(the Happy Times)







  • Eighteen kilometers from the city center and a crowded 15-minute bus ride from the huge metro terminus at Xinzhuang, the township of Qibao is a different kind of neighborhood. An official heritage attraction, a stroll through a past violently disavowed for its feudalism during the Cultural Revolution but now embraced as folkloric national culture, Qibao is newly elegant with canals and bridges, narrow pedestrianized streets lined with reconstructed Ming and Qing dynasty buildings, storefronts selling all kinds of snack foods, teas, and craft goods to Shanghainese and other visitors, and a set of specimen buildings skillfully renovated as sites of living culture: a temple with Han, Tang, and Ming dynasty architectural features, a weaving workshop, an ancient tea-house, a famous wine distillery, and—in a house built specifically for the sport by the great Qing emperor Qianlong—Shanghai’s only museum dedicated to fighting crickets.

    All these crickets were collected here in Qibao, says Master Fang, the museum’s director, standing behind a table laden with hundreds of gray clay pots, each containing one fighting male and, in some cases, its female sex partner. Qibao’s crickets were famous throughout East Asia, he tells us, a product of the township’s rich soils. But since the fields here were sold off in 2000, crickets have been harder to find. Master Fang’s two white-uniformed assistants fill the insects’ miniature water bowls from pipettes and we humans all drink pleasantly astringent tea made from his recipe of seven medicinal herbs.

    Master Fang has considerable presence, the brim of his white canvas hat rakishly angled, his jade pendant and rings, his intense gaze, his animated storytelling, his throaty laugh. Michael and I are drawn to him immediately and hang on his words. “Master Fang is a cricket master,” confides his assistant Ms. Zhao. “He has forty years experience. There is no one more able to instruct you about crickets....”


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