Sunrise over the Li River. Limestone hills lift straight up from the water. Terraces and dwellings glint in the mountains above Guilin. From a dirt road we descend rocky steps to the river. The scent of wood fires and the slow smokeless burning of refuse greets us. Vendors line the road to the river selling souvenirs, live animals, herbal remedies and aphrodisiacs.
a faint odour of shit
hangs in the air
The Li flows over smooth pebbles down to the sea. It is one of the most important waterways in the region. A fleet of tourist boats shadow the quay, sunshine flares on the unusual lime-stone formations, then rises above the hills.
It is Sunday on the river. Fishermen tie their cormorant’s throats to prevent them swallowing the fish before letting them dive, women wash their family’s clothes along the banks, and naked children swim in the brown water. Water buffalo wait to cross the river.
Why do these sights cause us pain? It is the pain of comparing the simple life of these peasants with our own luxuries at home. These images—flashed with the sun on the river—will follow us. After a day spent on the river boat we return to Guilin. The moon is almost full and old men beat drums and blow bugles to scare away the demons.
across the river
a match flares and dims