by Ray Jason
When the bus unloaded us at the Great Wall of China, our tour guide and her flock headed off in one direction, while I snuck off on my own. Such behavior was symbolic of my life in general. To escape the herd and transcend the humdrum has been a constant theme on my meandering Path. That contrary to ordinary behavior rewarded me splendidly on that day, and it has continued to do so down the decades.
We had been instructed to “stay with our guide” who would mother hen us along the acceptable route over the rebuilt part of the wall. But that beautifully restored section held little allure for me. What sang to my wandering heart was the massive serpentine rubble that undulated across the hilltops and off into the misty distance.
I was now sitting on the edge of that tumbled stone dragon trying to work up the courage to scamper across the rocks. Suddenly, I felt a light tapping on my shoulder. I was slow to acknowledge it, fearing that it was some security guard insisting that I “return to my group!” So, I was shocked to instead discover a small, middle-aged Chinese man. We both said hello using that most universal of all languages – we smiled. Then, moving his fingers along his forearm, he made a walking gesture and pointed to the toppled stones and boulders below us. I vigorously shook my head “YES,” and off we went.
Although I was considerably younger than him, he was considerably “goat-ier” than me. He leapt and bounded across that very challenging debris trail effortlessly, while I cautiously followed behind him. About 30 minutes later we reached what appeared to be the ruins of a tower, since it was taller than the nearby rubble. I assumed that it had served as a sentry post and barracks for the guards.
He pulled a small canteen from his pack and shared his water with me. Then we had one of those magical conversations that don’t require words. He lifted the hand with his wedding band, and then pointed towards my empty ring finger. I nodded, indicating that I was not married. We both feigned sadness and then we both started laughing with gusto. It was our way of acknowledging that the rigors of marriage defy all borders. He pantomimed that he had two children and when I inquired as to their sex, he demonstrated with crude but effective sign language. We were now laughing like two bamboo cutters who had found a jug of plum wine.
Our speechless dialogue became even more comedic as I attempted to explain that I made my living as a juggler. As I vigorously waved my arms in the air he may very well have thought that I was a sorcerer or a dragon slayer or an air traffic controller. Unfortunately, there were no rocks nearby that were small enough to toss around. Eventually I remembered that I had actually brought some balls with me in my little daypack so that I could juggle on the Great Wall of China. So I showed him a few tricks. Although he seemed impressed, I suspect that he might have been disappointed that I was not a sorcerer.
We then sat silently and gazed upon this colossal monument to humanity’s power and folly, as it snaked across the countryside. What intrigues me most about ruins is how paradoxical they are. On the one hand they are tributes to “that which endures” yet they are also reminders of “that which has vanished."
After we returned to the “manicured” ruins, I found our guide who apparently had not even noticed my absence. She graciously took a photo of me with my renegade climbing partner. Then she translated both of our mailing addresses, so that I could send him a copy of the photo. Later in Hong Kong I had it developed and mailed it to him. When I returned to San Francisco six months later, there was a heartfelt thank you letter from him awaiting me. He had even found someone in his town to translate his Mandarin Chinese into English.
This wonderful episode was one of the highlights of a long journey which was undeniably one of the highlights of my Life thus far. During that 1979-80 adventure, I attempted to “juggle my way around the world.” My quest was to see if I could finance the trip by performing my little act and passing my hat afterwards. Amazingly, I succeeded, and returned home with $400 more than when I had left. Like most travelers, I wanted to visit exotic places and meet intriguing people. But for me there was also a secondary, but very important motive.
When I was in college I used to vehemently argue with my professors about the root cause of the agony and violence and injustice in the world. My contention was that everyday people could get along just fine with each other and that the widespread trauma was caused by so-called “leaders.” These political, religious and corporate rulers constantly sow animosity and fear amongst their people. They use the “Us against Them” tactic to demonize others - thus turning One Human Family into bands of mortal enemies.
They do this because shock and destabilization allow them to both expand and consolidate their wealth and power. For example, just a few hours of internet research will reveal to you how many U.S. bankers and industrialists assisted Hitler in his meteoric rise to power. These Malignant Overlords - as I accurately describe them - made enormous amounts of money setting up the war, then building and financing weapons during the war and then rebuilding the saturation-bombed continent after the war.
