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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Instead of guidelines and tips, try traps


By Lee Cataluna

On Sunday morning, Honolulu's Chinatown looked unaffected. Throngs of shoppers picked through sidewalk bins of produce, families pushed baby strollers through tiny aisles and there was the usual long line of people waiting for a table at the pho place on River Street.

Drivers jockeyed for parking and people fought to come in. Lots of people. No visible rats, though there was an unobtrusive black trapezoid-shaped rat trap on a Maunakea Street sidewalk. It's not exactly deserted as you might think. Not everyone has been scared away.

The rat reaction has been curious, yet typical of what happens when bureaucracy gets thrown a problem that wasn't anticipated and involves a segment of the community they're not comfortable bossing around. Swine flu? They're all over it. Rats? Uh, we need some meetings.

If the rat video Larry Geller shot had been of Waikk rather than Chinatown, the reaction would have been different. There wouldn't have been any hesitation. The National Guard would be sent with special rat rifles to seek and destroy. Well, maybe not that extreme, but remember Jeremy Harris' war on rats after one crawled up his pants? Rats in Waikk? Not acceptable. Rats in Chinatown? Well.

Chinatown is one of the coolest, most interesting places in urban O'ahu. Sure it's gritty, but that's part of its charm. Where else can you choose from a rainbow of perfumed shampoos that sit on a shelf above raw goat meat and a whole pig's head? It's not a manicured, controlled master-planned community. It has all the noise, smells and energy of an open market.

Of course, there are rats everywhere, even sometimes (eek!) in clean, Tupperwared suburban kitchens. But if you found a rat in your kitchen, you'd pound down the door of City Mill that very night to get an arsenal of traps, right? You wouldn't have meetings and proposals for weeks before actually killing the filthy beast and cleaning out the pantry with Clorox water.

Clearly part of the problem in Chinatown are the cardboard boxes and plastic bags of garbage left on the sidewalks, in alleys, leaning against parking meters, etc. The flimsy bags are stuffed with food waste and other rodent-attracting comestibles that call to mind the "smorgasbord" musical number by the rat in Charlotte's Web.

There needs to be a new and better way for Chinatown merchants to deal with garbage. There should be rat traps the size of Matson containers on every street corner and a squad of Tyvex-suited Rat Busters with vermicide packs on their backs combing the alleys. In 1900, the territorial government burned parts of Chinatown to get rid of the rat problem. These days, they have meetings and hand out guidelines and tips.