Dragon, Tiger and Leopard
I wanted to sit next to Zhu Shang. No, I simply had to sit next to Zhu Shang. When Zhu Shang let her hair down it had a delightful scent, it was shiny and silky, straight and well behaved, covering half her face and one eye. Zhu Shang’s mother was once quite famous, and that old rogue Kong Jian-Guo often mentioned her. In his eyes, she was an exquisite thing of unsurpassed beauty.
I used a copy of the English edition of Playboy and a copy of Hong Kong’s Dragon, Tiger and Leopard to win the right to take Sang Bao-Jiang’s seat next to Zhu Shang. That Playboy was given to me by that old rogue Kong Jian-Guo. As for Dragon, Tiger and Leopard, Liu Jing-Wei had filched it from beneath his dad’s bed.
At the beginning I didn’t want to give either of these magazines to our neighborhood punk, Sang Bao-Jiang. Actually, I was already on super intimate terms with that Playboy. It featured a Brazilian beauty with curly black hair, and breasts as big as a face, complemented by a very slim waist.
Each time I looked at those two face-sized breasts, it reminded me of ‘conspiracy theory’ in psychology: there had to be some sort of plot here. Either way, it’s just ten kilos of fatty meat –throw it in a butcher’s shop and you’ll have no takers, but throw in a nipple and you’ll get people’s blood boiling. How come?
All I needed to do was close my eyes and try to recall a certain pose. The Brazilian beauty would strike that pose in my imagination with no help from the magazine. But I tended to picture her breasts a bit more petite. I worried that her slender waist might crumble under such a massive burden.
I undertook video editing in my mind, exchanging various parts of her body with those of other women like the Greater Vehicle, the Lesser Vehicle, the Female Spy and Zhu Shang’s mother. I pieced them together like a jigsaw puzzle, creating erotic new combos. Of course, the Brazilian beauty’s mammoth breasts were utterly incompatible with those of Zhu Shang’s mother – it was like trying to glue a slab of pork onto a peacock’s derriere.
But this copy of Playboy had sentimental value. The printing was exquisite, and it was in English. When we were quizzed on how to spell ‘exciting’ during our high school entrance exam, I just closed my eyes and wrote it correctly.
As for that copy of Dragon, Tiger and Leopard, I was even less willing to hand it over to Sang Bao-Jiang. Compared to Brazilian beauties, I prefer Asian chicks. Their hair is jet-black and straight, and their breasts are more appropriately proportioned, i.e., they don’t look like a gorilla’s, all pumped up with liquid or air.
That issue of Dragon, Tiger and Leopard featured a Hong Kong butterball, fully incarnating the Hong Kong predilection for sincerity and tangible benefits. Dubbing herself the ‘Four-eyed Canine’, the butterball wore glasses and was grasping two stacks of Hong Kong dollars. A bank teller, her loftiest ambition was to possess all the cash counted by her hands each day.
One infamous evening I arranged a rendezvous with our neighborhood punk Sang Bao-Jiang in the southwest corner of the playground. A huge white poplar stood there, swishing in the breeze. Glossy green on one side, the poplar leaves were furry and baby-green on the other.
I took a big, fat volume of panty ads out of my backpack, and fashioned a snug cover using a copy of The People’s Daily that made it look like a volume of exam exercises bound in hardback. I got the book from my dad’s place with no sweat, since he was in the clothing I/E business and often had such stuff lying around.
Page by page, Sang Bao-Jiang perused it and then calculated with his fingers. ‘Altogether just five girls changing outfits over and over. Nothing special. I won’t switch seats for this.’
‘Why not? This volume has a two-foot wide foldout too, an American babe! Been to the US of A? Such big tits! Bigger than the ones on the goddesses in that hick Taiyang Gong Palace of yours! And there’s even a calendar – this year’s, so you can use it for another three or four months. You can girl-watch and check the date at the same time. Isn’t that super?’
‘No deal. It’s all underwear. I’m not into packaging. I like to look at unpackaged goods.’
