THE LAST CORMORANT FISHERMEN

THE END IS ONLY THE BEGINNING FOR TWO EIGHTY YEAR OLDS

by Ron McGinty

I will tell you what the last cormorant fishermen, Yue Chuanand Yue Ming, do now but first, let’s gaze into their lives.

Brothers Hung Yue Chuan (88) and Hung Yue Ming (82) began a life of fishing before the age of ten in a remote region of the Li River. Both are capable of fishing today, but the river was over-fished.

As young men, they built their homes close to the river and next to each other. In the Hung’s homes were pictures of not only the current household but also multiple generations.

I experienced a lifestyle still very basic with kitchen stoves no more than an open fire with a grate. Twelve-foot ceilings helped for the summer heat; winter demands lots of blankets. The saying “want not need not” is visible.

Yue Chuan has one son and three daughters, and Yue Ming has three daughters and two sons. Unfortunately, Yue Ming lost his wife due to diabetes two years ago, not much medical care. The male children normally follow in their father’s footsteps, but theirs had to leave for work in the city.

The most valued treasure I found in China is family. What is cormorant fishing? The cormorant is a bird who spots and dives for fish. The brothers each have two birds. The birds live by the river and are working companions. They attach a loose string around their necks and loose enough not to cause any discomfort to the birds. It is small enough to keep the birds from swallowing fish too big and are taught to return the fish to the boat.

The men would paddle daily upstream for hours on a homemade bamboo raft. Yue Ming and Yue Chuan threw their large fishnets all day. The work is strenuous but provided food and the needed money to support their families. They are true entrepreneurs.

Today it takes about $6,000 annually for family survival even with their minimal life-style. This held true for all the fourteen minority villages I visited through China.

Preferring to travel for photography by myself, I needed a private guide. My desire was to visit non-tourist places during my three-week journey. Fortunately, I found, Mia Beales of Guilin, she’s lived in China for over nine years. Her life as a guide and professional photographer has created a close relationship with people in the minority villages as friends. Minorities are non-Hunand live as mega families.

The next chapter in the Hung family is fascinating. They found a need for tourist and advertisers to take scenic pictures. Currently they sell their time as models. I was blessed to go past the picture takers and spend some time with them in their home. It was amusing, sitting with Yue Ming on his bed, he so was enthusiastic to show his photo album of advertisers. The one series he loved the most was beautiful models in bikinis on his boat holding a bottle. I don’t know what the product was, but it looked like sunscreen. You may see them in magazines in the USA someday; I wouldn’t be surprised.

The journeys of additional villages will be presented in subsequent issues of Life in Naples.

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