What's the best way to become a top rat catcher? A Guangzhou man who wanted to be the best in his field decided to move in with the scoundrels - and he learned a lot from them.
Li Jingjiu, 64, estimates he's captured some 600,000 rodents during his 25-year rat catching career. His largest rat weighed about 1.15 kilograms.
He wasn't always looking down rat holes, however. Prior to launching his own company, Li was a self-employed termite catcher.
"My father was a termite catcher, so I've practiced the skill since my early childhood," Li says.
However, catching and destroying termites did not earn him a lot of money. He caught termites for Aiqun Building, a large hotel in Guangzhou in the early 1980s. That job earned him just a few hundred yuan a year. But things changed.
One day in 1983, he was on the job catching termites in the hotel when he ran into a group of people from Hong Kong trying to capture rats.
"They said the hotel hired them to catch rats for two days and gave them 2,000 yuan (US$260)," Li says. "It was an extremely high price at that time."
At that point, Li decided to follow the rodents to the money. But he soon found that rats were a quite sneaky, elusive bunch, much more so than termites.
"Rats are very cunning," Li says.
In order to learn how to catch rats, he traveled extensively across China, meeting with insect experts and rat catchers. However, what he learned didn't work, so he began thinking like a scientist and conducted his own study.
"Seeing no way to solve my problem, I decided to live with rats," Li says.
He rented a small, shabby shed in a suburban region of Guangzhou, bought a cage of rats from another rat catcher, let them loose, and watched them closely for two months.
The shed was small and dirty, Li recalls, and rats like it. Gradually, the rats regarded the shed as their home. Li ate all his meals and slept there every day, until he learned the rats' living habits.
Li discovered a few things. The mice dig several holes in a room, all pointing north or south. He also found that rats like to plug up north-facing holes in the winter and block south-facing holes in the summer because it helps maintain a constant temperature, he says.
He offered them a variety of food and learned that male rats like wine while female rats prefer chicken blood.
He discovered rats like to leave their nests after sunset. Between 6 and 7 pm, the big rats sent little rats to roam around for food or spot enemies outside. A few hours later, big rats emerge to do their own inspection and after about 11 pm, they all step out to gather food and take it back to their nests.
Li used his newfound rat knowledge to improve his tactics. Soon, he helped hotels, shopping malls and office buildings with their rat problems and his reputation developed and spread around the city and in the Pearl River Delta.
In 1991, a Chinese chamber of commerce official in Thailand read about him in a Hong Kong newspaper and invited him to catch rats plaguing a wet market there. But it didn't go smoothly.
"I nearly lost my title as 'king of rat catchers' in Thailand," Li says.
The head of the chamber invited local journalists to witness Li in action but the news wasn't good. His special poisons did not attract any rats.
"The journalists booed at me in the market," Li says. "Some of them even said I had a false title."
Li was puzzled to discover that what was very effective in China failed him in Thailand. But as he's done before, he conquered this new problem.
During dinner in a Thai restaurant one day, he discovered that the local rats had local tastes. He went into the restaurant's kitchen and hauled away a bucket of leftover food. "The waste smelled very sour and spicy. My guess was confirmed then," Li says.
The next day, he went to the market and tried to catch rats again. But this time, he used the sour and spicy sauce on the rat poison.
"I caught dozens of rats that day and maintained my reputation in the country," he says.
Li has set his sights on a new challenge.
The widely publicized flood this summer in Dongting Lake region of Hunan Province has resulted in a scourge of rats. Local people killed more than two billion rats. However, the carcasses of the rats have damaged the environment.
Li Jingjiu says he knows of a special method to tackle the rats and he intends to go to Hunan to hunt them.
"I will excavate dozens of holes along the banks of Dongting Lake and put plastic bags with delicious food in the holes," Li says. "The first step is to catch male rats, so I will put good wine in the plastic bags."
He intends to bury them in holes or burn them. He predicts each hole could hold more than 100 rats.
To get to Hunan, Li will cover his own travel expenses. And he says he enjoys sharing experiences with other rat catchers from across the country. This time, he will stay there for a few days and demonstrate his new method of catching rats.
Li's company focuses on capturing rats in commercial and residential buildings. He has employed more than 30 people in Guangzhou and his company has branched off in many cities across Guangdong Province.
Li hopes his story could offer inspiration to young people to show them that they could distinguish themselves in any trade.
"No matter what you are doing, you will succeed as long as you devote yourself to it," Li says.
(China Daily August 7, 2007)