There are certain places that you read about and you get all excited. Your imagination runs wild and your heart starts beating faster as you get closer.
While researching the places I wanted to see during my short trip through China, this one was, perhaps, the most promising. The Guilin area is famous worldwide for two things: the otherworldly karst mountains and the cormorant fishermen. Together, they can bring magic into the lens of even the most demanding of photographers.
But, the only constant is change, as Heraclitus famously said. We live in a fast changing world and things that existed ten years ago may be completely gone now. The landscape gets transformed permanently, usually for the worse, individuals change the way they live and even entire communities change their ways of life. The most frequent case is that ancient ways of living are forgotten and the western and capitalist values are taking their place.
XingPing used to be a fishermen village, more than one thousand years old. The traditional way of fishing was to use cormorants. In the evening, the fisherman would take his bamboo raft in the water together with a lamp, which attracted the fish. Then the cormorant would dive and return with the catch. It had a rope tied around its neck so it couldn’t swallow the fish. Instead, it was easy for the fisherman to retrieve it, keeping the bird hungry so he could use it again and again.
A few years ago I saw photos of them in magazines. This year I found the mountains, but I was told the fishermen don’t exist anymore. Nobody fishes (like that) anymore. It is easier and more profitable to use the rafts to move tourists up and down the river. It’s an entire industry. Hundreds, if not thousands of motorized rafts and boats roam the waters of the Li River. I doubt there is any fish left, from all that noise and pollution. I couldn’t even find the bamboo rafts, even if almost every local in the village spends his day asking the passing tourists “Bamboo? Bamboo raft?”. Actually, today’s bamboo rafts are made of some kind of plastic tubing. White, plastic tubing, plus an engine at the rear.
For those who seek to experience or at least see the old ways of life, there is, of course, a solution: there are a few locals who, for a certain amount of money, will stage a private show for a group of tourists. They come dressed poorly, with raft, birds and lamp and they will pose exactly how you tell them to.
The world is changing before our eyes. And some things will be gone forever, very soon. While that might not be so important when it comes to human traditions, as those are constantly evolving, it is a lot more important when we’re talking about altering the landscape and the ecosystems around us. We most NOT let our greed make us take too much, too fast.
In the image, two men are cleaning the water near a small dam, in the village of XingPing, China.