|Illustration by Dao Quoc Huy
by Tran Thuc Ha
My hometown is in the Central part of the country. After I graduated from university with a degree in business management, I went to HCM City with my girlfriend to create a start-up. After several months of job hunting, I found employment in a company that specialized in moulding things from light, thin metal for the big companies that produce household appliances. I worked in the materials planning section and my girlfriend worked in the section that specialised in producing plastic accessories for Honda motorbikes, refrigerators, television sets, cameras and mobile phones. After three years of working diligently, we were promoted to become the heads of our respective sections. From then on, our relations expanded to foreign companies such as Samsung, Hitachi, Panasonic and Sanyo. These companies bought our products. Having a lot of contacts with these companies, I found out what they wanted. My girlfriend was an intelligent girl. After several years working at the company, she had invented a new way of preparing a very good quality plastic by adding some chemicals that could be both hard and pliant. She kept the formula a secret. The year after next, we thought about bigger things. We wanted to be our own masters, but capital was a big obstacle. However, with determination and the help of our friends, we set up a business unit. At first, we produced only a few high-quality items that were different from the ones made by other companies in terms of design. We offered the first batch for sale in some familiar places. Half a month went by and we were on tenterhooks, as if sitting on the edge of a knife. But as luck would have it, all the places accepted our goods. We started our business with three workers in a small house we rented. After twenty years, we had a factory of a thousand square meters with 200 workers and sophisticated machines. We had married 18 years before and now we had two sons, one 15 and the other 10.
My company was located in a residential area, so there were a lot of street vendors and peddlers. Among these persons there was a new lottery ticket seller sitting near my company's gate. I found that this man never smiled, but he looked sympathetic. He was quite different from the other vendors around. This morning, as I pulled up to the gate in my car, I saw that he was a man of medium height and looked smart in his clothes. He had a long beard. His hair was touched with grey strands. His eyes were bright and his face exuded the intelligence of an educated man. As the car came closer to him, I found that his eyes were lovely and affectionate. I stopped the car and went towards him to buy some tickets in an attempt to have a closer look at him. Some female workers saw me buying lottery tickets and rushed towards me. "Today is a lucky day. Director, will you buy one ticket for each of us, please?" After the man sold almost all the tickets, he said thanks to me. I felt he must have come from the respectable world. I guessed he must have had a decent job too. Maybe he had to sell lottery tickets due to unfortunate circumstances! And what was more, I might have seen these lovely eyes and heard his warm voice somewhere…
After dinner, as was customary for me, I switched on the television to listen to the daily news and then sat down at my desk to list all the things I had done during the day and make a plan for the next day. Yet I could not concentrate on this task. My mind kept returning to the lottery ticket seller, even though he had nothing to do with me. What an irksome situation! I tried to forget it, but I could not. Those bright, lovely eyes, that warm voice! I tried to rummage in my memory to see if I had met him somewhere. Actually, I had met a lot of people, bad and good, but this man made me remember something vague in my mind. All of a sudden, the low voice flashed in my memory: "Don't give in!" It had helped me overcome innumerable difficulties in my life. It had given me strength. The next day, I asked the guard at the gate to come and meet me. I told him to try to get in touch with the lottery ticket seller and find out who he was. The guard was so surprised: "Has he done anything wrong?" I smiled: "No, don't worry about it. I feel that I have met this gentleman somewhere, but I can't remember." A few days later, the guard told me that the man used to be a teacher in D.H. City. He had been looking for a job here for several years, but he could not find one, so he sold lottery tickets to make a living. He had gone to a lot of places - now Dong Nai for a few days, now Binh Duong for a few months! I was dumbfounded upon hearing the news. A teacher from my city! I could not sleep a wink that night. I tried to remember all the teachers who had taught me, from senior secondary school to university, but I could not remember anyone who had those eyes! Then I got startled: Teacher Dang, who had eyes similar to those of the lottery ticket seller. He taught mathematics to me in junior secondary school!
At that time I was 14 and in eighth grade. I was not good at maths, but teacher Dang was very devoted to the students like me. His intelligent and lovely eyes always encouraged us to keep trying. His teaching method helped us make progress. He was a skilled teacher; moreover, he was honest and sympathetic to everyone, while also being a straightforward man. After more than thirty years, that face had gotten much older and a lot of wrinkles surrounded his eyes. But his eyes seemed unchanged. I was sure that the lottery ticket seller was teacher Dang! But why would such a good teacher have to drift to this faraway land and sell lottery tickets, I wondered?
