I was in the bathroom enjoying my Western-style toilet, the powder blue number with the fashionably contrasting white seat. The walls and the floor of the bathroom are a mosaic of sorts, a mishmash of broken tiles flung into wet concrete. These are pieces of the same tiles I’ve seen in the front rooms of the houses I walk past each morning: blue, pink, dark green, tan, burgundy, a few floral shards thrown in here and there. I was marveling how smooth everything was, no sharp edges popping up, no broken corners, no chips, when I noticed a few jing-jok turds scattered about. Jing-joks are small gecko-like lizards that skitter on the ceilings, the walls, the countertops, the tables, and every other surface they can get their little feet onto.
Every morning between my first and second cups of coffee I sweep up jing-jok poop from the floor in my house. I wipe it off of the kitchen counter and the kitchen sink that sits in a separate room. The turds are small, about the size of mouse droppings, and are usually black, some are white or a mixture of the two. As I was looking at the scattered scat sitting among the randomly placed broken tiles in the bathroom I got to thinking how the little lizard bastards poop upside down.
These household geckos are small, about 4 to 5 inches long and appear to me to be the Indo-Pacific geckos listed on an on-line web page on common geckos. They have a grey-brown coloration that pales in the evening. These house geckos are not like their showy cousins, the bigger green or spotted varieties. They are common throughout Southeast Asia and here in Thailand are known as “jing-joks” (จิ้งจก) They don’t make any noise that I’ve been able to hear. Their larger cousins emit a distinctive, rhythmic barking noise—too-kay, too-kay. When I was living with my first host family one such vocal varmint lived atop the wardrobe outside my bedroom door and I would listen to the measured beats of his bark. I have to admit that at first I was more than a little disconcerted and put off by these ubiquitous lizards, but you get used to them quite easily. They eat insects and spiders and they aren’t harmful to humans so you learn to live with them.
How do they run across the ceiling? Geckos do not have little suction cups on their feet, nor do they produce an adhesive. Any suction device would require too much energy to release each foot with each step and would slow the lizard down. Geckos can travel at a speed of about 1 meter (3 feet) per second. Could you imagine the noise of tiny little suction cups being unstuck as a gecko scampers above your head during the night? Any true adhesive would require constant cleaning, you know how tape picks up the slightest bit of dirt and lint. Their feet have evolved into having tiny microscopic bristles, each little foot can have a half a million of these bristles. In turn, each bristle contains anywhere from 100 to 1000 nano-hairs. These bristles and hairs are made from the same stuff as our own hair and fingernails and are quite soft to the touch, so I’m told. The hairs react to whatever surface they come in contact with on the molecular level, using something called Van de Waal’s force. This is not gravity, not electricity, not magnetism, and not a chemical reaction. It’s in the quantum physics realm. These nano-hairs actually roll along any surface and exchange positive and negative molecular charges between the two surfaces allowing a nanosecond of adhesion between the gecko and the ceiling, the wall, the window, or the chair of the table you’re sitting at. It is reported that geckos cannot stick to Teflon, the same compound that coated President Reagan when he was in office.
Late in the afternoon, just before the mosquitos come out to make a nuisance of themselves forcing me to spray volatile oils and fragrances onto my exposed skin, I sit on the front patio in my other white plastic seat and read. My little Nook is propped up on my lap. I was nearing the end of a Thornton Wilder novel seeing pieces of myself in his richly drawn characters. I had just finished reading: These servants were supposedly paid three shillings a month, but they had little need for money. Their meals, clothing, medical care, whippings, and amusement were supplied by their masters* (my mind slipped to my Peace Corps service), when a well-formed, firm yet moist, black and white gecko turd landed on the words. My head quickly jerked up and I watched one of the jing-joks swivel his hips and tail back into a horizontal position before he scurried off. I thought I heard him giggle.
* From The Eighth Day, Thornton Wilder, 1967, The Union & New Haven Trust Company.