Ceiling Fans, Hash House Harriers and Horrible Hornets by Peter Smith

This is an article from Peter’s January column in BeeCraft magazine – it’s not really about bees!

Being of only modest vertical achievement ceiling fans have never been a source of existential anxiety for me. Until a few years ago that is– and all to do with the Giant Asian Hornet. While the Asian Hornet is clearly A BAD THING the Giant version is MUCH worse. It does what it says on the tin. It lives in Asia, and it’s huge. HUGE. It looks like it might have been developed by a military defence contractor as a particularly malign looking device to carry small missiles. They’re known in California, where they seem to have settled, as Murder Hornets. Well, I’d go along with that. I’ve had two encounters with them. One painful, one causing more lasting psychological damage.

If you’ve ever been part of an expat community then chances are you will have come across the Hash House Harriers. Formed in Malaysia before the war hashing was based on the traditional hare and hounds pursuit but involving lots of beer. Lots and lots of beer. It means running through the jungle following a trail marked by paper or sawdust to a final beery rendezvous. The distinction between running and drinking is a blurry one in hashing– not for nothing are hash groups sometimes known as drinking clubs with a running problem. The very first hashing club was the Selangor Club (the canteen was known as the Hash House) in Kuala Lumpur (KL) – and ever since known reverently as the Mother Hash – though it quickly spread across SE Asia and, subsequently, the world or at least those parts with ex pat Brits who liked to run but preferred to drink.

I was very fortunate to have lived for several years in KL and just once I ran with the Mother Hash, although my own hash group was the nearby Petaling Jaya Chapter, famous for having once lost a runner to a Reticulated Python – a source of much pride in the group. Apart from the beer and running through dense vegetation at 33 degrees and 100% humidity the great thing about hashing is how close it takes you to nature (sometimes, as with the python, a little too close). I had my own close shave with a pit viper (note, don’t try to pick up by the tail) and a Giant Orb Web spider (don’t try to run through the web), but also with a Giant Asian Hornet.

I’d been running through an old rubber plantation, now derelict and overgrown, and lagging a little if I’m being honest when I had a strong sense that I was being watched. Or maybe stalked. Which is when I saw this thing following me, clearly weighing up options. It was buzzing – not the gentle buzzing of a honeybee or the lower drone of a bumblebee but a sort of aggressive revving – and weaving backwards and forwards without taking its eyes off me. Should I carry on running or stay still? What was that thing about bears? You pretend to be dead with a brown bear but run away from a black one? Or is it the other way round? I picked up the pace. I may even have broken local records. Bad move. The hornet made a feint to my face, switched the angle of attack and landed on my forearm from where it looked at me like a demonic robot before sliding a clearly visible sting into me. Fascinating. It didn’t really hurt. Then it did. Like I imagine it would be like if someone pushed a kebab skewer through your arm. I believe I screamed for a while. Several hours in fact.

My second encounter was a few months later. You wouldn’t think that something as big as a Giant Asian Hornet would have any business getting into an apartment. But they can. When I opened the door there it was, hovering like an attack helicopter. Local advice is to turn the aircon to max and get out fast, leave for several hours and return when it will have been stunned by the cold and fallen to the ground ready for disposal. Easy. So I dialled down the aircon to about 5 degrees and took myself off to a local hostelry for an hour or so. When I got back a couple of days later (long story) I cautiously opened the door and looked around. The aircon was still blasting away and there was a slight touch of frost on the surfaces. No sign of a chilled hornet. Remember the scene in Aliens where Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is trying to find the alien and goes poking around in dark spots with all the while expecting the acid blooded beastie to jump out? This was my Sigourney Weaver moment (or one of them) though instead of a flame thrower I had a rolled-up copy of The Straits Times. I searched for the rest of the day. Nothing. I finally opened the windows and turned on the ceiling fan – upon which the hoary corpse of the horrible hornet floated down to settle gently on my head. I may have screamed again. Ceiling fans. Shudder.

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