Tai was a dreamer. In 1929 he graduated from high school at the top of his county. His dad encouraged him to go to medical school. He chose agriculture instead. Teaching farmers how to grow food, he reasoned with his father, could save a lot of hungry people at once while medicine helped patients one at a time. Besides, lychees on trees looked more appetizing than lesions on people, he said to himself.
In college he received good grades from his professors. He was well respected by his peers and they elected him president of the student association. At graduation, he was hired right away by the government’s agriculture agency. Steadily he was moving up the bureaucratic ranks while doing something good for his country. A few years later he married a beautiful young woman and they started a family. Things were going well for him. A dream came true.
Then the civil war broke out in the Chinese mainland. He found himself on the losing side. With the enemies on his tail, he took his family and fled to Hong Kong. He and his wife found a piece of land and started a farming business. It was acres of virgin, barren dirt. But the rent was cheap. They hired crews of laborers to prepare the land. They grew rice, vegetables and fruit. They raised pigs and chickens. They built ponds to farm fish and grow lotus in them. They made decent profits from the crops and animals. They would reinvest the profits in the farm and made it better. In a reduced scale, Tai continued to live out his dream.
The landlady witnessed the tenant’s progress and saw an opportunity. When the lease expired at the end of the fifteen-year term, she tripled the rent. When he wouldn’t pay it, she served him an eviction notice and kicked him out.
To make an alternate living, he found three part-time jobs in three different private high schools. But at least he was teaching his favorite subjects of biology and Chinese literature. Faculty for those subjects were usually paid lower than those who taught English, but more than those who had the sewing or cooking class. Every day it was a mad dash by bus from one campus to another, trying to get there before the bell rang – at least before the ending bell rang. It was a miracle that he never made a mistake of going to the wrong school or the wrong class.
After three years of playing Houdini between three schools, he latched onto a teaching job in an elementary school in a rural area. The school was subsidized by the government, so the pay was better. As a matter of fact, that single paycheck was more than all the three prior schools were paying him, combined. However, “better” didn’t mean “good.” He barely made enough to feed his wife and children, and he had six of them.
He wasn’t a religious man. But many years later he was quoted as saying something quasi-spiritual to one of his children. (He probably told all his children, but only one of them was listening.) It went like this: if life writes a full-stop on your dream, accept it and take instead what’s given to you. He went on to explain it in words more understandable to a young person: it’s okay if you couldn’t do what you dreamed of doing as long as you gave it a good shot. Move on to what’s important next, he continued, for that may be the most sensible option. That option for him was a school teacher’s job that paid for dinner for the family every night. There was no more dreaming for the romantic who wanted to pluck his country out of hunger.
Dreamer v. Dinner: Dinner won, by total knock-out.
*** To Be Continued ***
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