I noticed clearly how the space between Sang Bao-Jiang’s legs had gone from vacant to occupied, from small to big. Now his crotch seemed to be hiding a little piggy with a very pointed snout. I couldn’t see into his soul, but I could spy his penis via his crotch. I regretted letting Sang Bao-Jiang see the content of the whole volume of panty ads.
‘This is already fairly scanty packaging. Go take a look at Cihai Dictionary or Xinhua Dictionary. In those diagrams of the human anatomy, the women are wearing full-length vests. You can’t even see their belly buttons!’
‘No deal,’ said Sang Bao-Jiang firmly. ‘Rumors are you have pix of girls in the raw.’
‘You need to use your imagination,’ I countered. ‘Close the book. Let your mind wander for an instant, and all those clothes and panties vanish!’
‘I’m not an anti-revolutionary sexual thought crime offender like you,’ he cracked.
‘It’s an acquired skill that can be very helpful in writing an essay. With this kind of imagination, in the future you won’t have to begin every essay with: “My daddy is a county-level cadre. His earliest assignment was to serve as Chairperson of the Woman’s Committee.’”
‘Bad apples like you are the only ones who can write essays. I’m hopeless,’ said Sang Bao-Jiang. ‘I’ll focus on learning my maths, physics and chemistry. If you don’t have any pix minus the clothing, I’m just not gonna switch seats with you.’
Before the night had fallen, our neighborhood punk Sang Bao-Jiang had obtained one copy each of Playboy and Dragon, Tiger and Leopard from me.
‘Let him be for now,’ said Liu Jing-Wei. ‘We’ll settle accounts later. As for Dragon, Tiger and Leopard, I can steal more copies from my old man. No matter how well he hides them I can dig them out, and no matter how many copies go missing, he won’t dare complain.’
‘What if Sang Bao-Jiang rats on you to the Student Discipline Director?’ queried Zhang Guo-Dong.
‘So what’s he going to accuse me of?’ I retorted. ‘That he’s been reading porn novels on the sly? And as far as that goes, what proof does he have that I gave him the mags?’
‘Your greasy fingerprints are all over them,’ reminded Zhang Guo-Dong. ‘Do you really think you can get away with it? Nowadays there’s something called DNA testing. They can even identify the source of sperm from a few years back. Make no mistake: As soon as they test it, Mr. Qiu Shui, there will be no escape. Sang Bao-Jiang, Liu Jing-Wei’s dad, that rogue Kong Jian-Guo, and of course you too, Liu Jing-Wei – there will be no escape for any of you.’
‘When your time comes, Qiu Shui, they’ll hold a large-scale public trial,’ warned Zhang Guo-Dong. ‘The stage will be full to bursting, every one of them anti-revolutionary masturbators. And then they’ll record the verdict permanently in your personnel file.’
‘Before any of this happens,’ boasted Liu Jing-Wei, ‘I plan to let Sang Bao-Jiang know what will happen if he tells on you. If he dares, I’ll close his trap – the first time using yarn, the second time with cotton, and the third time with a stapler.’
Smooth Talkin’, Fucking Awesome
I drafted an Application to Switch Seats for our neighborhood punk, Sang Bao-Jiang. This was his last outlandish request.
‘You got top marks for your essay on the high school entrance exam,’ he said. ‘Everybody knows you’re a smooth talker, you’re fucking awesome. You’ve got imagination. In return, in the future I’ll let you read these two mags for free.’
Below is the application I ghostwrote:
Dear respected Comrade Teacher,
The golden foliage of the tenth moon is upon us now, and the autumn breeze refreshes. Our Motherland grows stronger and more prosperous each and every day, and we study each and every day. The task of realizing the Four Modernizations shall finally be accomplished within our generation.
Due to inherited shortcomings and carelessness thereafter, my eyes are shortsighted and my hearing is below average. But thanks to his inherent qualities and careful cultivation, Classmate Qiu Shui has maintained 20/20 vision. He can even overhear schoolmates whispering in the classroom next to us, and spot the slightest dubious movements taking place between schoolgirls and schoolboys during lessons.
