Sunday, November 04, 2007

Pan Qingfu learns English

What follows is a passage from Mark Salzman's Iron and Silk that describes Salzman's wushu teacher, Pan Qingfu. Pan is quite the character: he sees the world in clear and simple terms, moves forcefully and energetically from goal to goal, and doesn't allow anyone to dictate how to do this. Pan wants to learn English, but he has already devised his own methods for learning it.

As for his English, something had temporarily distracted him from memorizing the oral English "routines," and according to his wife, occupied him during nearly all his free moments. Apparently he had seen in my room a letter from a friend written in script. He was so taken by its appearance that he decided right away to learn it, even though he could not write in print yet. My protests were futile. I drew up a series of models for him to copy from, and barely escaped having to rewrite all of our phrase sheets in script as well. His wife sensed my frustration, and one night, as he sat at a little table copying out letters onto a pad that he always carried around with him, she pleaded with him to be reasonable and let me teach him the way I knew how. "After all," she groaned, "teaching English is his job." Pan's eyebrows shot up and he glared at her. "Neither of you understands me," he whispered. "No one understands me the way I do." Then he picked up a single chopstick. "In the hands of an ordinary man, this is just a chopstick." He looked at it for a moment, then burst into motion too fast to see clearly, bringing the chopstick to a trembling halt less than a centimeter from my throat. "In my hands it becomes something else. You think it is foolish that I want to write script, but I do what I like, and who knows what I will do with it? Who knows what these letters will become when they are mine to use?" His eyes burned into mine, then a boyish smile came over his face and he moved on to the next letter.

Salzman, Mark. Iron and Silk. New York: Vintage Books, 1986. (Pages 136-137.)


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed that book and movie. Have you seen the movie?

--Mike Miller