Thursday, June 15, 2006

Football and the Caterpillar Plague of 1894

Well, I got what I deserved.

Over the weekend, in my joy at the beginning of the FIFA World Cup, I endeavored to watch every match live, regardless of the time. I thought nothing the next day of trying to get up at 9 or 10am, even if I had only gotten to bed at 5am that same day.

In a merciless exaction of revenge, my body's immune system went on strike whilst I was in Singapore, and I came down with a nasty case of influenza. Argentinian influenza, I like to think of it, as it was their match I feel that was decisive in turning the tide against my own best interests. The Hand of God, if you will, for those fans of Diego Armando Maradona. I have not yet felt a hankering though for large steaks reared on the pampas at a nieghborhood churrasqueria.

Why do I love the World Cup? For all my didactic ranting against nationalism, there is something decidedly momentous about watching two national teams square off for the prize of lasting glory. It is also about history, between nations, and between the footballers, past and present, of the countries represented. Without getting too much into the history of warfare between Germany and Poland, for instance, one could imagine the mental state of the players last night in a situation where a loss for Poland against big, richer neighbor Germany, would mean certain elimination.

For my part, I am gradually on the mend. Today I turn my attention to pestilence - the caterpillar plague that struck Hong Kong in 1894. Over the course of a few months, a certain breed of leaf-eating caterpillars appeared all over the territory, consuming in days over 20,000 trees from the island to the New Territories. The plague became so worrisome, as the caterpillars were killing the trees in the process, that the government began to pay poachers by the pound for dead worms collected by coolies. The fascinating account can be found here. It is just a few pages long, so please do have a look!

I would just add that this strange, odd occurence took place just months before the city was struck down by a case of the bubonic plague, known in past centuries as the Black Death. While the authors of this paper on the caterpillars believes that the huge increase in population was due to the frost of 1892 killing off the natural predators of the caterpillars, I think it could equally have been the severe and growing water shortage in Hong Kong at that time that did the predators in. As I have mentioned before, many signs seem to point to the acute water supply shortage, and the rationing that led to even filthier conditions than existed previously, that may have given the Black Death a big helping hand...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, I found this site through Technorati. I just wanted to say that I agree with your feelings about the World Cup. I am not much of a soccer fan or anything, but I definitely tune in for every World Cup match that I can possibly see. There definitely is something "momentous" about watching two teams proudly representing their home countries...