For the sake of our Motherland, our studies and the Four Modernizations, I would like to switch seats with Classmate Qiu Shui. Having formally discussed this with Classmate Qiu Shui, he has agreed to support my application out of a genuine desire to maximize our mutual studying environments, and he also hopes that you too will approve my request.
The state of our revolutionary undertaking is precisely as Chairman Mao put it: ‘We have achieved victory nation-wide, but this is merely the first step in our Long March.’
Even today, China’s image as ‘an impoverished nation and a cultural blank slate’ has not been totally rectified. A massive, long-term effort will be required for China to construct a mighty socialist nation that possesses modernized industry, agriculture, science and culture. Imperialism still exists in the world at large, and the workers of many a nation – particularly mothers and children – are the victims of aggression and oppression. We must not only transform society, we must also transform nature, and conquer the cosmos.
Henceforth, I shall redouble my enthusiasm and efforts at study and work, and struggle arduously for the realization of our Motherland’s Four Modernizations.
Applicant: Sang Bao-Jiang
October 11, 1987
Our homeroom teacher approved Sang Bao-Jiang’s application, and praised my zealousness to boot.
Poring over the finely printed pictures of those soft, fair-skinned breasts and thighs in the magazines which I’d traded him in return, our neighborhood punk Sang Bao-Jiang found it inconceivable that I would forgo these handy stimulants just to sit next to Zhu Shang, a girl of few words and rare smiles; a girl whose wardrobe classified as ultra-conservative.
Once these hard-copy seductresses of various allures had been subjected to repeated episodes of ‘clouds and rain’ in Sang Bao-Jiang’s horny dream world, he hatched a business plan and put it into action by launching a service. He rented these magazines in the dormitory to boys in the lower grades at one renminbi for a 15-minute session, and half a renminbi for each additional five minutes.
The site for magazine perusal was Sang Bao-Jiang’s bed, over which hung an impossibly dirty mosquito net year-round. Originally made of fine mesh designed to allow air to circulate while excluding mosquitoes, as time went on it didn’t allow anything through. From the outside, you could see virtually nothing inside.
For the first time, Sang Bao-Jiang’s illicit income began to exceed that of his brother, Sang Bao-Guo, who was two grades his junior. Sang Bao-Guo would do one piece of your homework for half a renminbi; now Sang Bao-Jiang felt he was expending less energy at a better rate of return, proving himself savvier and more capable than his younger brother.
A dozen or so years later when Taiyang Gong County was incorporated into Beijing Municipality, land prices skyrocketed and Sang Bao-Jiang won membership in the new generation of local real estate tycoons. But we’ll save that tale for later.
18 Spots to Caress
The bell rings, ending period two. It’s ten o’clock and time for recess calisthenics.
Schoolgirls and schoolboys, young ones and their seniors, emerge from their classrooms and gather in the playground. Recess calisthenics is an excuse for schoolgirls to parade their new clothes, and for schoolboys to parade their new shoes.
It seemed literally overnight every schoolboy had become keen to own a pair of brand name sports shoes – Nikes, Adidas, Pumas. As if a pair of brand name shoes could jack up your coolness factor by the nth degree; as if they could even score a few glances from the girls.
In the ensuing evolutionary process, the schoolboy becomes a young man, a middle-aged man, an old man. In turn, this pair of sports shoes morphs into a brand name laptop and a brand name mountain bike; a 1.78-meter tall, long-haired gorgeous girlfriend complete with Z3 BMW and suburban mansion; a 1.6-meter tall, busty, brainless, ever-so delicate, velvet-skinned 18-year-old girl, a Ming dynasty rosewood drafting table and a half-meter-long, dragon-shaped hook made of Hongshan jade.
But to the male organism at the appropriate phase in his life, each item engenders an identical yearning, angst, feverish joy and sense of resignation.
