A LUNCH MEETING IN THE HUTONG HOME OF MR. LIU, THE CHAMPION CRICKET TRAINER:
One of our Beijing Hutong experiences is a visit to Mr. Liu’s courtyard residence to have lunch at his hutong home. We’re usually not keen on big lunches, and hesitate about joining this optional lunch excursion, but it turns out to be one of the more entertaining and engaging experiences of our China trip.
Mr. Liu, as it happens, is a champion cricket trainer and his stories about cricket fighting competitions in China are most enlightening.
On arrival at Mr. Liu’s residence, he and his wife welcome us to their home and lunch is the first order of the day. Very promptly, food appear on the table – there is a wide range of dishes all prepared by Mrs. Liu.
A Charismatic Character
After the very tasty lunch, we gather in Mr. Liu’s living room and he begins to show us newspaper clippings and magazine articles that had been written about him and his champion fighting crickets. Mr. Liu does not speak a word of English, but from his expressions and gesticulation, we get the gist of what he is communicating, occasionally with the help of the local guide. He is an excellent narrator and we tell him that he has potential as an opera performer.
Cricket Fighting in China
Mr. Liu says that the Chinese bet on the cricket-fighting competitions and that it is possible to win big prizes – he once won a car which he gave to his son. Knowing the Chinese penchant for betting, and gambling in general, it’s not surprising since they are known to bet on anything that moves.
Mr. Liu shows us the miniature tools he uses for raising and training his crickets such as little porcelain baths, feeding bowls, scales etc. To us, it is all quite hilarious, but cricket fighting is actually big business in China, running into hundreds of millions of Renminbi. It seems that the passion for cricket fighting dates back to the Tang Dynasty, but was banned during the Cultural Revolution as it was deemed to be a bourgeois tendency.
The average cricket life span is only 100 days and Mr. Liu is very sad whenever any of his cricket dies. He even has little coffins made up for them.
His current champion cricket is one that he calls ‘Tyson’. Tyson does look menacing compared to the other crickets.
Mr. Liu passes around his fighting crickets for us to hold and I don’t know who is more nervous, me or the cricket…probably me!
A Hard Life in the Past
Mr. Liu is all smiles today, but life hasn’t always been rosy in the past. Curious as to what work he did previously, before his cricket training passion, we pose the question to Mr. Liu.
He tells us that as a young man he was sent to Mongolia for “re-education” for seven years. “Re-education” was of course a euphemism for Mao Zedong’s “Down to the Countryside Movement”, where privileged urban youth and anyone suspected of being a capitalist or bourgeoisie is sent to remote mountainous areas or farming villages to learn from the farmers and workers there.
Life was really tough during that period, with very little food to eat. So when his re-education was completed Mr. Liu decided to become a chef so he could smell and eat food. Although Mr. Liu makes fleeting mention of this period of his life, I think we can all imagine how hard it was for him and others suspected of not embracing the Communist ideology during the Cultural Revolution.
An Ecclectic Garden
Mr. Liu’s friends call him the “Pet Captain” as he keeps all kinds of pets. We take a look in his garden and there are a variety birds, tortoises, guinea pigs, etc. This bird surprises everyone when it calls out a loud and very clear ‘ni hao’ to anyone walking by.
Mr. Liu encourages Tony and I to climb up to the tree house and we oblige him. When we reach the top we find a flock of pigeons nesting and they aren’t the cleanest or nicest smelling birds so we climb down quickly. Meanwhile, at ground level, Mr. Liu is laughing his head off.
Such is the endearing nature of this man that even though he doesn’t speak a word of English most of us connect with him. Without exception, we all feel that our Beijing Hutong Experience and meeting Mr. Liu are some of the high points of China trip.