Friday, 13 August 2004


One of the noticeable things about moving to a different country, especially one with a much different climate from where I've been used to, is the change of insects. In Scotland, flies were high profile, as were bees and wasps, and ants too. Audibily, the only distraction they would cause was a low buzzing noise.

In Korea, I've seen no bees, no wasps, and relatively few flies. Maybe the heat and humidity makes them too lethargic to fly. Mosquitos enjoy the weather a little more, and pester for a couple of months. Mosquitos, although filled with malaria and blood, don't bother me too much. They've bitten me a few times but they have also given me great satisfaction upon their death by my hand. The fat mosquitos aren't as quick as flies - which are always difficult to kill - and so a swipe in the direction of a resting mosquito will very often kill it. I still have a large smear of blood on one of my walls at home, where a mosquito, fat on a feast of blood from my own body, was whacked with a book.

Ants are ubiquitous the world round. I find ants fascinating. There are quite a lot in my apartment, but they are very discreet so I don't mind. They are small and and faithfully parade along a few set routes, and behave more like a visitor than a pest. Sometimes I find a stray ant has wondered onto my semi-clad body, but I just blow him off (so to speak).

I like ants because the common worker ant cannot reproduce, and shares the exact same genetics as her sister workers (they are all, I believe, technically female). Therefore, they have no genetic responsibility to reproduce and have absolutely no concern for their own lives. Their entire lives are dedicated to the survival of the queen and nest, and the male fertlising ants (maybe "drones" although maybe that's bee terminology). A worker does not care about itself. It will run in a sudden change of environment or sign of danger not out of fear for itself, but because it is foolish to stay and die when its death would be of detriment to the overall strength of the nest.

Ants are best not thought of in individual terms, it is better to think of the entire ant nest as one collective individual, as all workers are mere genetic extensions of the god-like queen. They are as alien to humans as any fictional alien we've ever imagined. And I have a lot of respect for ants. Therefore, the open carton of juice I left on my windowsill a week or two ago, has not moved. Upon waking, and finding it infested with eager ants, I thought I would leave them to their feast. Such joy it brought to them was evident by the number of ants floating dead, their passion for the sweet juice overcoming them and taking away their better senses.

Ants are the most populous insect in my apartment then, but from my apartment and in Korea as a whole, the most conspiciously audible insect is the ciceda.

I have no idea how to spell ciceda. Ciceda/seceda/secada/ceceda/sicada etc, although I believe one of these spellings may, in fact, be the spelling of a popular American singer. I could look up the spelling but I can't be bothered. It's not important anyway, as I don't believe our ciceda friends care much for it. The only things the cicedas appear to care about is making as much noise as possible.

Cicedas have an incubation time of 17 years, or 13 years, or x years. It may vary depending on the ciceda and the place. But whatever, they remain incubating for quite some time before their full arrival into this world. And so to spend 99% of your life in stasis must be a fairly mundane existence, hence when they do finally appear to the world they are keen to enjoy every moment of it. Hence for the last month or two in Korea, the background noise is always the sound of celebrating cicedas.

They hang about in trees. Maybe bushes too, but any tree anywhere seems to be host to a lavish party of revelling cicedas. The noise is astonishing, considering the insect must be pretty small. I don't know how many live in a tree, but I was told about a hundred or so, but they make quite a racket. It's like a throbbing, croaking, rattling type of sound, quite high pitched. In the city it's loud enough, but in the countryside, with lots of trees and bushes, it can be quite overwhelming. Even in the city, while walking by a busy road, the sound of cicedas drowns out the sound of rushing traffic. They stop sometimes, for no obvious reason to us, but for them a subtle change of environment or unexpected sound might prompt them into silence, as if a rumour has flown about the party that the police are coming. Not just one tree stops, but long lines of trees all stop in an instant, so that the background noise of the world suddenly goes from the shriek of cicedas into silence again, but only for a moment.

The strangest insect noise I've heard in Korea was undoubtedly at Matt's cousin, Nicki's, who lives in the country (the place I stayed in my first week here). I woke up in the morning and it took me quite a while to comprehend what I was hearing could be an insect. It sounded like the electrical system of a robot malfunctioning and whirring out of control. It started with a buzz, like that of an electric strimmer, then an electrical pulse with an ever quickening sine wave so that it pulsed more and more rapidly and finally this high pitched squeal joined our electrical equation as it all became more and more manic and seemed to reaching some kind of unbearable peak before it stopped completely. It was very loud, especially the low buzzing (which sound entirely unnatural) and I got the impression the noise was just made by the single, crazy, and possibly futuristic insect.

Any other information on insects in Korea you will have to look up yourself. Right now, I have to get back to another species of creature, i.e. that which I am teaching.

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