Liu Jing-Wei possessed a nimble but incomparably uncomplicated mind. His brief time on earth was devoted to the pursuit of cool. During different phases he sought different types of cool, and the sum of all the coolness he captured comprised his fleeting lifetime.
Back then, except for those hand-carried into China from abroad, the only way in Beijing to get Nike shoes was to take a trip to Lisheng Sports Store downtown in Wangfujing. Liu Jing-Wei did a quick calculation. Even if he skimped on food and economized on expenses for a decade – foregoing cigarettes and Lao Cheng Huangmiao Spicy Beans – there was no way he could ever scrape together the almost 100 renminbi necessary to buy a pair of genuine Nikes.
So Liu Jing-Wei decided to increase his income by selling those volumes of dirty paintings and magazines filled with true crime stories that his father kept stashed under his bed.
Daddy Liu was an outstanding representative of his generation: born into poverty but liberated by the Party and thanks to a well-developed cerebrum, he passed the exam for electro-mechanics at Beijing’s prestigious Qinghua University, joined the Young Communists League and then the Communist Party, quickly becoming a senior cadre.
Before forty, the only young lady he had ever laid his hands on was Momma Liu. Since she had never emitted cries of pleasure during love-making, he didn’t believe women did such a thing. The one and only traditional poem Daddy Liu could recite was by Mao Ze-Dong, and since it was the one and only, it was also the most magnificent.
At forty, he began receiving a special stipend from the government, and intellectual stagnation set in. The overwhelming proportion of the reactionary, obscene thinking of that era took form in magazines focusing on criminal justice. Naturally, in order to comprehend and critique the various schools of reactionary, obscene thought, piled under Daddy Liu’s bed were copies of such magazines, which he had bought and collected.
Liu Jing-Wei read them secretly and sneaked them out so we could read them too. My impression of one, Woodpecker, is especially lasting. The contents described Hong Kong capitalism after sunset in a very straightforward way. It reported that there were nightclubs where young ladies would accompany you, drinking imported liquor and singing along to noxious songs performed by the likes of Taiwan’s Theresa Teng. And what’s more, there were ‘topless’ nightclubs where the escorts were young ladies who, unfazed by heat or cold, wore no blouses and bared their breasts to all and sundry.
Sitting in our air-raid shelter, Liu Jing-Wei, Zhang Guo-Dong and I hashed over all the imaginable minutiae of those topless nightclubs: how to maintain the temperature inside the club? How to carry out the interior decoration? The best way to deal with the police? How to import foreign liquor? How to provide snacks like Lao Cheng Huangmiao Spicy Beans, and so on.
In the future, Liu Jing-Wei would eventually apply every one of these ideas to reality. He authored a business plan that gained praise from all the bigwigs who stood to benefit from it. Avoiding China’s metropolises, Liu Jing-Wei opened several nightclubs in second-tier cities. The impact of operations extended far and wide: on the one hand, they made a laudable contribution to China’s urbanization, and on the other, they raked in basketfuls of gold night after night for Liu Jing-Wei.
This intellectual capital investment at an early stage earned Zhang Guo-Dong and me the benefit of life-long free personal consumption, plus forty percent off for our friends. Our faces were virtual free tickets. But less than two years later, Liu Jing-Wei dropped dead. How short a lifetime could be! At the drop of a hat, our faces weren’t worth a penny. But we’ll save that tale for later.
Liu Jing-Wei dragged me and Zhang Guo-Dong along to sell the criminal justice magazines that he had filched from under Daddy Liu’s bed. We set up shop in front of the Post Office Kiosk. Liu Jing-Wei was responsible for hawking and taking payment. Zhang Guo-Dong was the con artist, pretending to paw through the magazines as if he couldn’t tear himself away.
If anyone hesitated to shell out money for the goods, Zhang Guo-Dong would exclaim: ‘You mean you still haven’t made up your mind? If you don’t wanna buy it, I will!’
My role was to watch over the venue. If someone tried to rip off a magazine, I’d grab him in a flash. If somebody made trouble or kept reading without paying, I’d kick his ass.
