This chapter made my heart break for Luo Qi Qi. She’s so lonely that I just want to hug her tightly and tell her that it’s going to be alright!
We’re introduced to a new character- Zhang Jun. Although he still seems like a mystery, will he turn out to be a ray of light for Qi Qi!?
Read on to learn more of Luo Qi Qi’s sad past and her struggles to grow stronger.
2. When I Met Him
Recognizing the importance of teachers in a child’s life, Chinese traditional culture has always been emphasizing the need to respect teachers.
Respect for teachers has long become a moral standard in China. However, we forget that due to the importance of teachers in children’s lives, teachers should be the ones to respect children.
Only when they have respect for an individual would they be able to properly guide these individuals.
Near the end of Year 3, there were rumors that as the school’s number of students had risen, the classes would have to be divided again. I secretly prayed for this, please change Teacher Zhang!
In our school, we have a flag raising ceremony every week. After raising the national flag, the Principal will first give praises, then criticism and at the end, award the previous week’s best class.
This week was the same. During the ceremony, I lowered my head and didn’t bother to concentrate since whichever class got awarded had nothing to do with me. After awarding the class, the Principal started talking in a serious manner about theft and what was against the law.
A boy was lead up the stage and the Principal started announcing the boy’s crimes: stealing a bicycle, stealing a teacher’s wallet, blackmailing younger students along with older students from higher year levels, forcing them to steal their parents’ money, gang fighting, injuring a Year 6 boy with his bicycle chain, writing love letters to girls from higher year levels…
This 12 year old boy seemed as if he could be thrown straight into jail for his crimes. The students were dumbstruck as they listened and all stared at him. However, what drew my attention wasn’t the crimes he had committed but his expression.
He was taller than the other boys of his year which made him seem skinny, his blue uniform hung slackly on his frame. He had a crew cut and as his hair was hard and all upright, from a glance, his head looked like a hedgehog. He stood there lazily with his head bowed as though he was acknowledging his crimes but occasionally when he glanced up, the corners of his mouth were curled up into a smile.
Could he not see everyone’s stares? Did he not feel embarrassed? He was in front of the entire school! I could not understand him.
After the ceremony, the girls around me talked in whispers. I walked behind them and gained some information about the boy. He was the same year as me but as he repeated Year 2, he was older than us. I heard that he was the youngest in his family, his parents only had him when they were over 40 years old. He had four sisters who were much older than him. Apparently his family was very rich, his sport shoes were Nike and the watch on his wrist was from Swatch, all bought overseas by his brother in law. In the late 80s to early 90s, overseas was still a very distant word so I had no understanding of any significance of the brands. I was just confused, if he had money then why did he steal money and blackmail others for money?
His actions and his expression were like a mystery to me. In my puzzlement, I remembered this bad student’s name- Zhang Jun. However, I believe on that day, I wasn’t the only one who remembered him.
In Year 4, we were allocated to new classes and two unlucky things occurred: the first was that my maths teacher was still Teacher Zhang; the second, she wasn’t only my maths teacher but also my homeroom teacher.
Zhang Jun was in the same class as me but we didn’t talk to each other. We had many similarities such as taking turns to come last in class; during lessons, we both didn’t listen, he was always sleeping and I was always daydreaming. However, we also had many differences.
Although his grades were bad, all the guys in the class still played with him and the other guys with bad grades listened to him. The girls didn’t dislike him because he often treated them to ice cream and soft drinks and his jokes made them shake with laughter. In class, he was always sleeping but as soon as the bell rang, he’d be full of energy and rush with everyone to the sports field to play soccer or basketball. As for me, I would find a place to hide and read a book, occasionally lifting my head up to watch the girls skipping and the guys playing soccer.
I was already used to being lonely at home as I could read books. Books were filled with countless excitement. My little sister liked to tattle tale but I could hide from her since everything was ‘sister letting everything to little sister’. Teacher Zhang was dissatisfied with me but it was only 2 or 3 minutes of torment in maths class so I was able to expressionlessly endure it.
If the days continue like this, then it can be regarded as a kind of peace. However, life always likes to tease us. When you’re losing hope, life will light up a spark of hope for you to not give up; when you’re at peace, it will suddenly give you a jolt, not letting you be too satisfied.
