The English Instructor

         

The teacher, sitting at his desk, removes his black-framed glasses briefly to wipe the sweat off of them. Wuhan is hot in the summer, hot enough that his eyelids feel weighted down with the pools of sweat that accumulate on them.

These are the same glasses that he eagerly clutches in his hands every time he meets somebody new and tells them about his dream of being a great dramatist. True, his parents forced him to study English in college, but he is finally making his fantasy a reality—next year, he will travel to southeastern China and study drama there.

In the meantime, his English degree has certainly been useful in making him quite marketable as an English instructor. Foreigners tell him he is one of the best speakers they have ever known. They tell him too that his accent sounds a lot like Chicago. When he meets somebody new, he usually tacks this on to his bit about his dream of studying drama, glowing with pride even though he has never traveled to Chicago—or even the United States, for that matter—and has no idea what a Chicago accent sounds like.

Amidst the pragmatic Chinese, he alone is a romantic, it seems at times—after all, despite what he always likes to tell foreign women he meets about how the Chinese lose themselves in the lover’s moon, most of his countrymen don’t seem to have a problem navigating their way under the celestial light. Not only do they fail to lose themselves, they even continue to honk their car horns, shout out their wares to passerby, and argue with each other loudly and angrily in their harsh Wuhan dialect. Meanwhile he sits at his apartment window and gazes at what he can see of the moon, hidden as it is behind the curtain of smog that perpetually haunts Wuhan’s skyline, dreaming as he does so of the women to whom he has told his secret about the moon.

He tells the foreign women he meets about the Chinese notion that women are like water, each time drawing out the character for them, shui. Whenever he sees them he cannot help but blush, because they are cool and clear, elusive and refined, just like the water he runs through his fingers and splashes on his face every morning.

But unlike the water, his fingers never touch the women to whom he pours out his heart, and when, inevitably, each one returns to her homeland in the States, England, or some other faraway place, his heart sinks a little more with the realization that it is another woman he will never see again.

He puts his glasses back on and resumes grading his students’ English exams. They have terrible English. Next summer, he will be in southeastern China studying drama, his dream, and will never have to deal with grading these silly papers again.

Suddenly, his pen stops in its track, as the thought comes to him—how can the moon be romantic if only one person ever gazes at it?

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