Today we went to the 花鸟鱼虫市场，that is, the “Flower-bird-fish-bug market,” and bought a pet cricket like in that Disney Mulan movie. There are couple of these markets in Tianjin, and it’s basically like a giant pet-and-houseplant bazaar. People go here to get flowers for weddings and funerals, pets and pet stuff, and house plants. Most popular seemed to be fish, birds, and turtles, but there are lots of cats and dogs and crickets, plus snakes, lizards, scorpions, tarantulas, a huge centipede, rabbits, rodents, hermit crabs, snails – and all their various foods. It’s not a tourist place. I imagine many Westerners would be just as likely to sic PETA on the cat merchants as they would be to buy anything – it’s like kitten and puppy prison, where half of them are sick and they have to sleep on the bars, and when you get close they get all whiny and desperate and even more pathetic. So other than that, it was a really cool place. The birds can say “你好” (hello), imitate cell-phone rings, and, when we were there, were learning to give women compliments.
One cricket is less than a dollar, and comes in a little woven ball. They’re easy to find if you’re on the right street because dozens of balls will be tied together and all the chirping is really loud. And you can accessorize them like mad: small magnifying boxes for baby crickets, all kinds of fancy cages and boxes (some carved wooden ones with special sound holes), carrying cases so you can go for walks with your cricket in your pocket… Some of our neighbours, who saw us on the way in, wanted to examine it for colour, chirpiness, and I have no idea what else. Apparently it’s a bit of an art, having a pet cricket. We’re gonna set ours free in a day or two – sooner if it chirps too much.
From what people have said, this market is only a fraction of its former glory, when it was all outside on the street and you had to wade through an ocean of the ridiculously cheap flowers to get to all the pets. But it’s still better than our neighbourhood because it’s further away from the new Olympic stadium. As we biked over this morning I realized that they aren’t as tight on the street vendors in places further away from the roads destined for heavy Olympic traffic. We didn’t even have to go looking for lunch, and found a lot of the food we’ve been missing from the streets in our neighbourhood. Some foreigners (like us) are starting to hope that they’ll let the street vendors come out again once the Olympics are over.
More fun bug photos can be found here.