Chapter 15 - Lianhua.
Seven days later we were back on the ship, those of us who had gone with Jacky to Beijing after the music festival. We returned with the official stamp of approval for a sixteen months tour of some of China's major universities, all accessible with our ship, located in China's major cities: Beijing, Tianjin, Shenyang, Jiang, Shanghai, Manjing, Wuhan, Chonquing, Chendu, Hong Kong, Guangzhou. Jacky's department even promised to contribute the full portion of the scholarships that would be required to carry out the program.
In the spirit of celebrating our success, Wai-yi launched a ceremony in which she placed the gift we had received in honor of our contribution to the festival. She found a spot for it on the front wall of the main lounge where it would be in the morning sun according to the way our ship lay in dock at our home base.
It was on our way home from the festival, on the waters of Poyang Hu, and once again in the middle of the great lake, that Steve shut the engines down as before and let the ship coast to a stop. He announced that it was lunchtime. He added that it was also storytelling time. "Mei-seong has a story to tell," he announced. He didn't reveal what the story was about, and Mei-seong would say no more than to suggest that the story reflects the kind of journey we have had.
Lunch was quickly set up on the upper deck in anticipation. Everyone hurried. It seemed to me that we all felt that a great treat was in store for us. Mei-seong sensitivity to the human dimension of the world precluded any lesser conclusion. It fueled some speculation while we ate, as to what kind of story it would be and why we would have to stop for it in the middle of the lake that appeared so large at this point that it gave the impression that we were on an inland sea.
All that Mei-seong would reveal further, was that her story was not only related to our cultural visit to the small fishing town across the lake, but also to our more distant past and to our future projects, especially those that Steve had outlined earlier. She also offered in the same breath that she would manage some of these projects for us in case that Steve would really go back to America to get his country out of the rut as he had said earlier he might. She added that she was presenting the story in Steve's honor to serve him as a light on his path to help his people back home to resolve their crisis, and to help the people of the world in the same way. She said that her story reflected on that. "It also reflects on what we all must do to prevent the hands of power from paralyzing Steve's country and every country in the world," she added.
Since she wouldn't say any more, the preparations for lunch went faster that day. At least, so it seemed. Also the time required for eating seemed shorter. There was an unusual anticipation in the air that I contributed to a large degree to Mei-seong gentle nature and her love of her county's history and her understanding of its modern challenge.
Mei-seong began to tell her story while some of us were still eating. She said that this was important to the story, because the story was about living.
The story begins in an age long forgotten. It begins at a time when two kingdoms had been at war with each other, which had so destroyed their resources and ravished the land and the people, so that no victor emerged. Eventually, the war stopped. Only the blindness of the rulers remained the same as before, which had made life evermore intolerable for the surviving population.
In order to save themselves, many of the wisest of the people of both kingdoms simply fled into the wilderness. It seemed easier to suffer the hardships and uncertainties of a primitive existence than to continue to live under the yoke of increasing cruelty and unfulfillable demands. They felt that they would sooner starve to death than to continue to live this life of constant agony.
As it was, they did not starve to death, and why should they have? The people who had taken these courageous steps had been the most intelligent of the population. After all, they had managed to survive the war. They soon realized that the wilderness in its primitive way had still enough resources to support them, meager as they were, and that these resources could be utilized if they used all that they had learned, and went beyond that.
So it was that they built themselves shelters with the straw of wild grasses, interwoven with the reeds that grew in abundance at the riverbanks. They also built nets with them to catch fish, and baskets to carry fruits and berries. In this way their life became richer and freer than it had ever been.
Eventually, the two groups of refugees met up with each other. They met not as enemies, but as fellow human beings, eager to learn from each other and to support one another for their common good. Thus life was good to them all.
But this was summer time. No one knew what the winter would be like in this vast water bound wilderness from which, it was said, no one ever returned.
Before the winter set in, a traveling monk came upon their summer village as he followed the trails that they had created. He followed the trails to explore the phenomenon. As a traveler, he was familiar with this wilderness. He was also aware of how the wilderness would change during the rainy season, how the rivers would overflow and flood the land. He told them that their village and their food would all be washed away.
In order to help the people, since he came from an ancient and honorable order, he invited the people to his valley where a monastery was located, a hidden valley, nestled between snow bound mountain ranges where monks had made a living for as long as anyone could remember. He told them that there was plenty of room in the valley. There was even a lake at the far end of the valley, some distance away from the monastery.
The people were sensitive enough to understand that the monk's offer was genuine. So they went with him on his trek across several mountain ranges. They traveled in their new clothing made of fur from the animals they had hunted. They carried also the food they had gathered, dried fish and dried berries, which they shared with the traveling monk.
Upon their arrival, they found a good land, indeed. They also found a number of food plants growing in the wild that could be cultivated. They found fish in the lake, wood in the forest. They used stones from the mountain slopes to build houses and irrigation dams, and terraces to create gardens on the steeper slopes that would retain the rainwater. They utilized all the knowledge they had gained in their previous world, and so, they prospered. Within a year they had turned the poorest part of the valley, which the monks had found useless, into a rich and welcoming place with a design that enhanced the beauty of the land.
It was at this time that the people learned from a caravan that the rulers of the monastery had a design of their own for the people, which they warned the people about. They told the people that the ancient order had a history of enslaving people into their service, not by force, but by their cunning in creating a front of mystic authority that overpowers a people's spirit, that weakens their resistance to them, by which they would tend to become willing slaves.
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