‘Seventeen-year-old Shanghai girl Raped, Murdered, and Breasts Discovered Missing during Post-mortem,’ hawked Liu Jing-Wei. ‘Refused Sex by Girlfriend, Thirty-year-old Beijing Male Brutally Kills her and Deposits Corpse on Highway.’ ‘Sixty-year-old Chongqing Lady Holds Nude Photo Exhibition.’
The kiosk’s business vaporized pronto, and out came two chicks looking ticked off. At first they intended to chase us away, but when they took stock of our gangster-like expressions, the piles of violent, pornographic criminal justice magazines and Liu Jing-Wei’s geologist’s backpack with a sharp hammer sticking out, they didn’t utter a word. They bought two magazines featuring stories about sex maniacs and split.
The next day, Liu Jing-Wei invited me and Zhang Guo-Dong to eat pricey Triple Delicacy Chinese dumplings – five renminbi for half a kilo – at the Qiaotou Hotel over in Chaoyang Menwai district.
Liu Jing-Wei didn’t eat much. His hands were occupied with his newly purchased high-tops, featuring the blue Nike ‘swish’ set against a white background. The shoes were laced together and hung from his neck. One dangled below either side of his face, each shoe bigger and whiter than his face.
He stared at the ceiling for a long time, mute. ‘Awesome,’ he said out of the blue. ‘Like, awesome.’
Later on, Liu Jing-Wei’s hormone levels climbed until he felt it would be awesome to have a gorgeous girlfriend.
‘I’m not a hot-ass talker like you, and I’m not as handsome as Zhang Guo-Dong,’ he said to me. ‘What can I do?’
‘There’s gotta be a way,’ I said.
‘Reincarnation,’ said Zhang Guo-Dong.
‘Shut your trap, Zhang Guo-Dong. As long as I’m around, I’ll always be way more awesome than you could ever be. As handsome as you are, you’re still a pile of handsome dog shit. I’m talking to Qiu Shui.’
‘Qiu Shui, there’s one thing I admire about you. You have a strong sense of self-control. When you’re by yourself, if you should be reading, you read; if you should be practicing your calligraphy, you practice. I want to focus my efforts in a certain direction. I want to perfect myself too.’
After which he perfected himself until he had a beefcake of a body, the kind women love to sink their fingers into. In the winter he would wear tight-fitting short-sleeve shirts, like a toad that has shed its skin. To bulk up, he ate nothing but twenty-five raw eggs a day, downed in the shortest time possible.
He detested the word ‘chicken’. As soon as he heard ‘chicken’ he would think of eggs and want to barf. When one of his lieutenants referred to a girl as a ‘chicken’, he cursed him out as vulgar. ‘You should address her as “Miss”.’
Inquired Zhang Guo-Dong: ‘If you work out like that, does your dick get bigger?’
‘No, the opposite. Because your blood gets pumped out to other big muscles.’
Well then, I’m not going to work out, concluded Zhang Guo-Dong.
It’s the same principle as in exercising any particular muscle, I said. You just have to keep blood pumping in, out and then in again.
Is it okay to beat off, asked Zhang Guo-Dong. Yeah, Liu Jing-Wei and I answered in unison. But can you keep from ejaculating, silly?
Later on, Liu Jing-Wei bought a Benz to facilitate his courtships. The license plate read ‘5555’ (a pun on ‘Me Me Me Me’). You gotta play the game, he said; and indeed, his Benz had a bigger derriere than any of those Mercedes Benzes parked in front of the Central Academy of Drama or the Beijing Film Academy.
No sooner was he behind the wheel in his first car than he drove to school looking for me. Zhang Guo-Dong was shooting a film in Jinan. Let’s drive there and pick him up, he said. Shandong roads are sweet – you won’t run into highway bandits or cops out to nab speeding drivers, so we can get there in under five hours.
It didn’t take me long to determine how often Liu Jing-Wei was switching girlfriends or how many girls he was screwing at the same time – all based solely on the scent of perfume in his car at a given time. Besides being 1.78-meters tall and possessing long hair, Liu Jing-Wei’s girlfriend also had to be a past or current student of one of Beijing’s eight arts academies, ideally from a family of intellectuals, and incapable of swearing in more foul language than him.
