Friday, July 02, 2010


Normally, I don't really sweat that much, and this may have been the reason why before this summer I've only had around five mosquito bites in Korea. In the last two days, I've been bitten seven times in our apartment, and I have the itchy red spots to prove it.

Having a large apartment can seem like a step up from the 'one-room' place we spent the first fifteen months in, but I discovered it had a downside: the air conditioning unit in the one-room could keep the air cool with only intermittent efforts, but the one in our four-bedroom apartment would need to stay on all the time to have any chance of making a significant difference to the temperature of our office on the other side of the building. The upshot of which is that I'm working in a room which hits 30 degrees and 80% humidity on the bad days, while three computers pump out warm air which has nowhere to go. It's hot, uncomfortable, and apparently it's made me more of a mosquito target.

The question of where the dreaded mosquitoes are actually coming from became a pressing one after their seven-bite feast. Our bed is protected by a large mosquito tent, so it isn't while I sleep. Logically then, it's almost certainly in the office where I've spent almost all my time this week. It wasn't long before careful examination of the large wire gauze cover which prevents insects flying through the otherwise open window (aka 'mogi jang' - 모기장 - mosquito net/bar) revealed it to have four large gaps in the frame where insects can enter the apartment as they wish. One of them is the gap beneath the window and the frame, which might be unavoidable, but the other three are a little inexplicable – they are lozenge-shaped holes which are clearly part of the design of the frame.

Since my wife became pregnant we can't liberally employ mosquito spray wherever we want to as we used to, and truth be told I was never convinced of its efficacy – only a direct hit at close quarters ever seemed to kill, so Korean Mother's strategy of spraying a room heavily and then closing the door for ten minutes before going to bed never seemed like it was going to harm anything apart from the person sleeping inside. I can't spray my office even if my wife isn't in the room now either, since we acquired an aquarium. So I've had to resort to using an insect swatter, which often involves cleaning up blood-splattered walls afterwards.

I hoped technology might come to the rescue, but was disappointed to find that most people on the Korean Internet felt that the kind of electrified lights which I often see in fast-food places back in the UK, but not so much in Korea, don't actually work very well. So we ended up buying an electrified mosquito swatter.

The electrified mosquito swatter seems typical of so much that is sold in Korea. It's made in China, and it's so dangerous that almost two-hundred people were injured by it last year. Shopping forums are full of cautionary tales of the huge sparks which are created and the dangers of it touching yourself or any close family members you'd like to keep. Despite this, the solution is not to ban the product, but rather to offer 100,000,000 won (£53,600/$81,500) of product liability insurance. A Samsung Insurance sticker is therefore attached above the handle for your peace of mind. If that isn't enough, the box has the word 'Safety' written in large letters in the corner, and 'As Seen on TV', though it isn't clear to me whether this was in an advert or a news report.

What kind of design aesthetic should such an apparently dangerous device have? Something that doesn't look attractive to children? No, worryingly it looks like a toy with a tennis racquet shape, a bright orange frame, and a friendly-looking cat face in the middle of the metal strings, inviting you in for a closer look.

The initial test came the day the package arrived. The device is activated with a button which must be held in while hitting the offending mosquito, although apparently it can retain a charge even after it's released. I quickly put the batteries in and pressed it – a loud crack accompanied by large retina-blurring spark immediately jumped off the metal wiring. There was no doubt this was going to be satisfyingly deadly, the only question remained as to who the victim would be. The second loud crack came as I moved the now electrified racquet gently towards the flying insect, which was left motionless in the wiring.

It's easy to be frightened by the rather cavalier attitude to public safety that exists in this country – but the electrified mosquito swatter stands as an example of how it can actually work for you; just because some ajumma set fire to her apartment with one, and just because a young girl put one in her mouth with predictably horrific consequences (yes, both actually happened), apparently nobody is going to stop you from buying it. Which is good if you're careful and responsible, but not so good if you might be Darwin Award material. Later, I'll let you know at a later time which group I fall into. Unless I can't.


Anonymous said...

It's a good looking gadget, I hope it works for you. Will stay tuned.

Michael said...

Mike, why not just repair the fly screen?

Mike said...

That's a fair question :-) Unfortunately it would probably need to be a proper DIY job which I'm ill-equipped for in this country. Buying materials and tools would be easy enough back home but here there's every chance it will turn into a major project because I don't even know where to start. Anyway, taking a former landlord's approach to house maintenance, I blocked the holes with bits of old clothing.

This likely won't stop the mosquitoes getting in though. There was only one way in to our old one-room apartment and we kept the window shut because we used the aircon. We still had a big problem because they'd come in through the doorway no matter how quickly we tried to get in.

The other problem is there are five windows on one side of our apartment and the other side has two, one of which runs almost the entire length of the apartment. I think the mosquitoes are getting in through a number of gaps so I've given up trying to repel them at the borders!

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