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November 27, 2011

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Bugs in battle attract some foreign interest

CRICKET fighting is popular among locals in Chongming County. But it's almost impossible to see foreigners getting involved.

But this year, three Germans and a Chinese formed a team to take part in the National Cricket Fighting Competition in Luhua Town in Chongming. More than 100 cricket fighting enthusiasts entered their "favorite fighters" in the competition, which has been held in the town for eight years.

The Chinese-German team was one of 16 teams from seven provinces and cities including Guangdong, Jiangsu, Shandong and Shanghai.

The presence of the Germans added a buzz to this year's event as everyone was curious as to how the foreigners would do.

The only Chinese, Leonardo Li, 21, was the team leader, and he was supported by Till Olaf Voss, Tobias Bolle and Kai Braune.

It was Bolle, 28, project manager at the German Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, who first came across a notice about the competition on the Internet.

"I had already seen a cricket tournament in Qibao, Minhang District," Bolle says. "I later convinced the other guys that we should participate with our own team."

Everyone in the team was new to the sport and they had a lot to learn quickly.

Both Voss, 29, a lawyer, and Braune, 27, a student, said the only thing they knew about cricket fighting was that it had a long history in China.

"Surely, we have crickets in Germany as well," Voss says, "but we do not really care for them."

To Braune, the first time he had heard of cricket fighting was when Bolle told him about the Qibao tournament. "It seemed interesting," he said. "So I agreed to be a part of the team."

The team was lucky to meet Cao Zhicai, a 71-year-old cricket fighting master, when they were buying crickets at a bird market in Hongkou District.

Cao has been involved in cricket fighting for more than 60 years. Every child played when he was a kid.

The Germans asked Cao if he was interested in teaching them skills and tactics for cricket fighting. Cao agreed.

With the old man's help, they selected their "fighters" carefully at the bird market. The crickets they bought were pretty big and advanced fighters. They feed and trained them a bit following the teacher's instructions. Finally, they picked 25 for the competition.

During the three-day contest, they lost their first fight. Cao was so disappointed that he wanted to drive back to his home in downtown Shanghai and get some of his own crickets that he had trained.

Li says they finally dissuaded Cao from doing so.

"We once saw Cao's crickets during practicing and they seemed to be true gladiators," Li says. "Maybe we would have done better with them, but in the end we decided not to take them in. To us, Cao seemed to be rather sad. He had so much fun teaching the German guys. He really thought we could do it and therefore cared for us.

"And we think this is one of those really cool things about taking part in the competition. We met a lot of nice Chinese people that we would never have met under normal circumstances," Li adds.

Everyone on the team said they were glad they entered the competition.

"We didn't make it to the next round," Li says. "That's a shame. But of course we were new in this sport. The most important thing is that we came to learn more about a big Chinese tradition. And we made a lot of new friends."

Li learned some skills from other teams including "not to irritate crickets too much with a grass stick before a fight. Otherwise they get too tired."

Voss says the competition was amazing even if they lost all of their battles. The most important thing was getting to know Chinese competitors.

"It seems that most of them feel honored that three laowai (foreigners) coming all the way from Germany were interested in Chinese traditional sports. That was our main intention besides having some fun," Voss says.

"We want to show our respect to the country we live in at the moment. And we are pretty sure that our competitors got the message and appreciated it. So, we believe, everything worked out well."

During the competition, they wore German team shirts. Even now, Voss likes to wear it in public. He says people are curious and often start talking to him about cricket fighting.

"It was interesting to see that the other contestants were a lot older than us. But we still had a lot in common and a lot to talk about. That's kind of cool and shows the deep involvement of that sport especially with the older generation," Bolle says. "I really hope that this sport can be transferred to the young as well."

Leonardo Li

Age: 21

Nationality: Chinese


I'm a university student with an enthusiastic personality. I live in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province, very close to Shanghai, so I come here very often. I love the city and will be working here soon.

Cricket fighting has a long history about which I heard a lot. And I think two small insects fighting together are just fun.

It's really an amazing sport, and I think more and more people should learn it.

It was my first time to Chongming Island. It is very beautiful, people are very friendly, but what I like most is the clean air. It is very hard to find a place now in Shanghai with such fresh air.Kai Braune

Age: 27

Nationality: Germany


As a student, I'm enrolled in a mechanical engineering program. My hobbies are soccer, playing guitar and traveling.

I came to Shanghai at the beginning of September and will stay here until the end of February next year. Afterward I have to go back to Germany to finish my studies.

Chongming Island is great. I like the beautiful landscape here. It is a wonderful tranquil place to escape the noise in bustling Shanghai.Tobias Bolle

Age: 28

Nationality: Germany


I currently work as project manager in the German Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai. My hobbies are sports, especially German soccer.

After finishing university I went to Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, to do an internship at the German Chamber of Commerce, which later turned into a 2-year stay in Shanghai.

As I learned that crickets were the toys of the emperors and had a long tradition, I was desperate to find out more about it.

The cricket sport is related to nature and for me there was more to learn and experience than from someone who hangs his bird in a cage on the tree.

Well, the latter is surely also a very Chinese tradition but to me not as interesting as cricket fighting.

I went to Chongming Island for the first time and enjoyed the quiet and rural atmosphere.

It was a good respite from the hustle and bustle of the daily Shanghai life.

Maybe we can bring this sport/idea back to Germany.

We were already exchanging thoughts about a possible fight between German and Chinese crickets.Till Olaf Voss

Age: 29

Nationality: Germany


I'm a German lawyer and I came to Shanghai in August.

As a lawyer interested in business topics, foreign policy and Chinese culture, I wanted to gain some China experience.

I liked the idea of taking part in a cricket fighting competition because it is an absolutely unknown sport to Germans.

We know a lot about Chinese culture in Germany, and it's not just the food.

But cricket fighting is not among those commonly recognized things Germans know about China. That's why we were interested. We wanted to discover something truly new.

For Germans, China plays an important role. Many of our very successful German companies have been investing in China and employing and training Chinese employees for many years and, of course, for longer than other Western countries.

But it's not just that: The two great nations have become close friends over the years.

It all began with John Rabe (a German businessman known for his efforts to stop the atrocities of the Japanese army in Nanjing) back in the 1930s.

So I also wanted to get to know more about the country.

The first time I came to China was in April 2010.

I took part in a political business delegation (Shanghai, Hefei, Beijing) and loved it immediately. So I always wanted to come back for a longer stay, and now the dream comes true.


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