Zhang Guo-Dong asked why he had to have girls with long hair. Liu Jing-Wei replied that he didn’t like looking at a girl’s face during the act itself. He preferred to be behind her, grasping her hair as if on horseback.
After we went drinking, Liu Jing-Wei would insist on driving all us drunkards home. Drinking to excess simply wasn’t in his vocabulary. One night, a professional dancer was phoning him every fifteen minutes. Each time Liu Jing-Wei promised he would go pick her up – in just half an hour. At which time he would drive the next drunken drinking companion on home.
The dancer called for the last time. ‘It’s already two in the morning. Don’t bother coming. Someone else is coming to pick me up.’
‘Fine,’ said Liu Jing-Wei, putting the phone down. ‘Your mother.’ These girls just didn’t understand what Liu Jing-Wei was after.
In the end, there was no girl’s perfume floating about in Liu Jing-Wei’s roomy Benz. ‘You know what the height of cool is now?’ he asked cheerfully.
‘Hiring a Harvard MBA. I canned the girls and hired three Harvard MBAs who graduated this year. One used to be with Bank of China, one from Wall Street and one from China Chemical. They make US$100,000 a year, with lodging and food. Cheaper than a girl, but even more awesome.’
‘Their English is fantastic. They speak as naturally as bug-eyed goldfish blow bubbles. I can’t understand a word. But they know how to use a PC and Excel. One, two, three – and they’ve calculated how much I’ll earn in the next three years. One, two, three – and they’ve calculated how much I’m worth. My entire life I never knew how much I was worth. Pretty sweet, eh?’
But before I could even take him to a Hanhai art auction to check out one of those half-meter long dragon-shaped hooks made of Hongshan period jade, Liu Jing-Wei expired in his bathtub. So that was the awesome finale of his life – hiring three Harvard MBA grads.
At last our PE teacher agreed that we didn’t have to leave school grounds and practice long-distance running. We could play basketball in the playground instead.
Our PE teacher was a simple, humble sort of guy. He earned a very modest salary and ate his three meals a day in the school cafeteria. Helping schoolgirls do gymnastics on the side-horse or the horizontal bar was his greatest joy. He possessed a pair of warm and pudgy little claws.
Confucius says: ‘There are ethical standards for human conduct in society. Confucius does not exchange his for those of others.’ By this, he meant you’re cool, but I’m cool too; I ain’t gonna swap my cool for yours, ‘cuz I don’t envy you.
I’ve envied just two people in my life. One is this PE teacher who always – spring, summer, fall and winter – had fresh, young female butt at his fingertips. Particularly given that era when the supply of material goods was tight, and the only fresh vegetable during winter was Chinese cabbage. My other object of envy was the prof who specialized in breast surgery. He reserved every morning for diagnoses in the clinic, where nearly one hundred pairs of breasts anxiously awaited his Hippocratic touch.
The secret to kissing up to our PE teacher was to ask, in all earnestness: ‘Sir, how is it that you look more and more like Diego Maradona?’ Our PE teacher was short and stocky, just like Maradona. His hair was naturally curly, just like Maradona’s. He loved soccer, just like Maradona.
To match Maradona’s Adidas-studded wardrobe, our PE teacher scrimped and saved until he could afford a pair of genuine Adidas shorts at the Lisheng Sports Store. When Beijing stopped indoor heating on March 15, he would greet the chilly spring weather by slipping on his brand name shorts, revealing the hair on his thighs and calves. Only when his leg hairs curled in the cold October weather would he retire his Adidas shorts.
Since he never changed his shorts to wash them, our PE teacher’s brand name shorts usually looked as glossy as a polished roof tile. One time on the pitch under the bright sun, he turned around to teach us a new set of broadcast calisthenics, his butt shining like a mirror. I could even see Sang Bao-Jiang’s reflection in time to remind him to zip up his pants.
