Dancing Naked in the Dark- Mastering the Art of Life and Death
Date- March 29th, 2018
Written by George Balarezo, Intrepid Global Citizen
The distant sky was as dark as a Michigan summer blueberry. Thunder rumbled as if I was being scolded for daring to cycle on a segment of the earth’s terrain that was above and beyond my physical capacity. Lightening shimmered as the yellowish black contrast was something out of a Diego Rivera masterpiece. The Xinjiang sky was a work of art. Breathtaking yet terrifying. I was completely alone. A car hadn’t passed by in nearly an hour. Silence pierced its claws into my skull as my thoughts ran wild. What if the wind picks up and tosses sand in my eyes? What if it starts hailing baseballs? I don’t even have a helmet to protect my body’s most vital organ! This is rural China! Who knows what could happen to me out here.
I was at a metaphorical crossroads. Option one- sleep on sharp stones while running the risk of having my thirty dollar tent swept away by the wind. Option two- pitch my tent under a bridge culvert that would shield me from the elements. The miniscule risk of water soaking me at night seemed so trivial. I chose option two. This is what I get for not investing a little bit more money into a higher quality tent. The painful feeling of regret filled my chest with tension and made it seem like my heart had turned into a ten kilogram bowling ball.
Please let me survive this evening, I thought to myself as I lay awake in my tent. The wind howled and whistled. The flapping plastic walls were louder than a set of Bose headphones blasting heavy metal music to my ears. I could taste the dust tossed around in the air. Chalky and congesting. I panted for breath as I inhaled sand particles. My tent would have been blown into the heavens if I chose to pitch away from the culvert. My heart pounded as if I had absorbed chest blows from Mike Tyson.
I found myself in a dreamland of warm sunshine and a nearby stream pounded against the pebbles as the soothing rhythm finally put my mind into a state of relaxation. What a lovely day and comforting contrast to the mysterious night air. I could feel the wide grin on my face pulling apart my lips, relieving the tension from my navel. Suddenly, I snapped out of it. The water rumbled and pounded in the distance. I opened my eyes to coal black darkness. What happened to all the warm sunshine? The liquid continued to crash until it reached the decibel level of an opera house front row seat with Pavarotti hitting a high note.
Three, two, one! Icy cold liquid catapulted me to my feet within the snap of a finger. Electricity zapped through the bottoms of my feet to the depths of my chest. The cold was completely exhilarating and sent me into a state of shock. My heart exploded and I panted for breath like a dog chasing a bone up a Mount Everest incline. My dream turned into a rude reality. Passport! Money! I grabbed my two most important travel items and stood erect in disbelief outside my tent as the knee high freezing water continued to flow into my sleeping quarters.
The icy liquid instantly turned my pants and long sleeved T-shirt into bricks of ice. I peeled off my wet layers to prevent myself from getting an illness and hung them up on the bridge above the culvert area. The stars and moon are the only source of light I use when on the road. Once my eyes adjust to my surroundings, the shimmering stars are more than enough to allow me to stumble out of my tent and find a makeshift toilet next to a lucky tree that I end up fertilizing. Unfortunately, the bright lights in the sky were nowhere to be found, so I blindly grabbed and swirled my throbbing hands through the pool of icy water in an attempt to salvage anything I could. Sock. Apple. Underwear. Carrot. One by one I fished out all of my food and clothes and hung them up to dry on the concrete.
I was a helpless victim of Mother Nature’s wrath. It was 4:00 a.m. and the sun would come up in a few hours. My shoes were nowhere to be found and must have been washed away somewhere downstream. Along my expeditions into various parts of the economically less privileged parts of the world, I often encountered barefoot cyclists. Now I would become one of them. If they could get used to cycling while the arches of their feet dug into pedals, so could I. What makes us different anyway? Shoes are luxury that make our feet soft and weak. Luckily, I was able to retrieve my bicycle as it was parked on a point of higher elevation nearby. One by one, I salvaged all of my items and hung them to dry above me. As the sun gradually pierced through the horizon, I spotted two brown objects downstream. My shoes! I stumbled over in excitement as sharp stones massaged the arches of my feet.
Was this real? I pinched myself. It seemed like the obvious solution to escape such an utter nightmare. I desperately craved my heated floor and warm blankets in Seoul. Reality bit colder than a starved Siberian husky. I skipped back and forth in the roadway to heat myself up. The nearest town was at least eighty kilometers away and no cars were on the road. I paced back and forth to pass the time until sunrise. The sun will come up in a few hours and it will warm up soon. One step at a time!
That is when it all hit me. If the water had been a little bit deeper I would have been washed into another lifetime. I was lucky to be alive. I was cold and naked in the dark Chinese countryside, but alive! How beautiful it is to be alive. How beautiful this cold, dark night is! What a symbolic moment! I sported the same outfit as when I came into the world thirty something years ago. I was reborn with a new outlook on everything. My clothes were wet, the few pieces of fruit and bread carried were now gone or caked with mud. The only things I had were my passport and a little bit of cash which were rendered useless. There is a Korean proverb that says you enter and leave this world with an empty hand. I felt like I was reborn as everything I carried with me was of no use. They say the only way to master the art of death is to first master the art of life. The feeling I had at that moment was as if I had truly mastered the art of life. I felt an inner bliss just from being able to breath and jog up and down the street in the dark. I was absolutely free and life seemed so simple. Fear, stress, anger, jealousy and all other negative emotions just seemed so petty and meaningless. Why was I making things so complicated before? This was indeed a blessing in disguise. I was reborn as a Chinese tiger on that early morning. The tiger was ready to get on his bike again and continue.