This week: Cricket fighting - a violent part of Hong Kong history You all heard the recent headline news of Michael Vick, the NFL quarterback star, and his recent indictment and guilty plea in the United States for charges related to dog-fighting. It may all sound very far away, especially for someone who does not know who Michael Vick is and does not really watch NFL. But it brings to mind a very personal story much closer to home. I am pleased to say that dog-fighting or other gladiatorial animal fighting sport is uncommon in Hong Kong nowadays, but it certainly is not totally absent and was a part of our recent history. I remember when I was young, before I emigrated from Hong Kong to Australia, I lived in Kwun Tong. My father was a very traditional man. His upbringing was in a little subsistence farming village in Punyu in Guangzhou. He had very little education but was literate, much of which was self-taught. Why I give you this little bit of historical background of my father is because this is the excuse I give for a tragic hobby he had. He was into something I find as barbaric as dog-fighting; he was a cricket-fighting fanatic. He was brought up in another time when such barbaric behaviour was acceptable. That is what I say to myself. For those of you who don't know, crickets are a variety of jumping insects in the order Orthoptera and are similar to a grasshopper, but much darker and smaller. The Chinese, since the Tang dynasty, have had an interest in these aggressive little insects that can be provoked into fighting. On the mainland the fights themselves are still legal but gambling on them is illegal. In Macau, instead of baccarat or blackjack you can gamble over cricket fights. Like all gladiatorial sports my father would sit there and explain to me that there was a hidden beauty to these little insects he called his pets and there was more to it than the fight itself. You could exchange the nouns in this sentence with dogs, boxers, gamecocks and Roman gladiators. There is beauty in all these things through the rose-tinted glasses the advocates of these blood sports wear. My father taught me the significance and details of life even on this scale. I remember he used to take me out deep into the New Territories in search of the little critters. He took them home and bred them. At night when the house was silent, I could hear the crickets in the other room. My father would teach me how to listen to the songs of the cricket; the male crickets would rub one forewing along the teeth of the other forewing in a number of different patterns. This produces a chirping sound that is used to attract female crickets. The cricket's chirping would change with their mood. There was an almost sensual chirping, a mellow sound that was used to arouse the opposite sex. A very abrupt loud chirping serves as a warning to competitors. During different times of year, when the temperature and relative humidity changed, the sound produced was different. My father would rather sit there and listen to the modulating sound of crickets chirping than the new black and white television. It was a simple pleasure, one that rested and restored the soul. But then there is the irony of the cricket fight. This seemingly nature-loving man would then take these pets to a fight to the death. He would take me to the fights sometimes when it was his turn to babysit me. I remember the long climb up eight flights of stairs to the roof of an old flat. The roof was inhabited by lots of elderly people still smoking opium from pipes, which was common at the time. There was a contest ring lit by raging fires in barrels that had the double role of warming the spectators. And there were men busy making bets on the next fight. I avidly remember my father making a HK$2,000 bet on his coming fight. This was a staggering amount of money at the time and although I was young I appreciated that this gambling was a very bad thing. Then came his turn at the table. They would place the crickets in an old beggar's bowl that had a wide flat base about 15cm wide with a light tan colouration that made the dark contestants stand out. My father then took his prize fighter out, without ceremony, and placed it in the makeshift combatant ring with his left hand and the right hand held a modified Chinese calligraphy brush with feathers at the end that was used to enrage his cricket to fight. The crowd would go wild with excitement. It wasn't the Roman Colosseum but it was barbarism at its most primal. It was horrifying to see these little insects that made beautiful songs kill each other. I will never understand the spectacle of seeing one living thing bashing another living thing into oblivion just for entertainment. It is sad to hear that it still occurs in one form or another at this very moment somewhere in the world. I only hope that my life as a veterinarian will at least partially atone for the sins of my father.