You would think that I would be the extra-cautious one.
In March of 1999, before we returned to Canada to restart our lives, DW and I travelled throughout South-East Asia, visiting Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand, before returning one last time to South Korea and then, onward to home.
We were in George Town, on the island of Penang, Malaysia, having travelled, by night train, from Kuala Lumpur, and taken a ferry across the channel, from Butterworth. We were staying in a highly recommended, two-story hotel from the colonial period, in an old area of the town. The room had large French doors that opened onto a balcony and looked out into a small square, where a traffic circle directed the flow of cars, trucks, and mopeds.
I'll never forget the miniature black-and-white tile that covered the floor. The room was spacious and clean—or so I thought.
It was a hot night, and a ceiling fan circulated the air and made it more bearable. Having arrived in George Town at sunrise, we had spent the day wandering the city. The movie, Anna and the King, was being filmed near an old British fort, and we saw extra cast members milling about huge intercity buses.
DW calls me a furnace: I generate a lot of heat, and when the weather is unbearable she moves to the other side of the bed to avoid extra warmth. Exhausted, I slept, motionless, on my stomach, without any covers.
The bed bugs were drawn to me but didn't crawl under me. They merely assaulted me along my edges, where my skin made contact with the undersheet. When I awoke, next morning, they had created an outline of my body, a little blood marking where they had struck.
I didn't feel them in my sleep but I was horrified by the crime scene they left behind.
We packed up and checked out (we were planning to leave, anyway), and made our way further north, into Thailand and up to the east-coast town of Krabi. Throughout the day-long journey, my skin was on fire. I had to muster every ounce of willpower to keep from itching the little welts that appeared and glowed.
In Krabi, I found a pharmacy and slathered myself in aloe to cool my body. It took two days to feel some semblance of normalcy.
DW is the one, these days, that checks for bed bugs. Whether we're in a five-star hotel or a bed and breakfast, the first thing she does is lift the sheets and mattress, checks the pillows and under the covers. She looks in corners and where the carpet meets the base boards. She hasn't always done this: she only started doing it when the bed-bug epidemic seemed to be sweeping North America. She was especially diligent in trips to New York City, which had been hard-hit.
We were in Montreal this weekend. It was a last-minute decision to get away, with the kids, who were just beginning their March Break. I spoke with a work colleague, who often stays in hotels in the city when he visits friends. He recommended a hotel in the heart of downtown, between Saint-Catherine and René Levesque.
Though it was a two-star hotel, I didn't care. We were there to enjoy the city, not spend our time in a room. It was clean, my colleague said, and most importantly, inexpensive.
The Bed Bug Registry had no reports. DW made me check before we arrived.
I never complain when DW insists on inspecting a room before we unpack. I remember George Town. I especially remember the day after.
We had already wheeled our luggage onto the hardwood floors. DW and I removed our jackets and threw them on the bed. My camera bag went against a wall. We were there for less than one minute when DW let out a gasp, followed by a terrified "Oh my God!"
She had lifted the mattress on the first bed and when she perceived some dust, wiped it away. It left a smear of blood.
It was no piece of dust: it was a bed bug that she had just crushed.
She dropped the mattress and we scooped up our belongings. I shook our coats and we left the room.
To the hotel's credit, the man at the front desk seemed shocked and he was sincerely apologetic. He offered us another room but, seeing the look on DW's face, told me that he wouldn't charge for the room. He was deeply sorry.
It was 9:00 on a Saturday night in downtown Montreal, and we had no place to stay. I suggested jumping in the car and driving home, but DW made a quick search on the Internet. Fifteen minutes later, we were checking into the Westin Hotel. The last-minute deal was only $50 more than what we would have paid at the other hotel, and it was more than worth it.
DW still scoured our new hotel room. Bed bugs like luxury, too.
We checked our bags for any stowaways, but it was hard to be sure. When we returned home, the next day, DW entered our house alone, stripped down in our mud room, threw her clothes in the washing machine, and ran upstairs to retrieve house robes. She cleared out our entrance and made way for the rest of us.
The kids were the next to strip and throw their belongings in the wash. When the coast was clear, I moved our luggage into the entrance, one at a time, and carefully inspected each item. The contents of all the suitcases either went into a hot-water wash or the drier, which has a sanitizing heat mode.
I've never criticized DW for her thorough hotel inspections. After this weekend, there's no way I ever will.