Following my previous post, there was curiosity on how I "got that American professor sacked." Actually, he wasn't a professor. He was an elementary schoolteacher in
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The head of the Education Office at my graduate school, Boss Yang, was himself uneducated. He had come to his position, elevated by his lack of education, during the Cultural Revolution and there he stayed. Rumor had it he was a relative of General Yang Shangkun, soon to be
Apparently, Boss Yang believed that the only qualification required of a graduate school English teacher was nationality. He hired an American, Gene, to teach us. A gangly man in his late-thirties, Gene the erstwhile elementary school teacher walked into our classroom twice a week and hung a white flipchart on the blackboard. On each page of the flipchart were simple English words that we had learned in middle school. Each word, hand-written in large black ink block letters, occupied a line. His pointer crossing the letters, he would read humorlessly aloud, "Hello" "World", and wait for us to repeat after him. Whether this was his way of teaching elementary school in
Then one day a fellow student told me Gene had invited our entire class for lunch in his apartment. I couldn't believe it – that meant anywhere between 10-20 people, and I had heard that Gene was stingy. "Maybe he wants to buy us back to his class," my roommate said. In any case, we were curious to see what an American ate for lunch, or what he would make for us, so the whole class went—not a single absence.
We jammed inside, near the door of Gene's apartment, which was quite spacious, the envy of his Chinese colleagues. "Please sit and help yourselves," Gene said to us, and began to eat his peanut butter sandwich. None of us sat down – there were only a few chairs in his room. Nor did we help ourselves to lunch – there was only a cold loaf of sliced bread on his coffee table, sitting beside an open photo album flaunting his water skiing youth. No dishes. No rice. No bowls or chopsticks. Not even a jar of peanut butter. Gene bit his bread leisurely, ignoring our silent existence. Frustrated and insulted, we quietly left his room one by one and he made no attempt to persuade anyone to stay.
Gene's reputation of stingy evilness ran apace; soon his classroom was as empty as the wilderness. Gene complained to Boss Yang about us not attending his class, and my roommate and I were summoned for questioning. We sensed an opportunity to get rid of the incompetent American teacher. My roommate, Wang, was a conservative
Gene did have followers, three of them, all girls in their final year of graduate school. The girls were pretty; their behavior was not. They followed Gene everywhere like his dogs, while Gene barely spoke to them. According to gossip, all three girls wanted to marry Gene so he could take them to
Gene took none of his entourage with him; instead, he married a classmate of mine, a newly divorced
Little did I know that I myself would one day fall in love with an American.
(Excerpted from "On Becoming an American,"