One summer’s afternoon, we had one hour of free time. The students who didn’t need to be on duty all ran out to the fields to play. As I liked the spot of sunshine by the window, I sat on the windowsill reading and looking out into the distance.
After free time was over, everyone came back for self study. Zhou Yi told Teacher Zhang that her fountain pen had disappeared, sadly saying how the pen was bought specially for her by her dad, she had used it before free time and now it was gone. Teacher Zhang decided that this was a serious matter and must be dealt with strictly, starting an investigation on the people who stayed in class during free time. The most suspicious one, Zhang Jun had rushed out of the class with a group of guys as soon as the bell ran and played soccer the entire time. There were may people who could testify for him. When Teacher Zhang asked him, he carelessly took out his bag and put it on the desk for her to check. Under his calm self confidence, Teacher Zhang immediately eliminated him from being a suspect.
Then, with still two or three other potential suspects, Teacher Zhang called me out asking me to return the pen; as long as I return it, she will forgive me!
I couldn’t believe my ears. At the time, I was sitting by the window but with the sunlight brilliantly shining on me, I felt cold all over. The eyes of the whole class of thirty something students were all on me, their eyes were each like a sharp sword, painfully stabbing me.
I forced back my tears: “Teacher Zhang, I didn’t…didn’t take her pen.”
However, Teacher Zhang didn’t believe me. In her heart, of all the students who stayed in the classroom, I was the only bad student so I was the only one who could do this sort of bad thing. At break, I didn’t go out to be wild. Instead, I stayed inside the classroom supposedly reading so I was an unreasonable freak. She reprimanded me again and again, ordering me to take out the stolen item whereas I pleaded again and again that I didn’t steal it.
Teacher Zhang lost her temper and ordered me to stand at the podium and then, in front of the entire class, she proceeded to search me all over. I only felt an unbearable sense of humiliation and shed tears as I allowed her to search all over me.
The whole class silently watched me and they had in their eyes, the ruthlessness of watching a good show, anticipating the moment when the stolen item is found. Though my eyes were blurred with tears, I saw at the back of the room, an unusually calm pair of eyes that didn’t contain the excited anticipation like the others; in midst of the cold and detached stares was an indistinct compassion and behind the looks of contempt there was a little sense of pity.
After searching my body, Teacher Zhang searched my school bag and desk but still didn’t find the pen so in embarrassment, her scolds grew louder and louder.
As she didn’t find the stolen item, she wasn’t able to declare me guilty yet she still fiercely warned me: “Don’t think that just because you weren’t caught this time, you can get away with it! You’re a thief! A ‘three hand’!” [Nickname for pickpockets].
At the time, I only felt my whole body go between hot and cold, as if someone had used a red hot iron to deeply engrave the word ‘thief’ onto my forehead.
Teacher Zhang exaggeratedly told the other teachers of how I stole yet refused to admit to it. My classmates were all determined that I definitely stole the pen. When they talked about me behind my back, they stopped using my name, instead, they all called me “three hand” [pickpocket]. Some girls would even intentionally in a not high or low voice call out those two words. I could only bow my head down in humiliation and then quickly walk away in silence as they laugh exaggeratedly.
The guys weren’t as mean as the girls, they didn’t called me “three hands” but whenever they heard someone call out “three hands”, they’d shoot looks at me like sharp swords.
For a long time, whenever I heard those two words, I wished that I could immediately die and disappear from this world.
Every morning when I woke up, I would feel fear. I was afraid of the teacher, afraid of my classmates. To me, going to school had become the most terrifying thing.
Who said “People at birth, are naturally good”?* Have you seen children ruthlessly torture little animals before? They can play a living little bird to death. People by nature are brutal and a children’s world is actually filled with cruelness.
*[Part of the core Confucianism taught to children]
A month after the pen theft incident, Teacher Zhang caused my mind and body to be completely trampled and humiliated for a second time.
At the time, the class had afternoon self study. Everyone had their heads down doing homework and Teacher Zhang was at the front marking yesterday’s homework. As she was marking, she suddenly called out my name: “Luo Qi Qi!”
I stood up trembling with fear, wondering if my homework was all wrong but I didn’t think that she would smile coldly: “The sun rose from the west, you didn’t get anything wrong in your homework!”
