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CHANGING CURRENTS
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2 Playing the Waiting Game
3 Beware the Ides of March
4 The county not on a map
5 Chinese Chess in Beijing
6 Build it and They'll Come
7 Riding the Water Dragon
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10 Welcome to the Wangba
11 The Catcher in the Rice
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15 A Century of Migration
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17 Rise of Yorkshire Puds
18 Harry Potter in Beijing
19 Standing Out in China
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21 Strolling on the Moon
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25 Christmas in Haerbin
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30 The Great Exhibition
31 Spreading the Word
32 On Top of the World
33 Moonlight Madness
34 Beijing's Wild West
35 Avatar vs Confucius
36 Brand Ambassadors
37 Inspiring Adventure
38 China's Sweet Spot
39 Spinning the Wheel
40 Winter Wonderland
41 The End of the Sky
42 Ticket to Ride High
43 Turning the Corner
44 Trouble in Toytown
45 Watch with Mother
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47 In a Barbie World
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49 Tale of Two Taxis
50 Land of Extremes
51 Of 'Mice' and Men
52 Tour of the South
53 Brooding Clouds?
54 The Nabang Test
55 Guanxi Building
56 Apple Blossoms
57 New Romantics
58 The Rose Seller
59 Rural Shanghai
60 Forbidden Fruit
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62 Picking up Pace
63 New Year, 2008
64 Shedding Tiers
65 Olympic Prince
66 London Calling
67 A Soulful Song
68 Paradise Lost?
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70 Red, red wine
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74 Bad Air Days
75 Golden Week
76 Master Class
77 Noodle Wars
78 Yes We Can!
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81 Wise Words
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86 Pick a card
87 The 60th
88 Ox Tales
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BIRDS IN CHINA - PHOTOS
BIRDING in CHINA
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A Soulful Song

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Second thoughts

May Day isn’t quite the holiday it used to be.  For many years, the 1st May was the start of the second of the annual “Golden Weeks” – public holidays lasting a full seven days.  The other two seven-day holidays – Chinese New Year (in January or February depending on the phase of the moon) and the October holiday (from the 1st to the 7th October – to honour the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on the 1st October 1949) are still on the calendar.  But the “May Day week” has been relegated to a three day holiday (the other days have been used to mark more traditional festivals). 


  But May Day is still an important holiday – in northern China particularly, where the winter seems to go on for an age.  For many in this part of the country, May Day signifies the proper arrival of spring; and the attendant feel good factor is palpable. 


  The beaches of Beidaihe – “Beijing’s seaside resort" – were thronged with long-weekenders.  The many fishing ponds around the town were packed with fisherman to the extent that it was difficult for many to swing their rods.  The Olympic Park (the town’s biggest park) was buzzing; as was the Lotus Hills (the mountain park on the western edge of town).  Everyone – locals and visiting Beijingers alike – was determined to make the most of the day.


  As well as beach volleyball, rollerblading, football, table tennis, beachcombing, swimming, and tennis, I encountered another “sport” that belongs to quite a different league:  the league of cruel sports.


  It was 5.15 am. 


  I saw a car stop at the end of the track.  From it emerged a man carrying two bird cages, each containing a single Chinese Grosbeak – whose soulful song, he hoped, would lure migrant birds into the trap he was carrying.  I watched, unseen, from inside of the wood through binoculars as he set up his long “mist” net (so-called because the thread that makes up the net is so fine that birds can’t see it). 

 

  Rather than intervening straight away, I decided to wait for him to finish his work.  Twenty minutes later, with his trap set, he walked the 80 metres or so back to his car to wait for the first unsuspecting migrant to become tangled in the net.  This was not someone catching birds to eat or to sell for a few yuan to feed his hungry family; this was a man intent on enjoying a morning’s sport.


  Having waited long enough, I thought is was time for his net to bulge – but not in the way he was hoping for.  I walked to the far side of the wood, so the net was closer to me than to him; and then I walked quickly up to the poles that supported the net and tore them out of the ground, before ripping the net to shreds in front of him. 


  He was not amused to say the least.  Not only was he hurling abuse, he was running towards me with fists clenched.  I then took several shots – of the photographic kind of course – while returning a volley of abuse at him.


  “If you come any closer,” I shouted, “I’m going to hit you”.  This literally stopped him in his tracks.  He looked at me, covering his face as he did so.  I took some more shots.    Any thought of assaulting a foreigner – particularly one that would have seemed to him to be seriously unhinged – was dismissed and, instead of running at me, he ran to retrieve his caged birds, before marching with them across the field away from me.


  As he was retreating, I reminded him of the illegality of what he was doing (interspersed with some “street Chinese” of my own) and, just to rub the salt in as it were, also told him that the police would be calling on him later that day (thanks to my relationship with some influential people in Beidaihe who care passionately about the wildlife here).


  I had wrongly thought that things had moved on in my local town.  The last evidence I had seen of this reprehensible activity was more than five years before. 15 years ago, it used to be widespread.  But since then, even would-be bird catchers could not have failed to notice that Beidaihe is visited, every May, by scores of foreign birdwatchers who come here to witness one of the great migration spectacles in Asia – the mass movement of birds towards their Siberian breeding grounds. 

 

  The local government has embraced the concept that the area is on the world map of important ornithological sites, and its tourist brochure dials up this as well as its green credentials. So netting wild birds in Beidaihe and the surrounding area is not just illegal (as it technically is all over the country) it could also be politically damaging. 


  Hence my surprise, and indignation, when I spotted this bird catcher on the edge of the Nandaihe “Magic Wood”. I’ve visited this fast-shrinking coastal wood in 14 of the last 15 Mays, and over the years I have found some incredible birds there (hence my naming it “Magic”); and in all of that time today's encounter was the first time I have seen a bird-catcher. 

 

  Let’s hope he tells his bird-catching friends what awaits them if they dare go down to the woods today.

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The Bird-Catcher