The Terminators

Here’s the thing about living in the developing world; there’s always something interesting and different. Settling back into our relatively mundane lives in Penang after four cold grueling weeks in Edmonton’s frigid climate, my body recovered from all its aches, pains, ailments, dryness and perpetual coldness after a day or two. Unfortunately, reverse climate change wasn’t much better as I struggled to do even a twenty-minute workout in the gym. With limited exercise opportunities over our winter holiday, I anxiously returned to my regular routines and quickly discovered that early retirement doesn’t necessarily mean your body wants to pretend its ten years younger. Remembering that exercising in a tropical humid climate is quite taxing, I pushed through the pain but paid the price with a six-day severe sore throat that’s turned into yet another head cold, no doubt caused by excessive dehydration. Learning that 55 degree Celsius changes and my body don’t like each other, I guarantee the next trip to North America will be during summer.

Anyway, that’s not the interesting part. Lounging at the pool one day, we looked up at the unit two floors below us and noticed an enormous swarm of bees that apparently decided to build their nest on the side of the building just above the bedroom window. Seemingly a strange place to nest, it’s probable that Penang’s never ending ongoing construction disrupted or destroyed their original habitat and for some reason the queen bee landed on the building. Living only nine floors up, we often get some bees in the living room while watching evening TV because they’re attracted to the light. Normally not aggressive, they usually die in the house after we close the windows and get swept up the next morning. But with their nest on the condo wall only two floors below, dozens began hovering inside that evening so we closed the window and told the building manager.

Unfamiliar with tropical pest control, we asked the manager what they can do about it. In a typically Malaysian response, his first idea was to do nothing so he told us he’s seen this before and posited they’re just temporarily stopping over while the scout bees hunt for a more suitable place to build a nest. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, we closed our windows that night but when I showered the next morning and cracked a small window, a few dozen came hovering into the bathroom because the light was on and it was before daybreak. Uninjured but a bit shaken up, I waited until 9 AM and went downstairs to complain again. Naturally, the manager wasn’t there so I explained the seriousness of the problem to the assistant and asked her how they intend to deal with it. Our adventure junkie Norwegian expat neighbor even offered to spray the fire hose at the pool and then dive into the pool but the manager didn’t take very kindly to that suggestion.

back to life the way it should be until the bees came

back to life the way it should be until the bees came

Initially telling me they called the fire department but they said it was too high up, she said they’d normally call pest control but couldn’t get access to the seventh floor unit because the owners aren’t currently living there. With Malaysia’s insanely overpriced luxury condos suitable only for the wealthiest Chinese Malaysians, foreign investors own most units and they either visit a week or two a year, rent to tenants or simply leave it empty. And of course, the owners of the unit one floor below the nest were traveling and refused to come home when contacted. Basically telling me tough shit and welcome to the developing world, the assistant called the manager when I grew irritated and after texting our condo owner and threatening to move out immediately, sure enough he rang our bell soon after. Telling us they’d be able to get access to the unit below the nest from the maid, he said they’d do an emergency “fogging but had to wait until nighttime when the bees are inactive and can’t see very well.

nationalKeeping the windows closed, we didn’t see or hear the pest control company but did notice several paralyzed bees falling down to our ledge later that evening and eventually the manager rang us and said they eradicated the problem and killed the queen. Admitting that they did in fact make a nest, his new story was how unusual that was since the building offers little or no protection from predators and rain. Satisfied but thinking how ridiculous it is that the owner had to call and tell them to deal with this right now, all’s well that ends well. Until the very next day. As we used the computer by the side balcony window, out of nowhere we noticed another swarm of bees flying around frantically right outside the window. There were literally thousands of them and it seemed like they knew who I was and came to exact revenge. Closing the windows quickly, we went downstairs to the ground level and looked up. Like something out of a National Geographic documentary, we watched as the new swarm flew up one floor at a time, apparently also looking to find a comfortable place for a new nest.

And sure enough, after checking out all 31 floors on the same corner unit as ours, they decided they liked the 10th floor window, one floor above us. About one-third of them sat down on 11 but eventually they made their way down. Bigger than the last colony, they scattered themselves, covering the entire side of the window. Feeling like a scene from a science fiction movie, I marveled at the odds of another colony of bees making a nest right next to our window one day later and made my way to the guard post. Of course, both the manager and his assistant were at a meeting in the head office so we asked the guard to call and interrupt. Telling the story, the manager seemed surprised but said he’d get back as soon as possible. Normally thankful that our noisy upstairs neighbors only come home for Christmas week, sure enough their absence meant the only way to deal with the new swarm was from our spare bedroom, one floor below the enormous colony.

The new bee colony that showed up one day later

The new bee colony that showed up one day later

Normally the best time of year for sunshine and no rain, this year’s weather in Southeast Asia seems to be either an anomaly or a typical La Nina event after last year’s powerful El Nino. After our first few days back from Canada, a strange, dreary and unseasonably cool weather pattern set into Malaysia causing major flooding on some parts of the country. Here in Penang we averted the heaviest rain, but since the pest control company’s plan of action is sending someone out the window with a harness and some non toxic water based chemicals that produce neurological paralysis in insects, things didn’t seem good when it started pouring and didn’t stop for hours. But for some reason, when our condo owner calls they seem to jump so the manager texted us at about telling us they’d be there soon and apologized for the rain delay. And sure enough, a few minutes later, in came the Malaysian version of The Orkin Men.


Unlike a few nights earlier, the manager didn’t bother posting sings in the common areas telling people to close their windows. Instead, the team of three young Chinese guys headed into the bedroom, donned some masks and loaded up the poison. Unlike almost everything in the western world, there’s no waiting, strategy planning or long-winded conversations with tenants in the developing world. Shutting all the windows, one guy headed out the window with a rather shabby looking harness, aimed the stuff upwards and sprayed away while we all sat in the dark to avoid attracting any strays.

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And after about 15 minutes the building manager told us “We got them all”. Asking how he was sure, he told us a guy on the ground level shined a bright light up there and saw them all fall and that’s they do things here. Quickly and efficiently. When my Facebook friend that’s a master of anything in the animal kingdom asked about the process, he told me usually they physically remove the nest at night to make sure the bees are present and then destroy the nest site so stragglers don’t try to rebuild. Ha. No time for that in a country with no unions where time is money.

a-beeTelling us they’re honeybees, the manager said it was too bad they had to kill so them because they’re so important to the environment. Unsure, we took a picture of one up close and sent it to my friend who told us the bees in the pictures were not even the same genus so they’re clearly not honeybees. But that makes sense because in Malaysia, when you a point to a big fish at the wet market but ask the vendor what type it is, they tell you “Fish”. Obviously not understanding the difference between wasps, hornets and bees, to the Malays they’re all “pests” and since it’s been a few days now and nobody else made a nest, that’s good enough for me. Unfortunately, the condo’s cleaning staff still hasn’t finished sweeping away all the dead bees from the grounds but at least I can resume my schedule and shower before dawn without fearing an attack. Score one for the developing world for never being boring.

Comments always welcome. Cheers from rainy Penang.


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