Day 161 – Nightswimming

Chinese people are not the cleanest in the world.  The level of willingness to discard rubbish on the floor is hard to accept coming from the UK, though given the number of people employed to sweep up it never accumulates to awful levels.  Refuse though is far more tolerable than when the Chinese discard of biological fluids.

Spitting is something that whilst not endemic is conducted by enough of the population to make the nausea inducing sound of mucus being summoned before the splat of liquid against floor an all too common an occurrence (both outside and inside buildings).

Then you get to one of the ‘joys’ of travelling round China….the toilets.  Outside of your hotel or a McDonalds you are generally looking at some genuinely unpleasant experiences that make the one in Trainspotting look like the Savoy.  After nearly 3 months in Asia we are now accustomed to the squat toilet (apparently a medically better position than western porcelain thrones) but the standard of the facilities in this country is a new low.

Toilet paper is almost always absent (so you are always prepared), running water to wash your hands is hit and miss (hand gel), but again these are not uncommon when travelling the world.  However unique to China (at least so far on our travels) has been a general lack of doors, or even walls in some cases, for cubicles and there are certain activities that you don’t really want witnesses for.  For a nation that built the Great Wall and the Three Gorges Dam how hard is it to find some chipboard and a couple of hinges?

Our overnight journey from the boat to Yangshou consisting of 3 bus and 2 train journeys meant that we endured more of these experiences in the last 24 hours than we would have liked and arrival at our hotel for some calm cleanliness is extremely welcome.

In the evening have a chance to see the local fisherman play their trade, and head out into the darkness aboard a flat bamboo raft with the crew of 7.  Fishing might not seem the most interesting activity, but when you notice that the crew of 7 is made up by 2 men and 5 large Cormorant birds you realise that this will be something out of the ordinary.

The process doesn’t seem the most ‘animal friendly’ at the start as the birds have reeds tied round their necks to prevent them swallowing anything too large, but this how the process works.  When released the birds dive into the dark waters and swim with great athleticism and grace giving the local piscine life not much of a chance.

Anything small enough to be swallowed even with the restriction is theirs to keep, larger fish are caught in their mouths.  The fisherman keeps a watchful eye on his flock and with great dexterity pulls the birds from the water through the combination of a pole and a rope loop attached to the feet of the birds.  Once on the boat the birds are encouraged to deposit the larger fish before being returned to the waters.

These days the traditional is kept alive almost purely for the purposes of tourism, but historically it was the remarkable way that the locals would fish the river.  At the end of the shift the larger fish are fed to the waiting Cormorants as we head back to the hotel and much needed sleep after the overnight train.

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