Cormorant Conundrum


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Asia » China » Guangxi » Yangshuo
April 3rd 2013
Published: April 18th 2013
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Cormorant ConundrumCormorant ConundrumCormorant Conundrum

They were beautiful birds, but bad decision Lottie :(
We set off to explore damp but bustling Yangshuo, a small town on the Li River surrounded by beautiful karst mountains and paddy fields, in Guangxi province. Until the late 1980s it was just a little rural marketplace but then the tourists started to arrive in Yangshuo at the end of their cruise from Guillin. The place became very popular and is now something of a tourist gem with plentiful restaurants and activities on offer. Sadly this means that omnipresent McDonalds and KFC dominate part of the entrance to the main town centre.

Side-stepping these mingers we picked a far more salubrious restaurant for brunch. The circular tables all had 'lazy Susans' for rotating the shared dishes. Dennis teaches us some more Chinese to use when in restaurants. So we learn you have to literally SHOUT 'foo yuan' and the waiter, or more often waitress, comes rushing over, not minding having been shouted at in what seems a really rude way to our western ears. We find out that 'ping pee joe' is cold beer - well lager really. However it seems that China, Australia and New Zealand have something in common - inaccurately naming lager as beer! I try to explain to puzzled reactions - what, do you mean Guiness? Er no - beer! Ale! Dark colour, bitter tasting. Nah, this is beer they assert confidently. Ok I say and fall in line and call lager beer to keep them happy 😉

We also learn to say 'shear, shear' or thank you and find out there are hand signals for numbers too. Numbers one to five are pretty obvious. Then six is holding up just the thumb and the little finger, a bit like when you mime using a telephone. Seven is the first and second finger touching the thumb and pointing with them. Eight is the first finger pointing and the thumb raised upwards a bit like shooting a gun. Nine is the first finger hooked over and ten is either a fist punch or the first and second fingers crossed and pointed skywards.

Dennis helps us to order a selection of dishes to share. Veggie ones include celery, peppers and cashew nuts and a kind of eggy custardy gloop dish that you have with your rice. We also have banana fritter balls which are really tasty. Dennis reckons he is becoming a westerner as he
Minging McDonalds is literally polluting the worldMinging McDonalds is literally polluting the worldMinging McDonalds is literally polluting the world

Even in China they let this global monstrosity in to fatten up the Chinese.
now prefers to order the rice WITH the other dishes, something that the Chinese never do as they feel it fills you up too much to enjoy the other dishes properly.

After brunch we have a bit of free time to explore the rest of Yangshuo before our cookery class at 3.30pm so me and Renee set off together to explore the winding streets eventually splitting off to do our own thing. I manage to escape the souvenir shops and restaurants and get down by the river edge for some lovely views of the Li River and boats moored up with the beautiful mountains as a back drop. Here I am met by a tiny old guy who has a couple of cormorants balanced on a pole and so to the cormorant conundrum in the title of this blog entry. Is this practice cruel or not? I had long heard about cormorant fishing from one of my favourite childhood books 'Missee Lee' by Arthur Ransome. I'd also seen the beautifully filmed HSBC ad that used the cormorant fishermen of Guillin. So I'd kind of hoped I'd see them in a weird kind of way, but also wondered whether it
Colourful fruits for saleColourful fruits for saleColourful fruits for sale

At the back are the large, pear shaped pomelos - a kind of large grapefruit.
was as cruel as it seemed. So I had a photo with the guy feeling rather guilty for having done so and vowed to find out more about it. So here is the low down...

Cormorant fishing has taken place in China for hundreds of years, since about 570 AD. Fishermen train the birds from chicks under a praise and punishment system, so the birds know no other life. Before taking the cormorants out fishing they are often starved to make them hungry so that their hunting instinct will kick in. Before they release the birds the fishermen tie a noose around the cormorants' necks to prevent them swallowing the fish they catch. The fishermen then start bouncing on their bamboo rafts and chanting and singing to encourage the birds to dive. It's then that the birds' hunting instincts takes over and the skillful cormorants become underwater hunters, taking any fish they catch back to the raft as they have been trained. In a session a bird can catch and deliver up to 25 fish. The cormorants often have their wings clipped so they don't fly away and they have a loop of string attached to their leg to allow the fishermen to hook them back up onto their perching poles.

The birds are therefore, in effect, slaves. However they aren't stupid. Once the birds have captured and delivered 7 fish to the fishermen they are usually rewarded with a smaller fish to eat themselves. It has been observed that cormorants seemingly are able to count up to seven as they will refuse to catch any more fish after this until they have received their reward!

It seems that cormorant fishing is no longer commercially viable as a technique on its own and fishermen have to use more modern fishing methods to make a living. The tourist trade has provided a continuation of the practice taking people out to show them how it is done. So us tourists are prolonging this activity and I was part of it! Now I wish I'd read up on it BEFORE I went to China. It was lovely to see these beautiful birds up close, but perhaps not the best way to do it. Binoculars or bird ringers would do a far kinder job. So my instincts were correct - it is cruel - all birds should be free - obvious really!

Later I bump into Renee again and we head back to the hotel where we promptly both fall asleep, our body clocks being somewhat confused. By the time we wake up it is almost time for our cookery class!


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The karst mounds are everywhereThe karst mounds are everywhere
The karst mounds are everywhere

Every view down Yangshuo streets is framed by the karst mounds that punctuate the landscape with their knobbly beauty.


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