Cormorant Fishing

In celebration of worker’s holiday, May Day, Greg and I headed three hours south to Baiyangdian, the largest freshwater lake in China. The lake first formed in the early 1200s when five dams simultaneously broke, creating a scenic spot that has been come to be known as the Guilin of northern China, a city known as the Venice of China. When I first read about Baiyangdian, it was described as a serene, beautiful area offering floating hotel rooms amid a sea of lilies with a boating butler who serves “freshly peeled grapes” at your doorstep. As Greg later put it, the travel book “betrayed” us, the first of many scams we experienced that weekend.

The next “betrayal” started when a rickshaw driver took advantage of our naiveté of the area and coaxed Greg and I to follow him through an incredibly poor part of town and meet his friend, a boatwoman, who would take us to a scenic spot on Baiyangdian Lake. We bargained the boating price down half the original price and after 30 minutes of a peaceful and stunning ride, arrived at a rundown amusement park. Once we convinced our guide he could indeed read a map and this was not where we wanted to be, we turned around and headed back to the bus station to pick up a real taxi. Our new driver confirmed we’d been duped and took us to the actual scenic area.

Our hotel

When picturing Baiyangdian, those of you who have been to Venice, put it out of your mind; those of you who have been to Mexico City, think of a bigger and less colorful Xochimilco. Instead of mariachis serenading you from their rowboats as you sit comfortably with Corona in hand, canopied motor boats revving 60 horsepower engines sprint past you, spraying a refreshing spritz of questionable lake water on your face.

"Da ya" - "Hit Duck"

After bearing the rough seas, we arrived at the closest thing to our requested houseboats – a string of single rooms raised on stilts above the water. The way our boatman mothered us through the process of getting a room and introducing the restaurant was endearing until we realized he received a cut of everything we spent, which turned out to be minimal considering the restaurant’s prices were three times more than normal. Nevertheless, the view and environment were great. When night fell, I felt like I was back at camp in New England, or at a resort where all you can do is walk, eat, drink and sleep.

As we boarded our wooden boat the next morning, I noticed a carnival game nearby and upon further inspection discovered a painful sight: ducks tied to a raft for target practice with gas-powered guns shooting squash balls. While the boss demonstrated how the “game” worked, I couldn’t help but think, “What would Margie (my mother’s animal-loving best friend) do?” She would jump in the lake and free those birds. Sadly, I lack her spunk, and was too shocked to function or think clearly about what was happening.

The rest of the day was spent unsuccessfully dodging spray from motorboats on the way to visit the area’s questionably cultural sights, such as a dragon supported by a giant yuan coin in a pool of standing water.

The trip showed me what domestic tourism surrounding Beijing is like. There is no doubt people will try to scam you, but I have to say I have never felt safer while traveling and for the most part enjoy being hurtled into these new – sometimes mind-blowing, sometimes frustrating – situations.


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