On the soccer field when we cheered him on with our ‘Just like Maradona!’ chant, he would wriggle his muscular, polished-roof-tile of a butt, elegantly charging forward with the ball, plunging into enemy territory like an ancient warrior sporting shiny silver breast armor on his rear-end – instead of his chest.
Our PE teacher simply didn’t have the bucks to buy genuine Adidas soccer shoes, so he had to settle for knock-offs. Back then manufacturing techniques for pirated shoes were second-rate, and the North American panther leaping forward on rip-off Pumas looked pregnant with twins. The most genuine fakes he wrangled at the clothing market in Beijing’s Xizhimen had Adidas imprinted on the shoe heels, and the famous Nike logo on the sides.
As uniforms for the high school football tournament, Liu Jing-Wei supplied us with light-blue, round-collar shirts at the wholesale price of just two renminbi apiece. Zhang Guo-Dong and I decided to transform them into brand name versions. Based on Zhang Guo-Dong’s Adidas sports outfit, I engraved an Adidas logo on a seal-quality stone, applied clothing dye to it and printed it on to the top left-hand side of a round-collar shirt.
And there it was: my very own Adidas.
With only one shirt printed, our PE teacher got wind of our project and came running. He took one look and chuckled, ‘a fake’.
He sternly explained that the first step in manufacturing a fake is not acquiring the means to do so; it’s getting your hands on the real McCoy. A bona fide Adidas logo comprises three identical leaves, not a flower with three petals.
I cornered Zhang Guo-Dong, and he confessed pronto that yes, his pants were fakes. His former super-cool look had just been a show.
Painstakingly, our PE teacher removed his genuine Adidas shorts. ‘Use them for reference only. Don’t try them on,’ he commanded. ‘And only manufacture high-quality look-alikes, nothing shoddy.’ He handed over his shorts and I received them solemnly, like taking possession of the national flag. They were weighty indeed, as if they came with one of our PE teacher’s buns intact.
The second print-run was a major success. Even our PE teacher ordered three pieces. At long last his famous Adidas pants had a matching shirt that was a dead ringer for the genuine item. Now he looked even more like Maradona.
But even wearing our homemade Adidas, he would still make us go long-distance running in the cold. ‘You might curse out my mother now, but one day you and your wives will realize the value of this exercise. Endurance is key.’
We would run past the malt sugar factory, hang a right, go down Car Parts Road and take another right, jog by the Mechanical Engineering Management Institute and Zhaolong Hotel, go right again, pass a public washroom and the China Youth Daily Printing Works, and head back to school.
It wasn’t long before we discovered that we could take a bus instead. Several days later, we got off at the Route 43 bus stop, only to find our phys ed teacher there waiting.
‘From here on in,’ he said mercifully, ‘we’ll run in the school playground.’
Three thousand meters meant ten times around the track. By the seventh lap, my tongue was hanging out like a dog’s. ‘You’ve got great endurance,’ my wife would later say in bed. ‘Even though your classmates say you ranked last in your gym class. But they were exceptional, and your middle school PE teacher was a neat guy.’
But in middle school we only did laps in cold weather. Doing laps in bed in the summer is inhumane.
After I grew up – except in bed – I no longer had to do laps. I switched to swimming. If I didn’t have sex in the afternoon, I would go to the 21st Century Hotel and swim in their fifty-meter Olympic-standard pool.
Since I studied medicine, Zhang Guo-Dong asked me how much energy is expended during intercourse. I explained that one full round of sex, including foreplay, after-play and the activity in between, requires 20-30 minutes. The energy expended during an act of sex is more or less equivalent to swimming 500 meters or jogging 1,500.
Zhang Guo-Dong asked if I had any scientific basis for this estimate. Certainly, I replied. If I don’t have sex twice in a given afternoon, I swim 1,000 meters or jog 3,000 and feel just about as tired. One thousand divided by two is 500, and 3,000 divided by two is 1,500. That’s scientific, believe it or not.
