After a four-hour flight from Beijing, I am met at the Guilin airport by an older woman holding a bag of clementines. We will ride together for the next two hours along deserted mini malls and through rolling mountains, eventually making stops for the herds of cows who block our passage from urban to remote.
Although our journey is in silence because we have no shared language, she occasionally indicates that I should eat another clementine, or maybe we should stop for a picture at one of the postcard-perfect spots we eventually come across. I happily nod yes to everything.
We are on our way to the Langshi Village on the Li River. With a population just over 40 (meaning 40 people, not a middle-aged commune), the description of this accommodation intrigued me: a Qing Dynasty house in a small fishing and farming village where you can feel “at home in authentic rural China.” And rural China it is.
My driver brings me to the Yangdi Village Harbor where she delivers me to a ferry captain with the rest of the clementines and a surprisingly big hug. From there I board a small boat with a dozen pre-teens who can’t stop smiling at me. As a tallish, blonde American woman, it is impossible to blend in, so I am smiling too.
After just a few minutes, we arrive on the other side of the river. The sheer majesty of the surrounding mountains is staggering. The way they roll and dip so gently — they create a rhythmic, undulating skyline. The air still carries the brown haze that dominates so much of China, but here its faintness only adds to the painterly scene.
The sun is starting to set when I finally reach the house, and the temperature is dropping quickly. Usually there are more guests, but the caretaker Haibo explains that there isn’t much demand for rural China in December.
I spend the next four days taking walks, reading, writing, eating meals freshly prepared from the garden, and sipping tea with my jovial neighbors; these locals try to teach me elaborate card games with hand signals and exaggerated happy and sad faces, and it all becomes wonderfully farcical.
Haibo suggests I add a hike with his mother to my agenda. One of the few English words she knows is “slowly,” and she will use it a great deal with me as we climb a steep, rocky mountain together. Her beautifully expressive smile makes me want to know what stories she has about life here. But like my jovial neighbors, her warm, happy face will have to suffice for now.
Langshi Village certainly isn’t a major tourist destination, nor is it bustling with stores, restaurants, museums; in fact, it has none of those things. But this magical spot in rural China has so many quiet layers to uncover — peaceful, inviting, untouched — it feels wholly different than anywhere I’ve been before.