Diary of a renovator: Attack from within

Xiu Fang

The academic Ziauddin Sardar is a Star Trek aficionado who once said the Borg represent 'the American fear of Japan writ large'. His recent visit to Hong Kong flushed out memories of my first encounter with his work, an introduction to the supposed Japanese 'hive mind'.

So it was perhaps apt that I would confront a real example of collective will: termites - those scary monsters whose mandibles can saw through a building. As I gazed at their years of work, gnawing through the wooden beams of my 30-year-old New Territories village house, the advice of my contractor Joe was drowned out by the Borg mantra ringing in my head: 'Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.'

Then came a thought even more difficult to digest. 'Why not sell the place?' offered my architect Keith. My scowl scuppered his smile. I could not believe this was the same person who had spent months drafting elevations for what will be my first real home in Hong Kong. I don't say 'was to have been' because I refuse to be evicted by an insect, even millions of them. Besides, it wasn't the first surprise.

On D-Day, when demolition started and the cat moved out, we were all staggered to find wooden supports, rather than concrete or steel beams, holding up the ceiling. It was the icing on the cake to find the timber had been dessert for a greedy settlement. 'The damaged beams will have to be replaced,' I whimpered. 'How much will a structural engineer cost?'

While I await the hallowed conclusion of the newest team member I continue to shop optimistically. Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, and Portland Street, Mong Kok, have become regular hangouts, so much so that the shop assistants I have cornered in my quest for the perfect tap, tile or toilet now take cigarette breaks (even if they don't smoke) when they see me coming.

I suspect one shut his doors early last Sunday when he heard I was in the area. He had been flummoxed by my request for an old-style showerhead that does more than moisten with gentle drops. I want to be blasted with water but won't tolerate massage showers with horrible plastic nodules, I relayed, using pidgin Cantonese, body language and sound effects - which may be why he showed me what looked like a Japanese toilet with a titanic-strength douche.


It seems these days everyone has shower heads the size of family-sized pizzas, even though they piddle rather than pelt water.

Although a huge waste of time, sourcing items for my home provides a distraction from the real work that needs to be done. For now no one dares demolish the white-ant kingdom whose labyrinthine passages occupy the entire space between two beams.

Which reminds me again of Sardar, whose name has probably never before been invoked in a column on home renovation. But he may be happy to learn of a real battle against The Other.

Hive mentality? It is certainly something to be feared, especially if the colony consists of rapacious soldiers determined to turn dreams into dust.

If you have renovation-related tales you would like to share, e-mail Xiu Fang at [email protected]