The ghosts of Maxwell House, a 12-storey office block in Singapore’s vibrant Chinatown neighbourhood, which houses the Novus Asia headquarters, do not scare me. The stories my colleagues (unconvincingly) tell mostly revolve around their ominous and towering black profiles whispering harmlessly along the corridors.

But these otherworldly night owls are reported to only appear past 10pm, and they haven’t stolen any stationery on my desk, making them less bothersome than some of my light-fingered human colleagues who do.

 

So with deadlines posing a more serious threat to my employment than the dead, I hesitated not one jot to stay up in the office one August night.

 

I closed up the office at 10.30pm — which, sharp-eyed readers might notice, is 20 minutes into the ghost hour.

 

The Descent

The elevator arrived and the Gates of Hell opened. There it was, sprawled on the floor of the elevator, one of the most ancient forms of life in existence, a corpus of darkness and spindly feelers, a writhing mass of pathogens. A cockroach.

 

Emboldened by the sight of human prey to terrorize, the roach started to flit around the floor, its twitching antenna searching for fear. And there was certainly a lot of it pumping out of me.

 

Alas, there was no other way out of the building. The exit route provided by the staircase was usually flanked with roaches, the steps carpeted with exoskeletons of their dead comrades, their dried-up anatomies crunching under your foot with each step. I had no alternative but to confront my insect phobia.

 

I stepped into the lift.

 

The Silent Battle

Why am I so scared of roaches? Well, the cockroach is one of the fastest creatures on dry land. Their speed and unpredictable movements are survival mechanisms developed over 300 million years of existence. Homo sapiens, with our mere 200,000 years of evolution, have never stood a chance against them without a bottle of Baygon in hand.

 

As if aware of the image of pesticide in my head, the cockroach stopped moving. As we descended to ground level, I stared at its soulless eyes from my sweat-soaked corner. The lift reached my destination and I fled, vowing never to look a cockroach in the eye again.

 

Weeks later, my prankster colleagues wallpapered my desk with 18 photos of cockroaches.

 

3 TIPS FOR MY FELLOW INSECT-HATERS

- Life Lesson: never stay in the office past 10pm, for that’s when the roaches come out to play.
 

- Travel Hack: always check your surroundings for cockroaches, the same way you would look out for shady men leering at you from the shadows in alleyways. Cockroaches may sometimes leap out, in the manner of a serial killer in a clichéd horror flick, from the gaps between the floor of the building and the elevator. So if you feel unsafe, call a friend for emotional support as you make your way carefully out of the building. The only alternative: white knuckle it like I did.
 

- Did You Know? There is a magician based in Maxwell House! Located on the ninth floor of the building, Unique Magic Entertainment provides a German magician for your corporate and casual party needs. “Even though Germans have a reputation for not having a sense of humour, there is still plenty of laughter in the show,” Stefan Ebinger solemnly promises on his website. But unless the Maxwell magician can disapparate a cockroach — preferably permanently — I do not foresee using his services.

 

The Worst Trip of My Life: Cockroach Claustrophobia


BY Vicki Yang

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