Spider Culture / by Max Berwald

There is one day during the year when it is impossible to find a spider in Hong Kong. This is because once a year all the spiders in Hong Kong have a meeting. The meeting is held in an underground convention center. By spider standards this is a very large convention center, capable of accommodating every spider in Hong Kong, but by human standards it is not very big.

Many announcements are made at the meeting, but the most important announcement is this: who will be the spider king. The king of the spiders does not have any particular power over the other spiders. But since most of the spiders do not live longer than one or two years, each spider knows that he will have only one or two chances to be the spider king.

The spider king does not have any particular powers, but he does have fame. The name of the spider king is extremely important. Once the name has been announced, all the spiders react differently. Some gasp or swoon, needing to be revived by a spider friend. Others shake their heads knowingly and say, of course, of course. But every spider immediately commits to memory the name of their new king.

Spider culture is primarily a working culture. But they do sing songs, especially in greeting. If one spider comes across another spider while hunting, it’s not unusual for both spiders to burst into song. Spiders are able to know the same songs in part because their culture is so monolithic: all songs involve the name of the spider king, and all are very similar.

Once the announcement has been made, a great deal of spider energy is immediately channeled into the production of songs. Everywhere you go, every spider is humming its own tune, trying to work the name of the spider king into some new and infectious melody. These labors don’t go on for very long, because once a few good songs have struck the mark, the rest of the spiders are happy to admit defeat: that is, to give up working on their own songs, and start singing the ones already gaining a following.

Another reason spiders are able to simultaneously burst into song upon meeting is that there are no fashions in spider art. The only fashions in spider art (which is primarily musical) are for what has come before, and what has come before is always the same as what has come before that. Another element that helps all spider songs sound the same is that there are not very many spider names. In fact there are only two spider names. This means that each year, the spider king’s name will be one spider name or the other.


Max Berwald is a Beijing-based writer from San Diego, California. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared on the Anthill, Aweh.tv, Potluck, Blackbird and elsewhere. He currently edits the Read section of Loreli China.