By Raymond Zhou
"Meet me by the lake - at 6 am."
If you simply look at the setting of this rendezvous, you might be forgiven for thinking this is going to be a romantic tryst. But Shi Lansong, 45, is talking to a bunch of eight-year-olds, and he says these words every day.
Shi is their teacher. But to reach the two-room school on the other side of a hill, Shi has to ferry his pupils across a lake, or they have to trek more than an hour over the steep hill.
The lake, named Big Dragon Lake, has the same physical features of karst-rich Guilin, but to Shi and his pupils it provides a shorter route - albeit one fraught with dangers.
As a volunteer ferryman, Shi Lansong is responsible for the safety of Wei Yufei and Chen De, two first-graders, both aged 8, and Chen Yanzhi, 7, and Chen Yu, 5, both preschoolers.
He used to carry eight kids - a maximum of 13 at a time - from different villages around the lake, which could take as many as four trips. Shi has done this for 25 years, making a total of some 18,000 trips.
Not only is Shi not paid for this work, he has to shoulder the cost of the canoe. So far, he has used up eight of them, with each one lasting about three years. The first three were made from trees in his backyard. Then, he had to buy the timber, at a cost of 300 yuan ($44) a piece at first - when he was making 120 yuan a month. Later, the price of timber rose to 700 yuan, but he was earning only 200 yuan.