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June 14, 2012

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Exterminator stays very busy as clouds of termites swarm

AT 1pm, Zhang Baoxing, 59, was eating a late lunch at his dank temporary office on Quxi Road. He was sweating, wolfing down the food since he knew how many were waiting for his help to kill termites.

The phone kept ringing, and all the calls he picked up were similar. On the desk, hundreds of orders piled up, all from desperate households.

Two policemen rushed in. "Xuhui police station is invaded by many termites, please help!" they said anxiously.

Zhang, who has worked in termite control for 38 years, is having his busiest days of the year. He is working from 8am to 10:45pm, but still orders pile up.

"In the 1970s and 1980s, when the campaign to kill termites across China reached its climax, two people were in a group when they visited residents' homes to kill termites," said Zhang, who works at the Xufang Greenery Co Ltd. The company is in Xuhui District, which has many older, wooden houses.

But the number of exterminators dropped dramatically as the termite threaten diminished from the campaigns.

Zhang had about 20 colleagues at that time, but now, his only two colleagues, all above 50 years old, were out on calls.

Termite extermination is not a simple job. It usually takes one to three years to be able to find nests, deemed the most difficult part of the job.

Zhang's tools are almost the same as 30 years ago. They include a steel wire, a screwdriver, powder and a hammer. He relies on his longtime experience.

"Don't use pesticide as it will scare off termites, but only kill some on the surface," he said.

Zhang should be retired, but he said that without a child to help him, he doesn't know when he'll be able to retire.

The salary is about 2,000 yuan (US$322) to 3,000 yuan a month. The charge for treatment is based on the scale of the problem, usually hundreds of yuan, but as high as 3,000 yuan per time. It can take days to destroy nests if the infestation is severe. The imported pesticide powder also is expensive.

"Few youngsters are willing to do the job because the pay is very low and the working conditions are harsh," Zhang said.

He has to check every corner carefully and sometimes gets into narrow spaces under the roof, which is vulnerable to termite invasion. Temperatures can reach 50 degrees Celsius.

Zhang works throughout the year, as some households find termites in winter during cleaning.

Qian Jie in his 30s is a staff worker of the Nanfang Greenery and Termite Control Service Center in Huangpu District.

As a graduate of gardening design of Jiao Tong University, Qian served in the army before joining the center. He did gardening design only, but soon, there was a shortfall of termite workers. He mastered the skills after a year. The starting salary for him, as well as the other termite workers in the center, was about 3,000 yuan. Now, it is higher.

"Every job needs people," he said with a smile.


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