Dew Drops

My English Teacher

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Mr. Huigen Chen taught me English in my high school.  He was the best English teacher in the whole city of Hangzhou and perhaps beyond.  People came from other districts of the city to enrol in my school so they could attend his classes.  Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, was one of them and he was admitted afterwards to the English Faculty of Hangzhou Normal University.

Teacher Chen was energetic and passionate.  He had a disability; his right arm and hand stopped growing when he was a child, and only his left arm was functional.  What lacked from his right arm seemed to have gifted his left arm with double strength and ability.  He wrote on the blackboard with such vigor that I can still hear the squeaking of his white chalks in my mind as I remember him today.  His body, along with his left arm, moved with rhythm and impetus as English sentences poured out of his white chalk.  He always came into the classroom in a fresh navy-blue Mao-style blazer and left with his left sleeve covered in white chalk powder. When he wanted to emphasize certain words in his talks, he would throw the chalk in his hand to the floor with a powerful punch, as if drawing a huge exclamation mark in front of us.

When he himself was in high school, my father was his home-room teacher.  My Dad told me that he could type with one hand twice as fast as others with two hands. He excelled in everything he did, academics or sports, and became a student leader. He always believed that excellence should be acknowledged and rewarded.  In 1998, he was awarded the honour of “Extraordinary Teacher” in the province.

To his students who excelled in his class, Teacher Chen publicly and generously gave recognition in his way. If you gave him the right answer to a difficult question or exceeded his expectation in a test, he would squint his eyes and stare at you with a proud smile, like a father witnessing the first step of his baby, for a long lapse of time, much longer than a usual pause, so that everybody in the class would be captured and held in suspense while he savoured and shared his moment of happiness.  As the student receiving that expression of praise, you would beam or even melt away under such an intense gaze of fatherly love.

On some Sundays, he would invite a handful of his best students to his home to help him review the tests and exams of other students.  He would ask his wife to make dumplings for everybody and, with great content, he would watch his favourite pupils eat and work.  He fed himself on his students’ achievements.

Imagine the happiness that Jack Ma would have given to Teacher Chen with his accomplishments in creating the biggest digital commerce enterprise in the world!  Unfortunately, Teacher Chen died of cancer before he could watch Alibaba grow with his fatherly proud smile.

Dew Drops

The Boy with the Fish


The moment I saw a picture of him when he was three, I decided he was going to father my future children.  He was holding a fish and examining the little creature so intently like a scientist over a microscope on the edge of discovering a new organism. He was glued to the deck staring at the fish, with his lips pursed forward, and everything else around him had fallen into oblivion.   There was only the intensity of his curiosity for the fish in his little hand.

We had dated unexpectedly for a couple of weeks before we parted ways to our respective countries after graduation.  It was supposed to be a quick romance squeezed in between packing and departure.  But when he pulled me out of the dance floor at the graduation ball, put his arms around my back and stared into the back of my eyes to say “I don’t want to go back to the party; I just want to be with you”, I knew things had gone out of track.  I glimpsed the intensity in his eyes.

So we broke the agreement and let ourselves get in touch after the departure.  He even persuaded me to pay him a visit. “Just once,” he said.  And alas, I saw that picture of him with the fish and that intensity in his blood, and I accepted his marriage proposal with a key ring right on the spot.

He started his own business.  Everyday and every night, he did the business, talked about it, dreamed it, breathed it, and became it.  He dreams big and lives in the sky and I keep my feet on the ground for both of us, I told myself.  I lived his intensity in creating his enterprise and maintained steady through that roller coast ride.

He has been struggling with anger since the collapse of his business.  He has been fighting with demons.  The anger occupies every cell of his brain and even seems to have gone into his hair since he let it grow.  It beats the gravity and grows up towards the sky.  It has exploded into a gigantic atomic mushroom sitting atop of his head.  Like his hair, he is desperate to rise to his space in the sky.

He started to play tennis.  He plays with pros; he plays with aficionados; he plays with the walls.  He got everybody in the family playing it too and soon our daughter was competing in provincial school tournaments.  When he is not playing, he is watching world tennis champions playing on video, in slow motion sometimes to study their movements.  When I see him watching tennis, I see the boy observing the fish.  Sometimes he comes home fuming with frustration when he couldn’t steer his mind to play a good game.  He has not found his sky yet.

We woke up on a Sunday morning and were contemplating the tree branches outside our window for a few quiet minutes.  I asked him: “Suppose there was an apocalypse and you wake up in a totally strange place to start a new life, what would you do as the very first thing?” I was expecting something like checking out what place this was and who lived there.  But he immediately said: “Get up and look for a tennis court!”  A wave of relief and hope washed over me.  The boy is still with his fish and his dreaming intensity.  I can almost see him sailing through the blue sky.