My grades weren’t good but that day, I somehow did my maths homework exercises correctly. In my opinion, getting your homework right is always a good thing, even if Teacher Zhang doesn’t praise me, at least she wouldn’t have need to scold me so my heart relaxed a bit and I quietly stood with my head bowed.
She asked: “Whose homework did you copy?”
I raised my head, stunned. I froze for a bit before replying: “I didn’t copy anyone.”
Teacher Zhang asked me another three times and I replied “I didn’t copy” every time. She got impatient and called me up to the front.
I walked up until I was at a 1 metre distance from her before fearfully stopping, my feet unable to move. She grabbed me and dragged me to her side. Pointing at my homework book, she sternly questioned: “You can do this question? You can do this question? If you can do this question then pigs can fly.”
A few guys couldn’t hold back their laughter. My face instantly turned boiling hot. Feeling both ashamed and resentful, I called out loudly for the first time: “I did it correctly!”
In Teacher Zhang’s heart, I’ve always been silent and submissive so she froze dumbfounded at my shout. I also gave myself a fright.
In an instant, Teacher Zhang reacted, getting even angrier. She curled her hands into a fist and shoved my shoulders again and again: “Say that again! Do you have the guts to say it again?! It was done by yourself? Being bad at studying is nothing, that’s a problem of your intelligence but you even have problems with your morals, stealing and lying, you’re filled with badness.”
At her shoves, my body stumbled back, when I was about to be beyond her arm distance, she easily yanked me back, starting another round of shoving: “Say that again! Do you have the guys to say it again?! It wasn’t copied…”
I silently endured it, allowing her to repeatedly insult me. I was like a little bird in the hands of a child, completely powerless to resist my fate and suffering, only able to allow her shoves. Beneath the podium, there were countless black heads raised up, with different kinds of stares at me, some of fear, some of indifference, some of despise, some of sympathy…
Suddenly, I don’t know why but I felt that I’ve had enough. I’ve completely and utterly had enough! I looked at Teacher Zhang and loudly said: “I didn’t copy the homework! I didn’t copy the homework!”
Teacher Zhang froze, stunned.
In front of the whole class, I dared to challenge her authority. She was already a bad tempered woman but at this point, she was so flustered that she grabbed my workbook and fanned it towards my face while still pushing me with her other hand: “I’ve taught so many students, but I’ve never seen a bad student like you! If this work wasn’t copied by you, my ‘Zhang’ should be spelled backwards…”
She pushed me back step by step until I was closely backed against the blackboard while she actually hit towards me. The entire world seemed to be vibrating. I could only see the white pages of the workbook flapping here and there while I was closely pressed against the blackboard with no way out. Still, I yelled out again and again: “I didn’t copy! I didn’t copy! I didn’t copy…”
My sound grew louder and louder, it had already become a hoarse scream.
At last, my workbook fell apart, the pages scattered apart and floated all around the podium floor. Without a weapon, Teacher Zhang had to stop. I still stubbornly glared at Teacher Zhang as I shouted again and again: “I didn’t copy! Didn’t copy…”
My thoughts at the time were really crazy. Hit me! Apart from depending on your teacher status to hit me, what else can you do? If you have the guts then it’s best if you hit me to death here today!
I don’t know whether or not Teacher Zhang could see my craziness through my eyes but in any case, she stopped attacking me. She stood on the podium dazed for a moment before viciously saying: “I can’t teach a child like you! I will phone your parents!”
It was a strange feeling, although her expression was as strict as before, I felt that she was only fierce on the outside and weak inside. At that moment, all the previous fear of her that I had accumulated disappeared, leaving behind only disdain. I tidied my hair and coldly snorted: ” Go ahead! Does Teacher Zhang know my father’s phone number? If not, you can ask me!” Not waiting for her reply, I stepped off the podium, walked back to my desk and started packing away my things. I slung my bag over one shoulder and swaggered out the classroom.
My classmates gaped at me but this time, I didn’t bow my head down and dodge their stares like before. As I walked, I stared coldly back at them. Look! Don’t you guys really like watching? Then I’ll let you guys watch clearly, watch enough! When my classmates saw that I was staring back at them, they all avoided my stare. Zhang Jun however, didn’t avoid my stare. He leaned back on his slanted chair, carefreely spinning his fountain pen as he calmly looked at me, his lips seemed slightly curved upwards.
