I recall learning something obvious many years ago: flies do not differentiate between luxury hotels and slums. A fly--or any insect, for that matter--has no respect for wealth. Like a bank robber, Instinct takes them where the “money” is--in this case nourishment. That could be food in a hotel kitchen for a common housefly or bare flesh of a patron of a hotel’s outdoor restaurant for a mosquito.
I was reminded of this fact, when I stayed at one of Bangkok’s most-luxurious hotels. Inside, one felt protected from the teeming masses, sweltering heat, filth, and countless creatures. The manicured grounds, paved walkways, and luxurious pool area enhanced this impression. But, the view from my window told a different story. The hotel was build on a narrow strip of land extending back from the Chao Phyra River. I looked down upon the garden, the pool, and the riverfront, as well across the river at other luxury hotels and the city skyline. I felt safe from the environment in air-conditioned comfort.
But, my view extended to the property adjacent to and upriver from the hotel. Real Bangkok snuggled up to the wall of the pool area.
I left the hotel, walked the long drive to the road, turned right, and found the local street--more like an alley--that led to the river. This route was used by the local population to reach the ferry dock (visible from my room) where they paid 3 Baht (about 65 cents--the euro variety) to cross the river. Living conditions could not be more different from mine. Some would call this a “slum”, but I see the housing as typical for many Thai folks. No one seemed dissatisfied, as I usually witness in poor neighborhoods in Europe or the United States. Some must surely resent their neighbor, but this was not ostensible to a foreigner strolling down the street. Street food stalls might unattractive to Westerners, but at just as appealing to flies as nearby luxury hotel kitchens.
Between the dock and the hotel wall is a pond of stagnant water, filled with trash. If local residents or the authorities cared, someone would do something about what--to Westerners--must be a health hazard. Most, if not all, hotel guests enjoying the luxury of the pool have no idea that they lie so close this mosquito breeding ground.
Some creature flew into my mouth during a stroll in the garden. I tried to cough it out, but could not be sure if I succeeded. I did not feel anything groping on its way to my stomach, where various acids would greet it upon arrival.
I told my wife of my experience. She asked: “What was it—a fly or a wasp?”
I considered replying that I did not know. But, I did not.
I said: “How should I know? It didn’t bother to introduce itself.”
I recall learning in military survival training that insects are a good source of protein. Perhaps, this occurrence was beneficial. As the cliché goes, I’m sure that it was more surprised and suffered more than me…
One of the most—if not the most—unpleasant aspects of a beach vacation in a warm, humid climate are biting insects. I recall only mosquitoes from my childhood, of which there were plenty…all of which liked me. This vacation, a number of varieties, seen and unseen, took a fancy to us. I am normally a charitable person, but was given no choice in my many donations.
Of course, the little buggers are indiscriminate: they’ll chew on anyone that crosses their flight path or seek out the nearest warm body. They bite regardless of race, color, foolish belief, or tax bracket. Even billionaires, who consider themselves to be special and enjoy exceptions in all other facets of life, feed nature. Like flies, which will not differentiate between a sumptuous buffet in a five-star, luxury restaurant and a trash dump in India, mosquitoes know that any blood is good blood.
Such memories will increase the appeal of a vacation in the Alps, despite the chance of rain and cold temperatures…
Today, at the beach, my wife asked me why an insect had bit her.
I had just been watching crabs scurry across the sand in search of nourishment, several types of bird picking at the sand where the surf had broken and retreated, and pelicans diving into the sea to catch fish. That display of nature provided the answer.
"Everything bites everything," I replied.
At some point, every living creature is going to bite something else...as a source of food, as a means of protection, or to aggravate (children often bite!).
We cannot criticize insects for doing what comes natural. Of course, that does not mean that we have to like the fact that they do to us what we do to cows, pigs, fish, chicken, etc.
I do not do social networking. (I do not consider blogging to be social networking: it’s ranting, airing, and joshing.) I have yet to discover a reason to bare myself to anyone wishing to know everything about me, my whereabouts, and my activities. If I did and if Silicon Valley geniuses could find a way to allow insects-that-bite to join, I would have more “friends” than Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga combined.
In my life, I have been able to attract more people than I wished to have anything to do with, but my appeal to biting insects in Florida bursts all bounds. My only conclusion is that it is the fate (flavor?) of introverts to attract so many such “friends”, because my extroverted wife has been virtually ignored. Or, perhaps, residents of Florida swamps find the attraction or taste of Germans to be unappealing.
Thinking about my new popularity led me to think about the fairly fluid definition of the word friend. Recently, it has become an even more elastic word than it ever was. I recalled conversions I had with Russians during my many dealings with that country. During Soviet times, the word had two meanings: someone you knew and someone you trusted. In a society where children were urged to tattle on their own parents, only one definition of friend meant anything: it was someone you trusted with your life. People had few friends…unlike the denizens of Planet Facebook.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.