A Path of Adventure in Guilin, China

Longji - PingAn-21

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

This ancient wisdom by Lao-zi is one of the most famous pieces of advice from the Dao de Jing.  No matter where you are in life or what difficulties you face, the philosophy is simple: begin resolving the issue by taking that first step.

The smallest of efforts, if consistently taken over time, can have unimaginable results, just as a tiny seed of rice can one day become a great field of grain able to feed a village.

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As someone who would rather stay at home and read a good book versus going out to a club or party, I could easily spend my days sitting back over a cup of coffee to contemplate and dream.

Taking that first ‘single step’ is easy in dreams.  To actually make an effort is another story.  It is easier to keep the dreams internalized, until one day they vanish and are replaced by regret.  That is the danger.

Not fun.  I’m guessing everyone has experienced such moments to some extent.

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Prior to my first trip to China, I received a journal from my sister that had a quote from Joseph Campbell:

“You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path.

Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path.

You are not on your own path.

If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential.” 

Words that are a perfect complement to Lao-zi’s advice at the beginning of this post.

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Forging your way through a dense, dark forest has many similarities with forging your way through life: bugs and mosquitoes buzzing around all the time, the occasional leech taking more than they give, but the reward of the adventure is the discovery of beauties that unfold and make life shine.

Creating a path will bring fear and uncertainty, but without those spices of life, is life really worth living?

Li River-1

These quotes of Lao-zi and Campbell rang true during my continued travel in Guilin, where I met people who lived life through those very words.

The previous days along the Li River, reliving the past with the mystical ‘Chinese Fisherman of Folklore’ had me in a reflective mood of the past and the present.  Entering the Li River valley and agricultural lands, I began to see people who looked as though they were simply making it day-by-day.

Part of the population left behind during China’s rapid ascension to modernity and wealth.  Hearing their stories was the highlight of the trip.

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The stories all involved some description of their hardships in one manner or another and all ended with some variation of “we all must keep moving forward – each day, life’s journey begins with the first step.”

While I enjoyed these discussions, as with most older Chinese, it was impossible not to see in their eyes something they were holding back: dark times of the Cultural Revolution.  Times I have never heard discussed.

Today is where they are, and in their control.

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One strength of people I admire, is the ability to react and thrive in a crisis.  No false bravado or panic, but their ability to find the opportunity imbedded in the crisis and move forward.

When John F. Kennedy was asked about his heroism in World War II, he simply said: “It was involuntary, they sank my boat.”  He had to find a way to save both himself and his crew; to understand the crisis and take the necessary action to achieve the best resolution possible.

Every crisis brings stress and danger and, while cliché,  it also provides opportunity.

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The Chinese character for crisis is 危机 (Wei-Ji).  It is made up of two characters: ‘wei’ (危) which means danger and ‘ji’ (机) which makes up the word for opportunity.

As my friends have told me, focus only on ‘wei’ (危), and you will miss the ‘ji’ (机), and the crisis can begin a downward spiral.

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The people I met in the Guilin countryside seem to understand this concept of crisis quite well, and adhere to its philosophy.  They can control “the now”, and therefore shut-off the worry of what has happened so they can take that fresh first step in their journey through life.

Often it is fear of this first step that is hardest to conquer.  To forge ahead knowing you are facing the unknown.  Much like finding a place in the forest, where it is most mysterious and dark, but the perfect spot to forge your own path.

There will be danger, yet take that first step and find the opportunities.

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Longji - PingAn-11


52 Comments on “A Path of Adventure in Guilin, China

  1. Yes, I too just recently began to learn to focus on “JI”
    I read somewhere recently about the dangers of visiting our yesterdays, there’s always a tendency one may very well remain there.
    Life’s journey though filled with many obstacles must always be looked upon as opportunities given to make better whatever negativity one is encountering at the particular time.

    The sequence of the posting of your images always have a hidden message to me. I particularly like the second to the last photograph, to me it resonates hope. What could be more refreshing and hopeful as the face of an innocent child. After many images conveying just what parts these people have threaded, one see’s through years of struggle, perseverance and acceptance of the inability to change the reality they have,but the power to choose to focus and actually perceive a clearer future. The image of age worn faces still productive in their way of lives, and yes, a vision of hope still, in the face of innocence about to forge it’s own path.

    • Wonderful comment and so true Dotta. It is hard not to think about “yesterday” and dwell on issues that have long passed, and it is dangerous if it becomes a habit. Sometimes I think we forget about the responsibility we have to ‘take that first step in our journey’ and that living in the present is where it begins and where much of our focus should be.

      Yes, your insight into the sequence of the photos is right-on. At some point in our lives, I think our focus shifts from ourselves and onto the hope of the future (children). It is an opportunity for us to continue to positively contribute to the world, especially as “the face of innocence about to forge it’s own path.”

      Have a great weekend!

    • Thanks Mark, this series came together pretty easily due to both the beauty of the place and people around me (as well as a little luck with lighting). Cheers!

    • Thank you, often it is the path taken to get the photos/experience that is so enlightening – and if lucky it can show itself in the final piece of work.

  2. Exciting photographs, Randall, each one of them.
    This post made me smile, it made me want to reach out and… and breathe in that air. It made me curious about the story of people from all over the world, social anxiety put aside 🙂
    The ‘Wei-Ji’ philosophy inspires awe. I can’t put it very well in words but when such simplicity hides a world of beautiful complexity, I find myself befuddled… amazed, actually.

    Your posts are a delight! And I think I just found my favorite.

