Serendipity: Fighting and Singing Insects—on Beigan, Taiwan November 27, 2010
By Kevin Stoda, Matsu Islands of Taiwan
About a month ago, my wife and I had seen a program from National Geographic on “the cricket man” and fighting insects of China and Taiwan.
While the role of fighting crickets dates back in Chinese history to over two millennia ago. It is a relatively new sport in Taiwan, where I now live..
That episode of National Geographic, my wife and I had watched was focused primarily on crickets and their trainer in Taiwan. However, part of the program involved a journey to Shanghai with some of these champion crickets for an international match.
That episode of National Geographic focused on the journey of a small-town, but nationally-renowned raiser of crickets. The man, named Ango, has been raising crickets and promoting entomology in schools for many decades.
Till-our-present-day, international cricket combat championships are still held in Beijing, the traditional seat of the Chinese empires. However, crickets and their do-jo masters have made the trip from Japan, Taiwan and the Koreas.
Crickets have far more to offer than fighting skills. Historically, crickets are items for eating connoisseurs throughout Asia. In addition, they have been main (& beloved) and have become characters in Disney movies. Recently, they have played roles in modern alternative music.
Naturally, poets and other romantics have also sung odes to the joy of listening to crickets in the evening. Most of us consider crickets therapeutic and relaxing to listen to.
According to the National Geographic, “The biological features that make crickets want to fight may also offer help for audiologist researchers.”
This is where serendipity or coincidence in space and time fit in with my wife and my experience here in the Matsu Islands this week.
Namely, there is this very weekend a traveling “Singing Insect” exhibition with entomologists and musicologists staying at Ban Li Elementary School where I live and work. Among the leading organizers of this nationally touring exhibition (sponsored by the Quanta Culture & Education Foundation) is Dr. Jen-Yze Yang, Department of Entomology at the National Chung Hsing University.
Dr. Yang was a main character and advisor for the National Geographic program on fighting insects in Taiwan, which I had seen with my wife for the first time in October. Dr. Yang is also President of the Biological Society of the R.O.C (Republic of China or Taiwan). The Quanta Culture & Education Foundation sponsors such touring exhibitions as the one here in Ban Li—and organized by people like R. Yang– in rural parts of Taiwan, i.e. schools and school districts that have been relatively underfunded (or poor) for decades.
Children along with their teachers have come today from three different islands to take part in the all day learning event and exhibition “Singing Insects”. Today’s program and exhibition focuses, therefore, on katydids (grasshoppers), cicadas, and crickets.
An original exhibition, which explored the nation’s attitude towards insects (especially singing ones) appeared in Taipei in 2009,
One lesson from that exhibition was: “The tradition of keeping singing or fighting insects can be found in other cultures. The Japanese keep katydids as pets to appreciate their singing, and beetle fighting is a traditional form of entertainment in Thailand. Meanwhile, there are cases where a species of singing insect can have very different meanings in different cultures. Locusts, for example, are seen as a curse in some cultures since one of the plagues of Egypt in the Bible was a swarm of locusts, which ate all the country’s crops. But for the Thais, locusts are simply a good source of animal protein. Chan Mei-ling says that the Thai government bans the use of pesticides on crops to avoid ‘contaminating” the locusts, trading starch for animal protein. Locusts in Thailand are either deep-fried before showing up on a dinner table or canned for sale in supermarkets.’”
While in Taiwan, there has been a boon in recent years in the popularity of another larger insect, i.e. the Taiwanese beetles, crickets are certainly making a comeback.
Most students, I interviewed at Ban Li Elementary–who were going to and from the exhibition and presentations on music and insects–stated unequivocally that they loved crickets (and Katydids). I know I am interested and have already learned a lot about the therapeutic workings of cricket singing to me (and to other crickets).
For example, “Young, male crickets that hear their older peers’ mating songs are more likely to be better at fighting off infections when they’re adults, researchers have discovered. But males raised in silence aren’t as good at keeping the same illnesses at bay when they reach maturity.”
I also have come to know that crickets are already making many musicians become more inspired by their sounds (and training in music).
Check out what Robbie Robertson and others have put together with crickets singing the background for a Native American narration.