To learn more about how tyrants - disguised as leaders - actually control the world, read Carroll Quigley’s books about Cecil Rhodes and his secret Roundtable. These behind-the-curtain power junkies have been working to insure Anglo-American global dominance for over 100 years. Or investigate Anthony Sutton’s work on the dark and horrific dealings of U.S. intelligence services. Or stroll down the evil brick road of America’s hidden foreign policy since World War II as it clandestinely overthrew governments and assassinated leaders. William Blum’s books document this grotesque conduct in encyclopedic detail. And for a general overview of the devastation that Empire wreaks upon ordinary people, read Michael Parenti’s sobering books.
Needless to say, none of my college professors included authors like these in our political science curriculum. Instead our texts promoted the deliberate deception that our leaders are the “best and the brightest.” But honest and objective research reveals that they are actually the “most ruthless and pathological.” These Malignant Overlords thrive because they are emotional mutants who lack the heart and soul genomes. This is why it is so difficult to convince most people of how vile these rulers are. Ordinary people do have consciences and ethics and compassion, so it is hard for them to imagine people who lack basic empathy and decency.
And so now, decades later with college far astern of me, I was setting out to determine if my theory about the root causes of political strife was correct. My little show allowed me to interact with many more ordinary folks than the normal tourist would ever meet. Juggling is a true universal language.
Everywhere that I performed the people were warm and welcoming. They did not care which passport I carried or whether I worshipped their favorite god or whether I was rich or poor. They were just delighted to behold this stranger standing there amazing them with his cascading torches and balls and knives. Street performing is without a doubt one of the world’s authentic win-win relationships.
Now recall that this adventure took place in 1979-80. Those were very tense times between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. The State Department tried to discourage me from peeking behind the Iron Curtain. As you can probably guess, this only increased my desire to travel there. And did I ever, including a full crossing of Eurasia on the Trans-Siberian Railway.
There was never an instant of anti-American hostility directed towards me during the weeks that I was in Russia. I got to enjoy sensational cultural magnificence in the land of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky. The ballet companies, symphony orchestras and circuses lived up to their world-renowned reputations.
Returning to my hotel after an extraordinary performance by the Moscow Circus, I had a very illuminating revelation. I had long ago realized that international athletes and performing artists almost always get along wonderfully with their foreign counterparts. That’s because they respect each others’ skill and artistry. They know in their core being what incredible personal sacrifice and dedication it took to achieve that level of mastery.
And so it finally dawned on me that this is one of the reasons that “leaders” are so psychologically diseased that they enjoy lashing out and harming people. On a profoundly deep level they understand that they can’t actually do anything of genuine merit. They can’t master a Rachmaninoff piano concerto or lift a ballerina in the air or juggle 7 balls. In their rare moments of self-awareness, they recognize that their only skills are deceit and domination and Machiavellian back-stabbing. They offer no joyous blessings to the world. Instead, they deliver the vicious curses of oppression and violence.
Upon my return to San Francisco after my life-affirming around the world journey, I was delighted to find a large stack of mail. I searched through the pile hoping that there might be something from my Great Wall rubble rebel, and sure enough there was. He had included some small black and white mini-postcards from his hometown in China. He was proud of the lovely places depicted on them - and justifiably so.
He had written me a little letter in Chinese that someone had translated into English. It began with the usual well-wishes that mark the Oriental respect for courtesy, and then he said this:
“There is an old Chinese proverb that says a man cannot be called a hero unless he has been to the Great Wall. We have not only been to the Wall, we climbed the Sixth Signal Tower. We should be prouder!”
“May the friendship between the Chinese people and the American people last forever. I wish you and your family good health and happiness.”
Your Chinese friend,
And now, 36 years later I can still see Chu scurrying ahead of me to the distant signal tower. Had we both been able to share a common language and send out a message from that tower, it might have been something like this:
“Let all walls tumble into rubble, let all borders be flung open, let all humans reclaim their birthright as free and caring brothers and sisters. Let Joy and Peace triumph over Agony and War!”
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This little vignette from the Great Wall of China is one tiny episode from a journey that was plush with adventure, romance and revelations. I kept a wonderful journal and took many amazing pictures. Friends have encouraged me to convert it into a very unusual travel book, but I have never done so. However, as the years thunder by I am now inclined to retell those tales. If anyone out there could assist me in such an effort, I would dearly appreciate it. Reaching me is easy through the email address here at my blog. I would reward your help as best I can.