The Light that Kills Mosquitoes

Tonight I went out to pick up a few items. I wanted to get some drinks and a bug zapper light. (Summer is slowly seeping into Shanghai in all its steamy unpleasantness, and with it comes the skeeters.)

The grocery store was already closed, so I turned to one of the little hardware/general shops that line the road.

> Me: 有杀蚊子的灯吗? (Do you have lights that kills mosquitoes?)

> Shopkeeper: 么哇某某灯?没有。 (Something-something light? Nope.)

> Me: 叫什么? (What’s it called?)

> Shopkeeper: 灭蚊灯。 (Bug zapper.)

> Me: 哦,谢谢啊。 (Oh. Thanks!)

> Shopkeeper: 不谢。 (No prob.)

The word doesn’t have the refined feel of the word for mosquito coil, 蚊香 [literally, “mosquito incense”], but at at least it’s easy to understand. Literally, 灭蚊灯 means “extinguish mosquitoes light.”

So I didn’t get my bug zapper light, but I got a new word. Armed with the new vocabulary, I quickly asked three other shops. None of them had any “extinguish mosquitoes lights” either. I failed my mission, but I had a new word cemented in my memory.

It made me nostalgic… I used to learn so many new vocabulary words that way, but I only just realized how long it’s been. Carrefour just isn’t as fun.

Note: If you’re reading this via RSS feed, then my experimental “fuzzy response” CSS effect (on the shopkeeper’s initial reply) probably didn’t carry over. Visit the site to see what you’re supposed to.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. No problem in the RSS feed here (or the Feedburner display). Those zappers really work, too!

  2. I’m glad I came!

  3. i love that bug zapper and you know where i first saw it in china? your room back in hangzhou! i ‘imported’ one from beijing awhile back and have it in my room in HK now. i love seeing the dried out corpses of the mosquitoes and flies….muhahahaha

  4. FRY — any details on how to tell which ones work and which one’s don’t? I bought one (at a local Carrefore-like) store on sale but it doesn’t seem to attract the mosquitoes with it’s little bluish florescent bulb. I thought then that maybe the ‘killer’ electric mesh was a sham, but I took it apart and there’s a little circuit board and wires…I wasn’t about to use my finger to test it though.

    Luckily my trusty mosquito ‘bat’ and new like ‘camping at home’ mosquito netting is doing a good job.

    Last night I thought I’d give the local mom-and-pop shop my business and buy a electric outlet there instead of at the box-mart. Unfortunately when we tried it, it sparked. 不行!

  5. The style=”margin-left: -2em;” span that you put around “某某” makes it display right on top of the words before it.

    I’ve got one of those lights, and I don’t think it works that way. So far, I’ve been pretty pleased with my 電蚊香, but I’m not sure if it has some bad effect on people or not. It’s gotta be safer than coils, though.

  6. When I was living in Shanghai I bought this thing called an “Electric Mosquito Bad.” It was like a tennis racket except made out of some kind of aluminum mesh. You put two giant D batteries in the bottom and when you pushed they button it would send a pretty strong current through the mesh, thus allowing you to both swat and electrify all unwanted bugs in one fell swoop. Flies generally were more fun because they would audibly pop.

    In retrospect, I really got too much fun out of that thing.

  7. I dunno about bug zapping lights, but those burner things that vaporize repellent out of an attached bottle work really well. The only problem is that while the thing is getting rid of the skeeters, I wonder what its doing to my health as I sleep and breath in all the fumes?

  8. yeah, Electric Mosquito Bad 电蚊拍, so cool when people brandishing it, LOL
    anyway, from my experience, bug zapper light doesn’t work well as it supposed to be —— insect’s habit changes from time to time though.

  9. I hate the damn mosquitos in SHANGHAI, they are so damn small and many. My calves are still torn and red after all the scratches I got from last time, and almost a year has passed since then. It’s crazy how they can last.

  10. My personal favorite Chinese mosquito extermination device is the 电蚊拍 (dian4 wen2 pi1). It’s a an electrical racket that you swing at mosquitos just like you’re playing tennis. When you connect, it sparks and makes that loud bug zapping sound. Great fun for all ages.

  11. Am I the only one that doesn’t trust themselves with such a device? I mean, I work with children… and sometimes they’re a right royal pain in the ass… never mind as a practical ‘under the sheet’ gag at home…

    As for the blue light thingy… Dezza, you mentioned them to me the other day and they’re top of my list for things to grab at the supermarket this weekend (along with a feckin’ fan…).

    We’ve been using those RAID incense coils and they do an alright job… but I’m with dace in the “worried about my health” boat.

    And anyone curious about the rackets – check out – the link was actually one of the ads on this post – who knew companies specialized in this 🙂 haha.

    PS: John, what effect? I was all giddy, and nothing.

  12. I used the incense coil things when I lived in Hangzhou, but like dace and The Humanaught, I was always a little worried about what I was breathing. Then I took a look at the air in Hangzhou, and realized it couldn’t really be much worse.

    Thankfully (for me, not for her) I married mosquito bait, so I’ve not really gotten bit in almost two years. We bought one of those mosquito lights for the wife, though, and it seems to be helping.

  13. So how does such a light work?

    Also, I’m really hanging out for part III of how you learned Chinese…

  14. @Cooper,

    A bug zapper is a device that attracts and kills insects that are attracted by light. A light source attracts insects to an electrical grid, where they are electrocuted by a high-voltage. (From Wikipedia)

  15. i think fresh blood is more attractive to mosquitoes…
    Warning! Never put a bug zapper beside you, unless you’re entirely wrapped and determine to face the main forces all through the night.

  16. We have one that plugs in to the wall and smells weird but sort of nice. but I’m not sure it works yet. Although I’ve only been bit once since it has heated up in Nanjing, so maybe it is?

    And also, I am jealous of you feeling nostalgic for learning new words. I’m at that point where I am starting to wonder how many more can really be stored in my brain and feel like there are a bunch (and by a bunch I mean hundreds) that I just CANNOT remember, no matter how many times I write them.

    I think I have to hear/use them just as many times. And that is taking forever.

  17. Jenn, in psychology there’s a theory about language that says words will be remembered best if they’re rapidly reviewed in a short space of time, then with increasingly long intervals between reviews. So, you might practice the words along intervals like this:

    Start, 15 min later, 30 min, 1hr, 2hr, 4hr, 8hr, 1 day, 2 days, 4 days, 1 week, 2 weeks, 1 month, 2 months, etc. etc.

    It works best if you practice the words a different way each time, i.e. saying it in a sentence, writing it from its English definition, reading it in a passage from the article you learned the words from. When I take words I’ve picked up, I personally start at 4 days then move onto 1 week, 2 weeks, etc. I generally only practice the word twice on each interval.

    Hope this helps…

  18. Hey Aijin, nice tip!

  19. Kingsley Says: May 28, 2007 at 12:26 pm

    The mosquito bat is the best, but unfortunately it’s banned in Australia. I brought one back with me before customs caught on, but now there are big pictures of mosquito bats in the airport here. It’s so satisfying to use – surely someone could come up with a modification that would satisfy western countries’ safety laws….

  20. The same thing in Taiwan is called 捕蚊燈 which is probably closer to what it really does, as some sources say that mosquitoes aren’t even attracted by the light emitted from these devices… Or maybe the Mainlanders are more of optimists here and that’s why they call it 滅蚊燈?

    No matter what they say, it does get some of the mosquitos and usually scares the sh… out of me whenever they get caught and explode. Poor bastards 😉

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