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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Guilin and Yangshuo: Day 4 (the second tour)

Continuing on...

It would be hard to top our just-completed 3½-hour boat ride along the Lí River 漓江 from Guìlín 桂林 to Yángshuò 阳朔, but the tour my wife had booked while on board the ferry unfortunately didn't come even come close. Another mixed group of Chinese and non-Chinese were bundled into a large tour bus and driven off to see cormorant fishing and to take some pictures of poor rural dwellers. 

According to Wikipedia:

Cormorant fishing is a traditional fishing method in which fishermen use trained cormorants to fish in rivers. Historically, cormorant fishing has taken place in Japan and China since about 960 AD...
To control the birds, the fishermen tie a snare near the base of the bird's throat. This prevents the birds from swallowing larger fish, which are held in their throat, but the birds can swallow smaller fish. When a cormorant has caught a fish in its throat, the fisherman brings the bird back to the boat and has the bird spit the fish up. Though cormorant fishing once was a successful industry, its primary use today is to serve the tourism industry.

It's supposed to be done at night, when torches are used to lure fish closer to the boat, but supposedly the recent rains had left the rivers too swollen to do so. I suspect, however, a willing local fisherman can be found on short notice to demonstrate the techniques of cormorant fishing to picture-snapping tourists. It was a brief but admittedly interesting demonstration:

All this took place next to the 600-year-old Dragon Bridge 遇龙桥, which I somehow neglected to take a photo of, though I did get a couple of shots of the surrounding countryside from the span itself:

Also taking place on the bridge was my daughter showing off her superhuman strength by holding up a heavy bamboo pole with a cormorant perched on either end:

The crumbling houses of the surrounding village drove home the fact that while many Chinese have become affluent over the past several decades of explosive economic growth, the majority of the people in the country still have at least one foot in the Third World. I couldn't bring myself to take pictures here, but one house I had no problem with belonged to the local party official, in a scene that no doubt plays out all over this vast country. Interestingly, our tour guide mentioned who the homeowner was while speaking in English, but said nothing about it to her Mandarin-speaking charges. I assume it's because they already knew:

Before getting back on the bus, Amber had the opportunity to both feed and get on a water buffalo. She learned the difficulty of wearing a short traditional Chinese dress while trying to ride an animal bareback, a memory I hope she recalls when the day comes when she'll want to put on her first miniskirt:

Voyeuristic though it may have been, at least the village was a real community. The second couldn't be said for our next stop, a "water town" of sorts dedicated to some of the region's local ethnic minority groups. Believe it or not, we were put on boats that puttered around the waterways, passing stages where representatives of these local ethnic groups "greeted" us with snippets of their colorful "native" songs and dances. The whole thing felt like being on the jungle cruise ride at Disneyland or a visit to some kind of human zoo:

At least some of the locals appeared to be benefiting from the influx of tourist RMB, judging by the number of new houses dotting the shoreline:

And there were some appealing sights that defied the make-believe quality of the ethnic amusement park:

Amber is at the age where none of this matters, as long as she can be one of the lucky ones who caught a silk ball, originally part of a kind of bouquet-tossing courtship ritual conducted by one the minority groups, but here thrown out for the benefit of the punters:

Tourist trappings aside, the countryside exuded some charm:

Still, it was with a great sense of relief (on my part, anyway) when were finally able to check in to our lodgings that evening, the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat 阳朔胜地. The wonderful view of the Yùlóng River  遇龙河 from the balcony of our comfortably-appointed wood-floored room made me wish we had arrived earlier so as to savor the one-night only experience just a little bit longer:

Next up: Moon viewing and bamboo rafting

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