem to be attracted to this blue light at all...

Mosquitoes did not seem to be attracted to this blue light at all, but the PM 2.5’s sure loved to stick to my apartment’s pipework…

I did have some anti-mosquito spray I brought from England. DEET-based sprays are supposed to be fairly effective at stopping the pesky insects. However, I went off using this when some of it dripped out of the bottle and burnt a hole in my computer desk!

Catching mosquitoes was proving a hard proposition until I invested in a mosquito bat. This is a tennis bat with a hidden punch – a 2000V electric shock delivered to any insect that happens to touch the electrified strings!

These can be bought in supermarkets throughout Asia and they’re not expensive – here’s a display of them in a Bangkok branch of Tesco:

Mosquito bats on sale in Thailand

Mosquito bats on sale in Thailand

Mosquito bats can then be recharged using the usual dangerous looking electrical sockets that you’ll find in apartments and hotels thoughout Asia:

Recharging my mosquito bat

Recharging my mosquito bat

The mosquitoes in China were some of the biggest I’d ever seen. I saw three species – one small type much like those in Bangkok. Another type were similarly small, and had bright green bodies. But the third and most common type were gigantic and larger than most domestic house flies. These were the ones that inflicted most damage.

Thankfully though, the large size of these insects made them relatively easy to dispatch with the mosquito bat. Assuming you could find the critters in the first place! Mosquitoes do like to hide away, especially during the day. And a couple of times I actually found them hiding away in my shopping bag. Maybe this is how they mysteriously got into my otherwise mosquito-proof apartment!

So the mosquito bat was my most effective weapon, but it was only useful if I could actually find the mosquitoes in the first place. And all too often, they got to me before I had a chance to get them.

I was especially vulnerable while sleeping. In the end I ended up being a prisoner in my own apartment, and at night I would retreat to the safety of my mosquito tent.

Mosquito tents vary in price but I went for a bargain basement priced kit from my local supermarket. Needless to say it came with instructions for a 1024 model, whereas I’d actually bought the 1022 model…

Mosquito tent kit. Some assembly required...

Mosquito tent kit. Some assembly required…

Several hours later (and this isn’t an exaggeration!) my bed was nicely mosquito-proofed:

Completed mosquito tent - now I can sleep soundly...

Completed mosquito tent – now I can sleep soundly…

Or so I thought. Sadly, on a couple of occasions a mosquito actually managed to get inside the netting. I assume they’d followed me in after I got out of bed in the middle of the night.

As I found out, mosquitoes are very good at detecting people. In fact they were so active in the middle of a balmy sub-tropical night that one actually followed the trail of CO2 right up my nose.

I also found that they were smart enough to notice hands or feet pressed up against the netting, so you had to be careful where you slept inside the thing.

Postscript – Mosquitoes Elsewhere in Asia

Since I wrote this article, I’ve visited Bangkok (Thailand) and Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia).

So what were my mosquito experiences in these countries?

On the whole, a whole lot better!

Malaysia was the best experience – in one week there I didn’t receive a single mosquito bite. This despite living in a slightly dodgy hotel in the heart of ChinaTown. I thought I would have a lot of mosquito troubles since the hotel had windows that didn’t even fit properly!

One good thing I saw in KL was somebody blowing insecticide around the base of an apartment building. I guess that in KL, mosquito prevention is taken seriously.

I’ve had a bit of trouble from mosquitoes in Thailand, but nowhere near as bad as in China. I got bitten a few times in the first hotel I stayed at in Bangkok. I presume there was a mosquito in my room, but I was never able to find it. I’ve since discovered that the mosquitoes in Thailand tend to be pretty small. That makes them exceedingly hard to spot. The good news though is that they tend to inflict fairly small bites, and they only bite once. After a day of mild itching, the bite usually goes away.

The second Bangkok hotel I stayed in had some good mosquito prevention measures, such as mosquito blinds on the doors and window. Also the building is infested with Geckos, which seem to do a good job of keeping the place free of bugs.

Well if you ever visit Asia or another mosquito infested region, then now you know what you’re up against…


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