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I’d had my fill of imperial palaces, warriors, pagodas, jade, and even pandas after a few weeks in China. Although I had been very pleasantly surprised by much of the Middle Kingdom and had relished the opportunity to see many big cities like Beijing, Xi’an, Chengdu, and Shanghai, the hectic pace and smothering crowds had me ready for more of the countryside as I headed south to Guilin, the Li River, and the small city of Yangshuo.

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The Guangxi region looked and felt very different from much of the China I had seen in the preceding weeks. I felt like I’d stepped out of the craziness of big-city smog, traffic, and crowds, and into a time-forgotten traditional Chinese landscape painting.

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The Li River area had a misty, ethereal air about it – indistinct mountains off in the distance, a light haze rising off the river, and quiet country folk going about their daily business in the foreground. Time seemed suspended.

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The Li River flows languidly amid towering limestone karst formations. Water buffalo plod along the shore and wallow in the shallow water, and fishermen in long graceful boats ply the waters.

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Occasionally, a phalanx of boats clusters together on the riverbanks and small markets spring up.

China and Tibet 2009 820After about four or five hours, the riverboats dock in Yangshuo, a lively town. But rather than bumping shoulders with the many tourists on West Street who have come to souvenir shop, eat, and drink, we almost immediately head off into the countryside for a look at the rice fields and small country homes of area farmers.

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Our heads bob sleepily, and our breath slows markedly as we bump along in bicycle-powered buggies and quickly become transfixed by the rhythmic swaying of the rice plants.

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Farmers walk unhurriedly behind their buffalo and plows, knee-deep in water. Their deliberate pace is calming to us, and the scenery appealingly soft and green, belying what is surely a chore for them, trudging behind their animals under the hot sun.

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We cycle through small villages, seemingly from another era, where we pass quaint stone houses adorned with fresh and dried flowers and plant life.

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It is a dreamy day back in time down by the river, a calming escape from the mega-cities, and one of my favorite memories of China.

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Prompted by the Weekly Photo Challenge: Time