    • Very happy you like the photos Meghna, and I agree that there is something special about meeting people from different cultures. Much to learn and share with others – and by doing so it becomes easier to see simplicity in this complex world 🙂

      Very nice to hear that you liked the post and the philosophy borrowed from Laozi and Campbell. It is a philosophy I see in many people I have met, and it is inspiring. Thank you again for your kind words!

    • Thank you. With the beautiful scenery and lighting, it was tough not to take a nice photo. The people there were all so wonderful that I am looking forward to returning soon!

  3. Phenomenal photography and even better message! There is always some form of light in every situation, whether we see it or not depends on the status of our eyelids. Thanks You for widening my scope of motivation.

    • Very nice words, and thank you much. You are so correct, every situation has some form of light to lead you through, just have to find it. I am very happy you like the photography as well.

  4. “Creating a path will bring fear and uncertainty, but without those spices of life, is life really worth living?”

    No, it isn’t. I relate to this all so well.

    A beautiful post about the human heart and bravery and risk taking and all that there is that makes life meaningful and one wise. Like Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” those of us who listen to the beck and call of the unknown will never regret it. Stunning photos as always. I could look at particularly the first one all day!

    • What a great poem by Frost, thanks for introducing it to me. Looking at some of his other work, his words reflects the way I’d like to live life – making the most of the time we have.

      A very thoughtful and insightful reply, so thank you very much. Wish you a good weekend!

  5. Wonderful images from Guilin and along the river Li. And I love what you write about Ji.

    • Thank you, such an interesting area to visit – and hoping to return in the winter. Keep up the great shooting.

  6. Just had a mini holiday by looking at your photo’s. They are so poetically shot. I’m completely in love with the close up of the old woman and the sawa’s!

    • Great reply, thank you. I really find solace in photographs, and like you mention, I can lose myself in a set of photos ~ just like a mini-vacation. Also, love the description of my photos being “poetically shot”…one of the nicest compliments I could imagine. Cheers!

  7. Spectacular pictures, Randall. They remind me a lot of places I’ve visited in northern Vietnam. I particularly like the picture of the houses with the rice terraces curling round them. I’ve only been to one corner of one province in China, but would love to go back and see more.

    • Yes, I too noticed some of the similarities between Yunnan/Guilin and the southwest part of China and with Northern Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia with some of your shots of SE Asia. There is so much to see in China/SE Asia…and your work in SE Asia has really brought out the culture/way-of-life of the people.

    • One thing in life I have come to realize is being in the right place at the right time, with the right attitude (and camera) and good things will happen. 🙂

  8. Thanks for letting me camp out in your blog for a little while today. I had a great time and tried to leave my campsite as good as when I arrived. I’ll be back!

  9. Pingback: Dào (Dao, Tao) – the Way | Leadership By Virtue

  10. Reblogged this on closetoeighty and commented:
    I am glad to introduce to my followers another post of my friend Randall Collis. Each of his posts is a combination of poetic philosophy with poetic photograpjy. Here is a short quote from this post: “Every crisis brings stress and danger and … it also provides opportunity.” Thank you, Dalo!

  11. What a great blog! I traveled through Guilin while on an adventure in China and loved the scenery and people! I also visited Longshen which was very mysterious and enchanting! Thanks for sharing those photos and bringing back some of my favourite memories

    • Isn’t is just one of those enchanting places? Nothing like photos to return someone back to a good memory, I think that is why I enjoy both viewing and shooting. Cheers.

  12. Randall, truly a breathtaking set – you have a gift for capturing both people and landscapes. Although I haven’t been to China, the imagery transported me back to Laos, Indonesia and Vietnam. Since I’m ever aiming to improve my photography, I’m curious what equipment and image-editing & management software you might use?

    • Hi Tricia, thank you…I am a Canon shooter, my big three lens are: 16-35mm, 24-70mm and a 70-200mm. The 24-70mm is now my favorite lens (it varies so much, I have a couple prime lens that are great to shoot with when I bring them out and when I do they become my favorite…). The only image processing software I use is LightRoom 5 which I love…it has it all. However, I do use PhotoMatix when I need to shoot HDR for landscapes (very mixed feelings on HDR). Wish you happy shooting and a great weekend.

  13. The last two paragraphs of this post brought to memory an old country song I remember my parents listening to…hmm. I can’t come up with the name of the artist. I think the song was called Step by Step…but I don’t know. One of those good slow dancing songs where the artist has this fantastic deep voice. Oh yeah! 🙂

    Sorry, your post was nice, too. I heard a nice deep narration coming through, I think. 😉
    Haha. Sorry. I kinda cracked myself up there…could be time to call it a night. Or morning.

  14. Wa, really stunning pictures!! I like Guillin and it is my mother ‘s hometown. Beautiful and calm.I miss the fresh air, waterfalls, plants everywhere. 好懷念小時候常去桂林

    • Thanks Jenny, aren’t the memories we have as children the best! 我安排十一月份会去桂林 🙂 Agree, the environment there is incredible… Cheers!

      • Agree 😊😊😊 真的嗎?好羨慕喔。我都沒假期去。有去過 陽朔 嗎? 也很漂亮

      • 阳朔去过,同意非常漂亮!有的阳朔照片在https://dalocollis.com/2013/07/29/ancient-fisherman-of-folklore/

  15. Amazing, as per usual. Of course, you’ve set the bar, Randall, so I would expect no less. 😉

    • One of my favorite places I’ve visited Kev, such a different world heading out into the countryside. Thank you!

  16. I love your pictures! The living and so natural colors are breathtaking :-). Have a nice weekend! Bilere

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