Dew Drops

Scenes in the Gym

“Seize every day & live a good life.” The advice of the gym’s founder is painted in big white letters across the black beam from wall to wall. The ground floor below the beam houses the muscle exercising and weigh lifting equipment.   Above the beam on the wrap-around open concept second floor stood all the cardio exercise beasts: elliptical machines, treadmills, stationary bikes and rowing machines.

On the ab crunch machine sits the young and fit Amy early in the morning, with her arms up holding on to the weights rocking back and forth.  Two strings of hair that were left out of her pony tail hanging in front of her red face. Her abdomen is so lean and flat; there doesn’t really seem to be anything to crunch.   Amy works long hours assisting in a legal firm. With salad packed in her bag, she starts her day fresh in the gym, long before sun rises, and get out of there even more fresh before the lawyers arrive at the office.

In the corner by the seated chest machine, old Mrs. Scape with her short white curly hair finds a little space in mid mornings where she half stretches her arms and moves her frail legs about. Using any of the equipment is beyond her capability, and she could do all these gentle movements at her old age home, but she would not give up the precious moment when she sits down at the bridge table in the evening, and her bridge partner Mrs. Noseley will invariably ask her: “So, what were you up to today, Rose?” And she will reply with a matter-of-fact expression: “Oh, I just went to work out in the gym.” She secretly savours the unspeakable pleasure of telling them that she got out of this death-in-the-air hole to be part of a sweat and youth site.

On the bench press Big John lies at the end of the day with a few hundred pounds of bells stacked on each end of the bar he holds above his chest. He puffs out a big breath while pushing up the monster weight, his tattooed chest and vain-popping arms looking ready to burst. The gap between his fifty-year old face and his thirty-year old body is bridged by a black baseball cap on his bald head. His shift at the nearby supermarket doesn’t spend him enough and he gifts his strength to the bell bars in the gym before he goes home, opens a beer and takes a bowl of chunky stew from his wife to nourish his much treasured muscles.

Then there is Nathan the trainer in his red jacket. His clients keep him there all day from 5:00am to 7:00pm on most days. He holds a notepad where he tracks the routines he assigns to them and the progresses they make. Today he is going to his mother’s place after the gym to let her pamper him with his favourite upside pineapple cake and celebrate his certification of level III personal trainer. Surely she will turn her head to Nathan’s younger brother, who is following Nathan’s suit to become a trainer after years of trying to figure out what to do but not quite ready to give up his sleep-in: “So, when are you going to get your certificate, George?” While George mumbles something, Nathan will take a big bite of his mother’s treat feeling really good.

Dew Drops

How I Met My Husband


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I met the sound of his cowboy boots pounding the floor before I met him. It was the very first class of the prep-course preceding our MBA program. He was late. He walked into the theatre-style lecture room heading straight towards the front, descending the steps sure-footedly and loudly, and sat down in all his tallness in the front row, in the closest spot to the professor still available. Other latecomers had discreetly snuck into the room and stayed in the back row. What a showy guy, I thought, and also stunningly handsome with crispy short curly hair and thick broad shoulders.

After the recess, I came back to my seat in the middle section, and found a pen and a notebook on my left side that had not been there before the recess. Somebody had squeezed in my row and made room for a spot beside me.   Shortly after, the cowboy boots strode in and occupied that seat. He introduced himself, and then said, with his head half tilted towards me: “Would you like to come out to play Frisbee this Saturday?” He had a very sweet smile made of ninety-eight percent confidence and two percent shyness, just the right mix to entice a conversation with a young woman. His voice was alluringly deep.

“I have never played Frisbee and don’t even know what it is,” I replied quietly.

“It’s not about the Frisbee; it’s about the beer afterwards,” he followed on.

“Maybe”, I said, although I knew I was not going to go. I noticed his pale blue eyes and the cute mini-donut on his chin, which formed a perfect profile with his firm nose and sunny forehead. The tiny curls above his ear looked inviting.

It was hard to imagine that he picked that spot randomly, since it was an invisible place buried in the thickness of many other students and not close to the professor at all. It was even harder to imagine that having arrived late, he nevertheless had time to look around and check out already the women in this large classroom with about a hundred students.

Despite my curiosity, I thought that a guy who wasted people’s attention so conspicuously when he was late, and was so quick and smooth in asking a lady out for beer should receive a lesson.   Who knows? I was probably the 28th girl he asked on that day, and with his good looks, he probably got a yes from 27 of them. That thought of mine cost him two years. It wasn’t until almost two years later when we were graduating and parting ways that I had a beer with him. What happened? I will leave that for another story. But I will tell you that before I sat down to write this story I was polishing those mighty cowboy boots, twenty-four years after I first heard them.