On (Still) Learning How to Live With Cockroaches

May 21, 2021

Living With Cockroaches

I’ve been inspired to write a post about the pests this week as, well, we’ve had an influx in the local cockroach population recently. That is to say, a greater number of intruders in our apartment. It’s never been this bad before, in fact, and I’ve realized in the last few days that it must be due to the attached-building-next-door-turned-construction-site. Previously vacant for who knows how long, I think the recent construction has knocked loose some cockroach homes (for mental health reasons, I prefer to avoid the term “nests”) and sent them looking for new ones. Well, they are not welcome here. We’ve done our best to tape up the cracks, but they seem to be just strolling in through the front door.

Cockroaches inspire all kinds of primitive reactions: horror, disgust, fear. Humans have hated them throughout history. But why? I had my money on our evolving to have an innate biological aversion to them as disease vectors, come to find out that’s not true from this fascinating article by Rachel Nuwer for the BBC (definitely worth a read if you’re interested in exploring where this aversion comes from). They creep up on us, appear slimy, eat trash, and it certainly doesn’t help that they are hideous.

While the small ones aren’t too terrible, and I’m pretty good at smacking them with a shoe, I still can’t handle the big ones. They make my skin crawl, and my encounters with them almost inevitably turn into these intense fight or flight experiences. At least, as long as they’re in my house. As I write this, there is a fat cockroach right outside the balcony door, stuck on his back like a helpless turtle since last night. In such cases I lack any sort of care or urgency. Maybe he’ll flip upright and scurry off, or maybe a bird will take care of it, or maybe a big gust of wind will blow him away. I’m good.

Cockroach

After living in blissfully cockroach-free parts of States for so long, I had almost forgotten the daily reality of these little horrors. Our first apartment in Taiwan turned out not to be the place for me. The building was old, and our kitchen and bathroom were exposed to the open core of the building (each apartment had a hallway running through the middle, where we could see and wave to each other). And the grout! Don’t get me started.

The first two months I spent all my free time trying to seal all of the cracks and holes in the grout and door frames and walls, because the cockroaches might as well have been pouring in. My efforts managed to curtail the larger ones, but not the smaller ones, and they seemed to be in endless supply. It became a part of my pre-breakfast morning routine to smack dead with my slipper anywhere between 3-8 tiny cockroaches, who were coming up through the kitchen tile. It took me a while to convince Luke of this reality, but I eventually persuaded him to move out.

Our new place has been much better (until now!). And we’ve gotten much better, too, at dealing with it. It used to be that if we spied a big cockroach scurry under the sofa or the bed, we would turn the house positively upside-down to find the thing and get it out. We couldn’t stand the thought of it existing in a place where we would be sleeping, vulnerable and unawares. I have a lot of hilarious visuals of us standing on either end of the couch, or bed frame, or coffee table, each waving a broom and crying “are you ready?” to each other before flipping it over or moving it away from the wall. Then one of us would try to catch the cockroach in the dustpan and run with it to the balcony to throw it five stories down onto the street (*fingers crossed* not hitting anybody). How’s that for comical? We’re much more chill now.

In the middle of other night, though, I woke up and needed to pee. I carefully turned on the living room light as I went out (because I’ve had a lot of late-night encounters lately), was relieved to see my path clear, and then as I reached the bathroom threshold I spied a cockroach-sized shadow lurking right next to the toilet. I turned on the light to verify, before turning it quickly back off again (Pro tip: it’s good to decide on a course of action before turning on any unnecessary lights that send them running).

I asked myself two questions: 1. Can I actually manage to go pee when he’s that close to the toilet? No way man. 2. Can I go back to sleep without first using the bathroom? No way man. In answering both questions thus, I found myself committed to doing battle with the cockroach at 4 am. So, I went to grab our can of Raid to spray him with.

Killing the cockroach

I really hate using Raid, for one thing because it’s poison, but also because I’m really bad at it, even though it has a long straw attachment so you can really precision-aim. Luke has gotten pretty good at it – when he uses the Raid the whole thing is over pretty fast (with a large puddle on the floor). But for me, it somehow always seems to be this long drawn-out horror show. Maybe because I’m too hesitant. I’ve had some very scarring moments with a can of Raid and a cockroach.

