Well, this is the first time I ever thought about this: would you rather have geckos in your house, or bugs? South Florida living somehow dictates that I should expect both and lo and behold, I’ve had such visitors in the last month. Geckos are certainly cute and tiny and charming (and would match my car insurance) whereas the decidedly grosser American cockroach (yeah, those big things) just isn’t. I’ve been methodically pest-proofing the place (multi-pronged attack) but lately, I’ve noticed a very cute gecko who peeks out from behind my dry-erase board every once in a while. I did a quick search and it turns out they are carnivores AND people sometimes decide not to get rid of them (most methods are very crude, e.g. glue traps) and instead have them police the place. For a second, I actually entertained getting a cat for this very purpose, but I haven’t had rodents here so I don’t think that’s necessary.
I have a very fond memory from visiting my uncle a long time ago in Malaysia. He is my father’s fun-loving younger brother (I had my first drink with him, a Guinness on a fishing boat) and the first time we visited, I was a teenager who had never been to the tropics. His house and neighborhood actually reminds me a lot of Lake Worth except way more tropical. His house was surrounded by enormous palm trees and painted a brilliant sky blue. It was decidedly permeable to the elements (open doors, screens, etc.) and I remember seeing all manner of wildlife in the house, including a gecko maybe 8 inches long, my very first night there. I was kinda freaked out but I also thought it was really charming! They ended up moving to Taiwan and traded in their tropical lair for a cramped high-rise apartment in the middle of Taipei. Eventually, his mother (my grandmother) eventually moved across the hall so that he could look over her (even though she had live-in help). She passed away five years ago and I flew back to attend the funeral. She was a tall and beautiful woman who wasn’t afraid to point at the bamboo switch hanging on the wall whenever I misbehaved during our summer visits. She lived in the country, on a provincial block where Taiwanese Air Force families lived, because my grandfather was in the service. Actually, that’s how my Cantonese father came to be raised in Taiwan, during the big escape from the Mainland in 1949.
Their house was a multi-level tatami-style home with all manner of sliding panels, bamboo beds and actual ceramic pillows, like you see in Zhang Yimou movies. It was at the end of a street that ended in rice paddies; the other end of the street was a bustling market where I was sent each morning to fetch the dou-jiang and shao-bing. My father was raised in a very humble environment, with two sisters and three brothers stuffed into that house, and I think often about how different our life was in America.
My mother was also raised very humbly, on a street that has actually been designated a national landmark because it is a traditional Hakka street, with distinct architecture but more likely, a very old-style neighborhood. The butcher was across the street, while the backyard had chickens and okra. My mother’s house was also pretty much open to the elements (and their creatures) although in recent decades, they did get thing sealed up and air-conditioned.
I think about this all the time because here I am living in “the tropics,” in a very down-home and humble place, and I constantly think about how my parents were raised, and how they managed to “overcome” their country upbringing, and it always puts into perspective whatever perceived struggles I have, especially when it comes to creature comforts. I am so fortunate to be raised in America, to have had a great career and amazing educational opportunities, and all of it was due to my parents making the decision to leave Taiwan and set up shop in the United States. I could have been raised like my cousins, the vast majority of whom are still in Asia; who knows how my life would have been?
I know, lots of information. I should revisit some of these topics at another time. But in the meantime, if I see something move out of the corner of my eye these days, I just hope it’s a gecko about to eat its prey, and not vice versa.