Carrying my bag, I walked sadly yet dazedly, passing by a few game houses along the way. I knew that those game houses were strictly forbidden by Teacher Zhang and my parents. Gathered inside were people who in my parent’s eyes were considered ‘little punks’, Teacher Zhang called them ‘thugs’ and my classmates called them ‘the mafia’. In the past, I would always avoid those places but today, since my courage seemed to be infinitely large, I wanted to go and experience it once.
I picked the largest game house and went inside. The room was filled with a strong smell of smoke. Many guys were bent in front of gaming machines, playing furiously. Judging from their ages, they seemed to range from middle school students to high school students with a few primary students as well. They were all very absorbed in their games that although seeing me, a girl, walk inside the game house was very strange, they only looked up briefly before continuing with their games. In an instant, I liked this smoke filled place because here, nobody used different types of stares to look at me.
Ten or so years ago, electronic games were relatively simple. There was nothing more than Space Invaders, maze games, killing monsters and other simple games. I stood on the side watching for a long time but still didn’t understand why guys were so into it, jumping up and down with a machine gun to kill people, I felt it was really boring. I heard people cheering in the yard so I followed the sounds and walked out the side door.
There were two billiard tables put out in the spacious yard. One of the tables were crowded with people. These onlookers seemed nervous and excited. Afterwards, I learnt that they were gambling. On the other table, there were only two people playing and one watching.
To promote and advertise, other businesses had their billiard tables placed outside their game house. This place however, had theirs hidden inside. I didn’t think too much of it at the time and went to watch the game with the less people.
One of the people playing was bent over and as he measured the ball with his stick, he laughed to the person watching: “Business is good, even primary students carrying their school bags have come to visit.”
Only then did the other player realise that there was a person standing on the side and looking up and down at me, he said: “Little sister, it’s time for school to finish now, quickly go home or else your parents will realise that you’ve skipped school.”
He was tall but I was unable to tell his age. Although he was a smooth talker, his expression didn’t seem like his careless attitude. That day, I ate explosives so no matter if the person had good or bad intentions, all I said were choking words: “Who’s your little sister? If you’re short sighted, go and get yourself a pair of glasses.”
The three guys turned their heads to stare at me. The other player wanted to speak but shrugged instead, and said to his mate: “Don’t be serious with children*!” He bent down to continue playing, quickly striking in a ball. He straightened up again, and as he searched for another place to strike, he smiled at me, seeming to ask “Can a short sighted person do this?”
[*Actually uses “little friends” which is a friendly term.”]
The guy standing on the side watching seemed to be 20 or so years old. As he bent down to grab the bottle of beer he had put on the floor, I noticed a tattoo on his body and suddenly felt worried. Without a sound, I turned and walked out.
I originally assumed that Teacher Zhang would viciously tell off me to my parents who would then properly scold me. However, after I went home, my father only gave me the homework question from yesterday and asked me to redo it again. After he watched me complete it, he didn’t say anything and allowed me to go eat. After eating, they talked in whispers inside their room for a long time, probably wondering how to deal with me.
That night before I went to sleep, my mother softly told me: “No matter how the situation arose, contradicting your teacher to her face isn’t right. Tomorrow at school, apologize to Teacher Zhang. Also, your father bought this fountain pen when he went to Beijing, now it’s yours. In the future, tell me and dad if you want anything.
I know that Teacher Zhang had told my parents about the fountain pen theft from last time. I don’t know if my parents were being considerate of my pride or something but they unexpectedly didn’t ask me a word about it. I didn’t bother to say anything so I pulled out my blankets and lay on the bed. Mom wanted to speak some more but my little sister loudly shouted for her in the bathroom so my mother immediately stood up, put the pen on my desk and hurriedly walked out.
I heard sounds of laughter coming from the bathroom. I pulled my blankets over my head. In the daytime, when I was shouted and hit at by Teacher Zhang, I didn’t drop a tear but this time, not knowing why, the tears came rushing out. If Grandpa was here, would his heart ache for me, would he adamantly tell Teacher Zhang “Qi Qi definitely wouldn’t steal other people’s things”, was I allowed to cry in his embrace?