If you were a teacher, or have retired or, perhaps, you now
have another job, how would you react if someone called you
“Shitty Teacher”? Even if you are the most self-disciplined person
and don’t feel in any way offended by it, I guess you’d still
feel unhappy about it.
I have been called so, and not just for once. In the noisy
Taipei Mass Rapid Transit System main station, teeming with commuters about to take a ride or who have just alighted from a
train, a man shouted those words three times. And I heard it loud
and clear. At first, I didn’t realize he was calling me. After all, I
was just a part of the flowing throngs that came and went, but no
matter how much I was in a hurry, I stopped walking, curious at
the sound of the words “Shitty Teacher” just like anybody
would. I turned towards the line of vision of the man who made
the calls, eager to know who that humiliated person happened to be. It took no time for me to find the source of the shouts, and it
seemed that the calls were directed at me. I saw that young man,
who looked to be about in his thirties. His eyes, like the gaze of
commuters who halted their steps out of mere curiosity, were all
glued on me. Instantly, I felt at a loss and became nervous. The
man, like an ice-breaking vessel, waded his way across the sea
of people around him, walking briskly towards me.
“Sir!” he greeted me, extending his palm towards my stillreluctant
right hand, and then he shook it using both of his.
“You are . . .” I did not have the slightest impression of this
person in my memory. Yet what made me feel some sense of
security were his beaming face and the warmth with which he
held on to my hand. Still, I felt ill at ease.
“You taught us how to make shit.”
“Ah!” That elongated exclamation is a trick forgetful old
people like me often employ to make a quick rewind back in
time. Make shit did he say? Luckily, I wasn’t yet senile and I did
manage to recall. “Oh yes! That was a long, long time ago. Ha!
Ha! Ha! Yes, you made shit!” Deliberately, I turned my smiling
face and words towards the curious onlookers whose stares were
still riveted on me. It worked fine, for after making eye contact
with me, they flashed a smile and resumed their walk.
Yes, it really happened. That time, I played the role of a
teacher and taught a group of kindergarten students how to make
shit out of mud. This is how it all happened.
It must have been seventeen years ago. I was then working
as assistant manager in a rural factory in Central Taiwan.
Although I was in charge of product marketing, I was also
assigned to take care of cultural, educational and leisure activities
of the factory’s 3,000 employees. The duty of supervising
the kindergarten and nursery school the company had built for employees’ children also fell on me.
One afternoon, as I visited the school grounds, I ran into a
female teacher along the corridors. She was leading a group of
kids, each one holding a box filled with mud, back into the
classroom from the nearby rice paddies. With mud in their
hands, the children had happy smiles on their faces as they
exchanged ideas on what to do with it. Like a flock of lively
sparrows, they chatted happily, including the teacher. But the
moment she realized I was walking right behind, the teacher
suddenly, as though I had broken something into pieces, became
stern and instructed the kids not to talk. With mud in their hands,
and their minds preoccupied with what to do with it, the children
were too happy to mind the teacher. They continued laughing
and chatting, making the teacher even more nervous. Because I
was getting closer, there was no time to repeat her instructions.
Instead she said in a loud voice: “Children, say hello to the
The kids looked about, bobbing their little heads, and when
they saw me, said: “Hello Mr. Huang!” The greetings, not made
in unison and coming from left and right, sounded barely familiar
and without much feeling. If the happy mood of an instant
ago were a delicate crystal piece, by now it had already been
smashed into pieces. I felt regret mixed with a sense of guilt for
having showed up, saddened by this culture of fear, the fear of
superiors in the workplace and the fear instilled in the minds of
subordinates by those who abuse power. Affected by the
teacher’s nervousness, they too turned uneasy. Suddenly, a box
slipped from the hands that held it, followed by a spattering
sound. A ball of mud had hit the floor. A kid cried out: “Ah!”
With an obviously frightened expression, he looked up to his
“You’re too careless! Pick it up, quickly!”
Frightened, the kid squatted to pick up the mud from the
floor. As everyone milled around him, the boy felt very embarrassed.
Beyond everyone’s expectations, the boy stood up without
touching the mud at his feet and, pointing at the heap, he
laughingly said with little self-confidence:
“Look! It’s a cowpat.”
“Nonsense! Pick it up, quick!” The teacher turned even
more nervous. At the sound of the word “cowpat” the children
giggled and laughed, repeating the word. The teacher walked
towards them, and then bent down to pick up the mud. “Teacher,
don’t pick it up,” I said before she could touch it. She stood up
and looked at me.
“Let me do it,” I said smiling and then I asked the kids:
“Come and have a look, doesn’t it look like cowpat?”
“It looks very much like one!”
“Really it looks like a cowpat. Really interesting!”
And so they all agreed, with each saying that the mud on
the floor really looked like cowpat. The atmosphere, stern for
some time, became lively again. Even the boy who first thought
he made a booboo joyously took pride in his discovery. Glancing
at the faces of his classmates, he wished those standing in the
back would also come closer for a look. Only the teacher had not
come around by this time,...