Gym class over, I wiped the sweat off and walked toward our classroom. ‘Homeroom Teacher wants to see you,’ called out Xiao, our Class Monitor.
Just as I was mulling over how to discuss poetics with our Homeroom Teacher, an author of so-called ‘obscure’ poetry, I entered the classroom and discovered the Student Discipline Director was there too. Gulp.
‘There you are. Take a seat,’ said our Homeroom Teacher.
‘I prefer to stand. I’m always sitting in class.’ I took a good look in all directions. There wasn’t an empty seat within five square meters.
‘Just finished gym class?’
‘I’m back from a game of basketball,’ I said.
‘Hadn’t heard you could play basketball. Just heard you do poetry.’
‘So that’s why I’m learning how to play,’ I replied. ‘Too many people write poetry. That’s out. The last few years writing novels is in, but novels are too long, so the Beijing Evening News won’t run them.’
‘Did you attend class yesterday morning?’ Our Homeroom Teacher cut in.
‘I queried your classmates. Some said they had just seen you, or that you must have gone to the toilet. When I came during the second period, they said you might have eaten too many Lao Cheng Huangmiao Spicy Beans, and were still sitting on the toilet, constipated, staring at the wall in remorse. Others said you were busy “showing support for soldiers and their families”, and seeing no one was there to help when a white-haired granny suddenly took ill, you accompanied her to Chaoyang District Hospital. Your relationships with the masses are quite solid.”
‘Now, just what were you up to yesterday?’
‘I’ve actually done all those sorts of things in the past. But yesterday, I was sick.’
Actually, I regretted having cut class. Zhang Guo-Dong said that yesterday our longhaired English instructor with the droopy butt had taken them to the cinema education room. To improve their listening comprehension, she had played the original Sophie’s Choice without subtitles.
‘There was plenty of flesh, but I only caught one word. “Dear! Dear!” that girl kept screaming in a high-pitched voice. I didn’t understand anything else,’ Zhang Guo-Dong recounted.
‘But Zhu Shang and those other girls just looked stupefied. Their eyeballs were glued to the screen, very serious like.’
‘So if you were sick yesterday, how come today you went happily off to your phys ed class?’ Our Homeroom Teacher had finally put his finger on the inherent contradiction in my logic, right there in front of the Student Discipline Director. Our Homeroom Teacher couldn’t contain his glee. His eyes twinkled behind his glasses, and his drinker’s nose exploded in color, almost dripping bright red.
The Student Discipline Director continued to wear a magnanimous smile, listening mutely.
‘I felt better by then,’ I said.
‘I had my illness diagnosed.’
‘At which hospital? Did you get a Sick Slip?’
‘It was done at home.’
‘How could you have a diagnosis done at home?’
‘I did it myself.’
‘How can you diagnose your own illness?’
‘Using a mirror.’
Smiling magnanimously, the Student Discipline Director threw a knowing look at our homeroom teacher, who was hissing out of the side of his mouth and looking like he was ready to gnash me alive.
‘You’re a very capable student,’ the director broke his silence. ‘And you should help your teacher to improve school management. What is your opinion of the recent atmosphere in the school?’
‘A little restless.’
‘And why might that be? Could it be that the students have read some bad books, befriended some bad types, or organized a bad group of some sort?’
I was busy imagining if I sketched a bushy mustache on the director’s face, he would look even more like one of those lieutenants in the Japanese Emperor’s army who had deceived the simple-minded young Chinese peasants.
‘Maybe it’s the weather. Springtime and all.’ On campus, the ever-so-soft winter jasmine had fallen away ever so quietly. Followed by the headstrong honeysuckle and forsythia, which were breaking out in gold.
‘Your students have unexpected powers of resistance,’ I said. ‘Bad books and bad people leave us unsullied.’
‘Just like you yourself have said, sir: “If the seat was not upright, she would not sit in it. If the food was not sliced correctly, she would not eat it.” Otherwise, how could the mother of Mencius have conceived an upstanding Confucian philosopher like him?’
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