It’s amazing what one can pack into 36 hours when faced with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience a place as extraordinary as Beijing.   After visiting the Great Wall (see earlier post), Bill Mayer (SDMoM’s Board Chair) and I spent the remainder of our short time in the Chinese capital exploring some of its most significant sites:  Tiananmen Square and its imposing presence,  the Forbidden City and its seemingly endless grandeur, and the deeply moving serenity of the Lama Monastery and its larger than life Buddhas.  Thanks to some new friends at the American Embassy, we also enjoyed a private meeting with the Director of the Beijing Museum of Natural History as well as a fascinating tour of this world-famous institution.

What strikes me, however, is that our most memorable travel-related experiences are also often the most unexpected.  It happened to be cricket fighting season in Beijing, and, lucky for us, we stumbled upon a match while wandering one of the winding alleyways in one of the city’s many Hutong districts.  We watched in amazement while ten or so men gathered, wagered, and eventually cheered as  two crickets were placed in a plastic box.  Then, agitated by skewer-like sticks, the crickets finally battled.  After a short series of aggressive melees, one cricket chirped before hopping away, and it was quickly ushered out of the ring before the victor bit its leg off.  While some of the men in our midst happily reaped the benefits of their bet, others chalked up a disappointing loss.  We moved on, reflecting upon how simultaneously different yet similar many of China’s cultural practices are from our own.   

Later on in our trip, two crickets found their way—deep fried— to our plates and, true to anthropological form, our stomachs during a large banquet celebration during the Humanity Photo Awards.  Now that’s what I call “participant observation” at its best!

Micah D. Parzen, Ph.D., J.D.
Chief Executive Officer