China by Bicycle :: April -- October '98

Subject: Two small men with big hearts.
Date: Fri, 28 Aug 1998 07:49:25 -0700

11:03 Wumao Hotel, Jiayuguan; Gansu--China :: MO 24 AUG 98

A man sitting outside the Wumao Binguan, reading. Reading the bible. How odd. We talk for hours. A man with a hard background. Literally, there but for the grace of God went he. A warm, kind man doing illegal missionary work in China, surreptitiously after midnight, then checking out early in the morning, before anyone who might care catches on.

22:00 Anxi Hotel, Anxi; Gansu--China :: WE 26 AUG 98

He brings his companion to dinner. Mick. A little bit the same man. Better stories than I could ever tell I'm sure. For ten years after high-school a vagabond. Move from town to town. Never fewer than two days. Never more than three months. Very few exceptions. He'd pull into a town, seek out a bar, strike up conversations. "Yeah, just got into town. Lookin' for a place to stay." Sometimes, an offer right away. Others, a lightly probing half hour--"People can figure out pretty quick if you're OK"--before the offer. Rarely stay in a hotel.

Both single fathers. Both 40. Mick won custody of his young children after a 3-year court battle. "You know, if you'd'a asked 15 years ago if I wanted children...nope. Best thing that ever happened to me."

Two men with 80's long-enough-to-be-long-but-short-enough-to-pass-muster hair. Graduates of the school of hard knocks. Ron talks about doing missionary work at an old weekend stomping ground, Hastings&Main in Vancouver. "Sometimes I think I recognize some of those guys, sitting in the alleyways, spaced, in their own urine." There but... A grandmother--my mother--might not trust her child's children to either on first glance. But two very gentle, very kind men.

"You know," Ron says, "if we get caught then it's kinda up to the local police what happens to us, but probably we just get deported after paying a fine. Perhaps a couple hundred bucks. But if the local guys we're working with get caught...well, one guy got 13 years."

We talk about many things, but what stays in my mind is their kindness, their gentleness, their generosity, their warmth. Striking.

And Mao Ze Dong said, "Religion is poison."

~~~ Responses will be read ~~~
If you want to shrink something,
you must first allow it to expand.
If you want to get rid of something,
you must first allow it to flourish.
If you want to take something,
you must first allow it to be given.
This is called the subtle perception
of the way things are.

The soft overcomes the hard.
The slow overcomes the fast.
Let your workings remain a mystery.
Just show people the results.
  graphical element Attributed to Lao Tse
The Tao Te Ching
Chapter 36
trans. Stephen Mitchell