One of these I distinctly remember in high school (sometimes I would have to kill the cockroaches in the bathroom before I could shower or get ready for school, how fun. Luckily we had a cat so she often took care of it for me, and on those days I would find them still-twitching on their backs in the shower) – I sprayed a cockroach that turned out to be of the flying variety, and the moment of dodging as it flew at my face will be with me forever. I had another heart-pounding experience with a flying cockroach in our tiny bathroom last year where I eventually said f**k it, secured the door, and begged Luke to finish the job when he got home. It’s really hard to spray the flying ones because they’re literally flying and you don’t want to spray everything you own with Raid.

The thing about spraying a cockroach, and what I hate so much about it, is that the second you push down on that button the cockroach is no longer just a cockroach, but becomes a cockroach fighting for its life. Once they’ve been hit they are impaired and desperate, and become seized with a super-human will to get away. And you can’t just spray them a little and then wait, you have to really blast them with it, like a hose, particularly the large ones – they are fighters, man. And they move fast. So it’s like a chase.

(I had another scarring experience with that in our last apartment when I sprayed a cockroach who then proceeded to desperately flail up and down the length of our shower curtain, his body convulsing against it in dying spasms, poison-soaked wings stuck to the folds of plastic yet flapping vigorously to get free (making a sound that still haunts me) as I looked on, paralyzed by revulsion and pity. Such moments have instilled in me a great fear of pushing the button.)

Anyway, so back to the story. There I was at four in the morning in my pyjamas with a can of Raid, trying to will myself to pull the trigger.

His location on the floor of the shower seemed like a prime spot, so I pressed down. He made a break for the bathroom door and when he emerged I sprayed him again as he ran to our front door and proceeded to (with difficulty, fighting the poison’s effects) climb it. Our front door, now, is where we keep all our stuff. We have hooks on the door from which hang our bags, our sweaters, our hats. I could only spray about half way up before watching in horror as he scurried in between the folds of all our clothes and totes, losing sight of his poison-slicked body intermittently as he scrambled across the width of the door. He rapidly dragged himself across the body of my purse (gross) and began to make a path across the wall when he slipped and fell to the floor, where I blasted him into the next life.

Fumes of Raid thick in the air, drenched in sweat and my heart racing, body shaking, I went to pee.

Then, taking a last look at the corpse by the front door, I returned to bed.

I laid awake until morning.


So that’s my cockroach story! Now that I’m done writing this hopefully I can stop looking over my shoulder or under the table in paranoia. If you managed to stomach that, maybe you can stomach these Fun Cockroach Facts from Pest World:

  1. They can survive for a week without a head!
  2. They’ve been around for over 280 million years!
  3. They can hold their breath for 40 minutes!
  4. The world’s largest cockroach measures 6 inches!
  5. They can go without eating for a whole month!

I’m dying to know about your grossest bug experiences, cockroaches or otherwise! Taiwan also has some terrifyingly large jumping spiders.. And terrifying centipedes… Are you one of those people that can kill a cockroach with your BARE HANDS?! Lay it on me in the comments below, and I hope you have a happy bug-free week!

If you liked that, check out my post on how I quit smoking, my illustrated story of the time the refrigerator repair man came, or my reflections on homesickness.

5 Comments
    1. Yea, sometimes we are just reduced to being members of the animal kingdom and have to do what needs done. In that case, job well done, rest east.❤️

      1. Yes gosh it’s a good thing I don’t actually live in the jungle. Although I feel like somehow jungle-dwelling cockroaches are actually less gross than city-dwelling cockroaches…

    1. Or west, or north or south…easy😂

    1. “Makes my skin crawl” is a perfect description! Yuck. I did find that doing a good general spray of cracks and drains and entrance points was a better approach than fighting with each bug. And when there’s a puddle of Raid, take a tissue and use it to spread some again on a place where they like to hide, and make it much less inviting! HA! TAKE THAT! Good luck. Be brave. (eeeuw)

What are your thoughts?

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