Certain bugs get my attention - especially poisonous ones, like scorpions.
I know something about scorpions, having made personal acquaintance with them when I lived in southern Arizona in the United States. So I perked up recently when I saw an article about scorpions in China Daily.
In poverty-stricken Nongjing village, located in a remote part of the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, residents have found a novel way to raise their standard of living - by raising scorpions.
It's a success story for China, where the poverty line is 2,300 yuan ($334) a year - and scorpion venom can bring a family 2,000 to 3,000 yuan a month.
The venom has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine to treat chronic pain, paralysis, internal bleeding and epilepsy. Scientists have identified dozens of promising proteins in the Nongjing variety. Some have analgesic properties. Others are anti-microbial. Still others seem to act as muscle relaxants and anti-convulsants. Some appear to have anti-tumor properties that might be useful against cancer.
The life-span of these mini predators is about 4 to 6 years — same as the yellow bark scorpions of southern Arizona.
Which brings me to Harold, the scorpion I named years ago.
I often worked late, returning home after the family was in bed. It was normal for my toddler son to curl up next to his mother and go to sleep. Nobody wore pajamas. Desert temperatures would plummet to 4℃.
And so one night I began my normal ritual, wrapping my hands around my son's little body to carry him to his own bed, when suddenly … Wham!! Wham!! … a scorpion lurking beneath him struck my finger twice.
There's no word to express the exquisite pain — the worst I've ever experienced. It spread up my arm, causing swelling and numbness that would last for years. I yelled at my wife to take me to the hospital. She replied calmly: "What for? They can't do anything; stop being a baby." But I insisted. When I saw the doctor, he told me: "Sorry, there's nothing I can do."
Anyway, before leaving the house, I had heroically retrieved a glass jar and searched the bedding for the sneaky villain. Obviously, it couldn't be left to sting someone else. I saw him skittering toward a pillow and slammed the jar down. Gotcha!
I kept him in the jar for a long time and named him Harold. I planned to tell my son one day: "This is the scorpion I took for you, buddy; remember this when I'm old."
Weeks later, I thought even scorpions might get thirsty. So I kindly added a few drops of water to the jar. And Harold promptly died. Oops.
I'm not sure I should have chosen the name Harold. For all I knew, he might have been female. Lan Tianting in Guangxi's Nongjing village knows the difference. The 25-year-old has a single job at the scorpion farm — segregating female and male scorpions. I'm curious: Does he peek underneath or what?