Then, suddenly, all changed... so dramatically that, years later, in
Canton or New York or Buenos Aires or Cairo, K'ing could hardly conjure
up an image of his dead Master's face in its early uncontradicted
serenity without other, darker memories crowding in. By these later
years his two pictures of Lin Fong had converged into the image of one
man seeking the Tao. But this did not wipe away the recollection of
that first, profound, world-splitting shock.
These first unhinging memories were not those of Tai Chi; for, from
the days when K'ing was first able to move his limbs and make them do
his bidding, Lin Fong made certain that they moved in the forms of this
ancient and graceful mode of exercise; so that, by the time the young
man had reached the age of speech, Lin Fong could tell him, “Your body
has already begun to search after and follow the Tao. Now it remains
for your mind to become tuned to it, so that body and mind merge, and
together learn the art of going along the Way.”
No, these were not the memories that unsettled the young K'ing to the
depths of his being— the memories of the streamlike flow of his body
through the movements of the Great Circle, the Touching of the Winds,
the Tide Flowing In and Out; for these guided his body through a
routine of rest and repose, and led him to no suspicion that Tai Chi
had any purpose beyond peace. The clashing recollections were of an
entirely different kind.
The first was the most vivid scene from his past, save one.
K'ing had passed his eighth birthday. He had gathered the strength,
the patience, and the sense of the desert necessary to allow him to
wander so far as a day's journey from his home; to find water, or to go
without it; to sleep in the sands as they roiled about him, and to
awaken, refreshed, just before they shifted so heavily as to bury him
fatally. For years, he had seen Lin Fong wander off in just such a
manner, wordlessly leaving him to keep his peace at home, to return in
a day, or a week, or—as K'ing became totally self-sufficient—a month.
During these times, K'ing would sit on his haunches in the doorway,
watching for the nomads to come bringing grain and dried fish, drawing
water up from the well, carving bits of wood, watching the sand and
sky, and meditating. The nomads bringing food... it was such a part of
his life that he never questioned why they did it. Before he had
reflected enough to ask the question, before he could realize that Lin
Fong had nothing to pay with and nothing to trade, it had been
Now, in the summer of K'ing's eighth year, Lin Fong once more trekked
silently away, his flimsy straight white robe blowing at his bony
knees, like a cloud sailing off the horizon.
Once more K'ing squatted in the doorway. Absently he munched a bit of
dried fish, watching Lin Fong go. The fish, he had been told, came from
the ocean. Lin Fong had been to the ocean. He had been across the
ocean. He had been across many oceans. But he had said, “The ocean is
just like the desert. Except that there are fish in it. There is no
need for you to go to the ocean; not once you have fathomed the desert.
I suppose some day you will go. Then you will find for yourself, there
was no need.”
K'ing wondered whether, in his wanderings, Ling Fong might pass by
the ocean. Finishing his piece of fish and washing his hands in the
sand, he arose and followed the sage's disappearing tracks out into the
Three days' journey, and the Master's trail passed no places of water
or food. K'ing felt his first pangs of worry. His parched tongue would
barely peel from the roof of his gooey mouth, and his limbs shivered
strangely. Always on the distant horizon he would catch glimpses of the
ancient wise man's billowing robe.
“The ocean must be a very long way off indeed,” he thought to
On the fourth day, the Master passed by a mound of rock that, even in
the far distance, showed to K'ing's sharp eyes a trace of green between
“I am not Lin Fong,” he reminded himself, and left the Master's
trail. For a whole night he rested, lapping murky water from a slowly
oozing spring, eating grass that crackled in his mouth. Then he said to
himself, “I could go back home. But Lin Fong keeps a straight path. If
I keep a straight path, perhaps I will run across him.”
K'ing never thought that the Master might be angry with him for
following. If the old man had no secrets from the desert or the sky,
surely he had no secrets from Chong Fei K'ing.
The child kept a straight path for two more days. If Lin Fong had
passed the same way, he had left no trace.
And then, six days into the void of dizzying sand, the lone boy
struggled to the top of a high rise of packed white pebbles, his ankles
sinking deeply into them, and gazed out across a strange flat plain of
smooth rock. At its center, in the shade of a huge gray mass of rock,
were trees. Beyond them, a straight shiny double line, cross-hatched
with half-buried, thicker lines, ran from north to south, disappearing
at both horizons. K'ing searched his memory for the word, as he noted
the zig-zag fences that lined its either side, their tops barely
showing above the sand. “Railroad,” he decided. Lin Fong had read to
him about railroads.
A sharp, dim percussion echoed to K'ing's ears on the breeze, and
He had never heard such a sound.
It jangled his nerves with a cutting persistence that made his spine
From somewhere inside him, an echo responded.
Suddenly, spontaneously, a shock of excitement jolted through him.
He would walk down and see what was making those sounds.
As he made his way across the face of the pebble-pile, the noises
stopped rising out of the trees. Then they came again. They came in