Something about my summertime English teacher David I will never forget is his unending patience and infectious happiness. But what about stranger qualities? Aren’t those hidden things more interesting? When we get to know someone, we can be surprised by what is deeper than some surface qualities of happiness and patience. Is an ESL teacher supposed to be so layered with qualities? Believe me, I did not fall in love with my teacher, but he did prove to me strange qualities of my own.
During the summertime, I attended a few of his English language classes in Chengdu. The classes were always ninety minutes long, so I feel like I really had a chance to know him quite well. I know a saying that goes, “You never know someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes.” Well, one day, I had that experience, literally.
The summertime in Chengdu is really hot and wet–humid is the word that I learned in his class. The sky is impossible to see almost every day. Perhaps the sky is not blue 360 days of the year. Five days a year for blue happiness. Something like that. During one particular week, the rain was persistent and added a miserable quality to the hot summertime.
The classroom is an interesting color. A pea-soup style of green shade. Yes, he talked about pea-soup too as a part of American culture in the East and Mid-west. I researched photos of it because it sounds partly disgusting, and I know something disgusting can be interesting in the world of food and color. The photo-search generated on Yahoo.com showed an exact match to the paint on walls of the classroom, so he is skilled at matching words to strange colors. I heard that recently, they redecorated the entire training center location there at Yangxi. The environment of class almost made me sick, but this hot, wet day, David got sick instead.
He walked in the classroom with wet feet, wet shoes, wet pants and a sad face. His umbrella only protected about one-forth of his body. The rain had come from all directions too just like in the movie Forest Gump. He went ahead teaching after he greeted us, and said nothing about being so miserably soaked with rain water. I could not concentrate on his lesson that day, so I pretended to not understand so much English. I played dumb. Water was just dripping from his short brown hair, down onto the middle of his face collecting on the tip of his nose, and finally dropping down to a dark spot on his slacks. None of us offered him a tissue, because he had a handful already.
He was teaching about something I cannot remember. The water just kept dripping. One of David’s qualities is that he can keep talking all the time. He just always talks and talks, which is great for listeners. I guess being uncomfortable cannot even stop him.
As he kept talking, he started unfolding the tissues in his hand and laying them one-by-one on the floor. We held our laughter inside and resisted asking questions too soon. Soon enough, he had two piles of tissues on the floor. Then, he took off his shoes and started putting segments of tissue between each of his toes. I have never had a teacher do something like this before. I just kept watching each piece of tissue fit snugly between each toe. Obviously, he was uncomfortable having wet shoes, but I think some other teacher would have just kept on without doing something so intricate, but he did say some psychotic conditions are commonly diagnosed in America, so I wonder if he has suffered before.
Finally class was over. He had stuffed tissue inside each soaking wet shoe, and I could tell he didn’t want to put them on his soft white feet. Normally, I wouldn’t care, but David is a very special person. I sat beside him and took off my shoes. I said, “Hey, let’s trade and take the subway together.” He just didn’t say anything but he took action and we traded shoes. Yes, we have similarly sized shoes, so strangely, we just wore the different shoes. I don’t care about wet or dry shoes.
We went outside to take the subway, but he said he wanted to go get some dinner first. We went to a restaurant nearby, but it was already nine o’clock at night. We had some hot-pot together. He is a foreigner, but he can handle the spicy food in the local Sichuan cuisine. He ordered some baijiu too, the red kind. He had to smoke too, because smoking always makes drinking feel so much better, like home-style.
By the time he paid the for the meal, it was late. Too late at that time for the subway. Neither of us had enough money to pay for a taxi. Even the foreigners are not too rich in Chengdu because there is always a way to spend every single yuan and jiao. Remember that saying about walking a mile in someone’s shoes? Well, because we missed the subway and had no money for the taxi. I actually did walk a far distance; even over a mile in his shoes. Along the way we shared some laughs about our differences and similarities. I think he is unlike any other foreigner I have ever met before.
After that night, I stopped attending classes. I had such a good memory from trading shoes with him, that I felt embarrassed to see him again.