Thursday, September 17, 2009

"Sorry I'm late; we were invaded by bats!"

Everyone has probably had a few unwelcome visitors in the house. The common house fly is perhaps the most irritating while wasps and bees can be a little more concerning. Mice, cockroaches and other pests are perhaps a little rarer, but not pleasant to discover. But imagine waking up in your Beijing flat at 4 a.m in the morning to the sound of flapping. 

Being in a strange land, far from home is disorienting enough for some. But waking bleary-eyed to strange and unusual sounds can be extremely disconcerting. "What is that?" is of course the first thought as one pulls oneself from beneath the duvet. It can't be rain, can it? Or is it a moth? No. It was, as turning on the light revealed more clearly, a flying mammal. "It's a f***ing bat!" one exclaims. But how to deal with a bat flying around a small bedroom which is obviously as disoriented and confused as the person who has just woken to find they've been invaded.

While the wife pulls the duvet close to herself in apparent fear of being the next victim of Count Dracula, the sensible procedure of opening the window and retracting the mosquito net was quickly done. Seeking sanctuary in the relative safety of the lounge, information was obviously needed. A Google search for 'how to get rid of a bat' amazingly brought forth several results including one site appropriately entitled / get rid of bats. 

"If you have a bat in your house it's a good idea to get all of the family into one room, close the door, and then open every window and door in the rest of the house to allow the bat to escape on its own," the advice read. Well, one had already completed the first part. "Don't worry too much about the family part; they tend to do this themselves albeit with a lot of shrieking and commentary about the location of the bat," it continued. Well, that was correct. The wife was, as many women might be, quite frightened at this nocturnal intruder. "There's a bat," she exclaimed, as she rapidly exited the bedroom clutching the duvet tightly around her. "Aren't you scared?" she said.

There was of course the concern of being bitten! After all, bats, like other mammals, can potentially carry rabies. This is rare however, accounting for less than 0.05% according to some estimates. But the inconvenience of being bitten was best avoided. While the terror subsides, the wife falls into a deep sleep on the sofa. She manages to sleep almost anywhere. But now wide awake there is little to do but to have a shower and an early breakfast before eventually dozing off at around 7 am. 

On awaking less than an hour later it was time to check if our guest had departed. Tentatively entering the room I could see that despite offering a route of escape, our little friend had decided to remain. Still perched, if that's the right terminology, at the top of the curtains. More drastic action was obviously needed.

If one had been back home in England, there would have been several routes of inquiry. The RSPCA, animal rescue trusts or even seeking help from neighbours and friends. The "get rid of things" website suggested using a fishing net and thick leather gloves to capture and release the creature. Unfortunately, the idea that one might need leather gardening gloves or an array of fishing equipment while living in Beijing had not occurred to us. So, one called the community assistant, a kind of caretaker that helps residents in respect to any number of problems. Bat catching was probably not what he had in mind when applying for the job.

"Have you got any gloves?" he asked. Explaining we had nothing that could help, he said he would arrive soon. A young chap, probably about 18 or so, arrived equipped with a plastic bag and thick gloves and, after standing on a chair, he grasped the small animal before placing it in the bag and departing. However it wasn't very long before a rustle could be heard from inside the curtains. "Oh no, not another one." On explaining this situation, the young newly appointed bat catcher returns and on retrieving the second invader exclaims there was a third. Three bats! But how did they get in? Surely they didn't come through the air conditioner. The answer seemed to lie in a slat in the kitchen ceiling that had somehow come loose. Evidently bats nesting somewhere in the roof of the tower block had found their way to the kitchen by this route.

Excitement over, it was now time to go to work, if not a little late. Few people can claim to have been late because of flying mammals. In England more common excuses for being late are the failing public transport system, heavy traffic or even the weather. On arrival in the office in the heart of Beijing, one's late arrival was commented upon. "Sorry I'm late; we were invaded by bats last night!!"

No comments: