He appeared suddenly, carrying a wooden case. Chest bulging, he introduced himself as Mr. Cricket. Christina and I thought he was joking. We were eating a home-cooked Chinese meal in a Beijing, China Hutong when Mr. Cricket walked up and began telling us about cricket fighting.
In a deep raspy voice that matched his deeply wrinkled, suntanned skin, Liu Yong Jiang explained how he has raised fighting crickets for 30 years. He reached into his sweatshirt, pulled out a jar with a cricket inside, and set it on our lunch table. We started laughing. The man couldn’t be serious.
But he was.
Baby crickets take 100 days to mature to adulthood, but fighting begins at two months of age. Mr. Cricket explained that he uses a stick with two mouse hairs attached to it to train his cricket. He has to be very careful in handling a cricket, as picking one up with the hand could break its legs. He uses a wire strainer to catch and pick the insect up, and special utensils for cleaning and feeding it.
To prepare his cricket for a fight, Mr. Cricket bathes, feeds, and waters it. The fight occurs in a bowl. Competitors fight until one jumps out. The winning cricket sells for a lot of money, sometimes into the thousands of dollars. Mr. Cricket showed us his 2005 China Cricket Fighting Championship certificate. His prize was a car.