Saturday, May 23, 2009

Cormorant Fishing...Kinda Cool, Kinda Cheesy

After arriving in Yangshuo, our guide (aka, the guy who hooked us up with that great jaunt down the Li River) felt the need to escort us safely to our hotel...But not without a quick stop first...At a local tour agency.

As you can probably guess from our previous posts, we're just not that into tours. We have actually been enjoying China on our own terms very much. Yet, for some experiences, there is no choice in the matter. And so, when the list of optional tours around Yangshuo emerged, one did leap off the page...Spend an evening with a cormorant fisherman and his famous birds.

Cool!

So we paid the hefty fifty kuai per person fee, and were told to return at seven p.m.

At seven, we made our way back, and were escorted to a dock on the river. There we boarded a long, noisy, flat-bottomed boat (loaded with waiguoren!), and ventured in the dark toward a light glowing in the middle of the river. There he was, standing on a bamboo raft, with his cormorants, ready to push downstream to catch dinner, literally...Eighty year old Bai Xiansheng.

And so we followed alongside his raft, as he propelled it with a bamboo pole. His cormorants, diving into the water, swam furiously and grabbed fish as they passed by. Small ones, they were allowed to eat. Large ones were collected from them by Mr. Bai and thrown into a basket.

So how exactly does a cormorant determine which fish are the appropriate size for a snack? A just question, with a rather unsavory answer...They have a rope tied around their necks, to allow only tiny fish to be swallowed. (Despite how interesting it looked, I'm not so sure how I feel about this...)

Anyways, at the end of the ride, both the boat and the raft pulled onto a small island, and everyone disembarked. Then Bai Xiansheng offered to take pictures (for a small fee), and to allow his birds to sit on your shoulder. In an uncharacteristic move, we took him up on both offers. (Nine hundred ninety kuai less than holding a baby panda, I might add!)

In the end, an hour-long excursion with a man who has obviously practiced this ancient form of fishing for many moons was very cool, in that we were able to watch first-hand the techniques used and the beauty of these swimming birds. On the other hand, it was a bit gimmicky (aka, cheesy) for our tastes. Geared toward foreigners, and including a story of how Mr. Bai was the actual fisherman who took Bill Clinton cormorant fishing during his visit in 1998, and significantly overpriced, this was definitely a one-shot deal for the Ballas.

~Desi

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