By Andrew Biggs
A mouse has bitten through the router cable at my office.
My accountant says she’s heard scurrying noises of late in the ceiling, not that she thought to do anything about it for reasons about to become apparent. Now a mouse has bitten through the cable, rendering us without wifi.
“Jai yen yen,” says my accountant, an older woman whose soft voice belies her razor-like hacks at any budget breakdown that lands on her desk. Her swift and decisive action in spotting ways to save money is a godsend; if only she’d applied this talent to mice.
“The technician is coming this afternoon,” she says.
“How do we even know it was a mouse that caused the problem?”
“I climbed up and had a look in the ceiling.”
This sentence comes from my driver, a young man fresh out of the military. He, along with the office maid, are now hovering around my desk with the accountant.
Talk about timing. After struggling with an insufficient wifi system for a year, we just switched over to a new system which guarantees my ability to get onto wifi even during peak hour when three or more of my staff are busy trawling Facebook.
“If you ask me, it’s weird,” my driver says. “It’s weird that a mouse bites through the cable right after we switch wifi companies.”
“Yes. Weird,” says the maid.
“What are you suggesting — that the old company released mice in our ceiling as payback? Forget the conspiracy theories and go buy a few mousetraps,” I say.
The room falls silent.
My three staff members suddenly don their invisibility cloaks. This is a particularly Thai cultural trait; any foreigner who works with Thais must have seen it. Whenever Thais get into a difficult situation, or one that requires them to react to an unfavorable request, the shutters go down. Faces go blank and the ability to extract information suddenly becomes like extracting blood out of a stone. It is almost as if a mouse has chewed through a cable in their minds.
“Mousetraps,” I repeat.
More silence. Then a thought occurs to me. We don’t have mousetraps in Thailand.
Think about it, dear reader … when was the last time you spotted a good old-fashioned mousetrap at Tops?
A self-conscious movement from the shoulder of my accountant. A slight grin from the maid. Absolute military stillness from my driver.
“Okay, what’s going on here?” I finally ask.
“It’s cruel,” says my accountant.
“Yes, cruel,” says the maid.
“It’s taking a life,” says my accountant.
“Yes, a life,” says the maid.
“You’ve got to be joking,” I say, adding myself: “Yes, joking.”
But they are not. They cannot kill animals according to the Five Buddhist Precepts. Those precepts are very much like Christianity’s Ten Commandments with the fatuous ones edited out. Buddhism boils it down to no lying, gambling, sleeping around, drinking — and killing.
My accountant can’t bear the thought of buying a mousetrap. Nor can the maid. The driver, fresh out of military life, is loathe to set a trap. We won’t be sending him to the frontline when Myanmar invades.
I appeal to the driver’s inability to reason. “Technically you’re not killing the mouse by laying the trap,” I say. “The trap is killing it.”
“Yes but he is enabling the process,” says the accountant. I want to say “Who asked you?” but that would be rude.
“What about sticky plates?” my accountant suggests.
Now the three are animated; the invisibility cloak is, unsurprisingly for an invisibility cloak, nowhere to be seen.
She means those round platters filled with sticky goop. In the middle you place food. The mice ventures onto the platter and gets stuck there. The more they struggle, the more they are wedged to the platter.
“You’re unwilling to buy a mousetrap, but you’re happy to buy a sticky platter? You are aware, aren’t you, that the mouse still dies?”
“Not like a mousetrap,” says the accountant.
“No, not like a mousetrap,” says the maid.
“We just throw it out,” says the messenger.
“And you think the mouse gets up from the platter and races out of the trashcan? If anything, it’s twice as cruel as a mousetrap. At least the mouse is killed instantly. Imagine the slow agonizing death of being stuck to a plate.”
Dammit. The invisibility cloak has returned, and I’m sounding like a villain from an animal rights comic book.
I can’t help it. I grew up in a country where I never thought twice about killing a mouse. In the 1970s the government actively encouraged us to squish cane toads. The Top 10 deadliest spiders in the world can all be found in Australia — it’s actually the Top 11, but 10 sounds better. Such was my upbringing – we swatted and killed and squashed whenever we could.
A Thai friend once explained: “We Thais don’t like to hurt animals. That’s why we have a problem with soi dogs. Thais consider it a sin to de-sex an animal because it’s like killing its offspring.”
Karma or no karma, it is either me or the mouse. Since I’m paying the salaries, I issue the order: “Go buy a mousetrap. Or a sticky plate. Whatever.”
My driver and maid go to the nearby Phrakhanong Market. Why two people are required to buy a single mousetrap is beyond me, and while they are away the technician comes and lays a new cable in the ceiling.
When they return, they are gleeful.
“We couldn’t find any,” said the driver.
“No, none at all,” says the maid.
“It’s okay,” says the accountant. “All the noise of the technician in the ceiling will surely have scared the mice away. And good news — the wifi is stronger than ever!”
She is right. It’s a happy ending to the story. I have my wifi restored, and none of my three staff have killing on their conscience.
Which is more than I can say for myself.
This morning I fantasized about all three of them being trapped in a giant mousetrap, because four days have passed, and yesterday the damned mouse bit through the cable again.