When I began to study, he was about 27 or 28 and had a girlfriend. When I entered university, I heard that he had gotten married. So where was his wife now? How many children did he have? Or had his family been broken up so that he had to come here to make a living? I thought and thought… Was it possible that he had been involved in a legal case and lost his property? I tried not to think about it. But I could not forget the teacher who had taught me with all his heart. Now that he was in such a desperate situation, how could I forget him? I had to talk to him, to share things with him!
On the day we met, my teacher said:
"Possibly you are my student, but I cannot remember all my students. Now you're a director. That's good."
I knew that my teacher valued self-respect above all other things, so I tried to be as polite to him as I had been when I was still his student.
"My teacher, no matter what has happened, I'll always be your student. Please don't think differently of me or I will be sad. I am very elated to see you here, my teacher! Please, I would like to invite you to my house. If you don't agree, I will stand here until you agree to go with me!"
Seeing my sincerity, my teacher agreed to come and stay at my home for one day. We talked about the old school days. His face looked brighter and I felt I was returning to my childhood. I remembered one day when my teacher called me to the blackboard to solve a problem. I tried but I could not do it. My teacher called a girl student to the board and she solved the problem in one minute. I blushed. My teacher said, looking at me:
"It's good to know shame. Knowing shame can help change one's life, you know!"
"When I grew up and began my life on my own, I always remembered your words, my teacher! I have never flinched before any difficulties or obstacles and built a good life for myself."
"Thank you. It makes a teacher so happy to know that his words can stay in his student's heart!"
My teacher stayed with me for one day. He left in the afternoon. Before he left, I ventured to ask him:
"What made you come down here and sell lottery tickets? Why don't you find another job?"
He looked at me with his lovely eyes and said in his warm voice:
"What do you think is suitable? I find selling lottery tickets quite interesting. You see, it is not fake goods; it is not smuggled goods; it does not pollute the environment; it does not do any tricks against men. I like moving from one place to another. Selling lottery tickets is quite suitable for me at this point in my life."
Seeing that my teacher had begun to open up to me, I took a bold step and asked him again:
"But why do you want to sell lottery tickets?"
"Why do you want to be a director?"
"Please tell me. If you refuse, I'll be very unhappy. I think something extraordinary must have happened!"
"You are so curious, dear! If you really want, I'll tell you now. It's a simple story."
Following is my teacher's story:
When I graduated from university with a diploma in education, it took me three years to begin my teaching job at the junior secondary school. In the 15th year of my job, I asked a ninth grader to come to the blackboard and asked him why he had not done the exercises. This student replied nonchalantly, "I was busy." I asked him, "You've got a two-day weekend, so what are you busy with?"
"People don't have the right to meddle with other people's private lives."
My face at that time was so hot, but I tried to contain myself and said:
"I gree with you about the right to freedom. But this is school and you are a student and I am your teacher, you know!"
The student growled:
"You are nothing to me! Do you know who I am?"
Trying to contain myself, I replied in a firm voice:
"I don't care who you are! You are a student here and you are not allowed to be rude to me!"
"What can you do to me if I am rude? You are not on an equal footing with my dog in my house, so stop criticising me!"
"If you go on speaking like that to me, you will get a slap on the face, you know!"
The boy yelled at me that I was a base man. I could not bear it, so I slapped him. He spit at me and went out of the classroom.
I asked my teacher if he knew what family the boy belonged to. He said "Yes!" and told me that the boy was the son of an influential man in the province. The principal of the school met my teacher and gave him a decision from the provincial Department of Education sacking him because beating students was not allowed.
My colleagues wouldn't stop talking about the situation. I was 42 that year. I had a son in first grade and my wife was the head of the accountants' section at a public agency. Unfortunately, she was also treated coldly by the people around her. Those who were vying with her for the title slung muddy words at her. My family's income was sharply reduced, making my wife so confused that she did her job badly. The head of her office treated her like a housemaid, so she decided to quit. After that, she sold vegetables in the market.
I don't think I was in the wrong, but I landed in a miserable situation. In the face of such an incident, we have to know how to accept it and deal with all that happens on the way, you see!
For several years, my family lived on what my wife earned and finally we decided to go south. I hoped that it would be easier for me to find a job there. Truthfully, HCM City was a good place to find a job. But you see, they needed young people, not older men like me. Even when I applied to work as a guard in an office, I was refused. I roamed the city for several months hunting for a job, but in vain. At the end of the day, I realised that selling the lottery tickets was quite suitable for me. Nobody competed with me; it was quite a free job to do. In terms of earning potential, it was quite sufficient to keep my family comfortable. I saved for several months and went back home with my wife and son.
"What school do you think is suitable for your son?"
"The Teachers Training School," my teacher said right away.
"But the teaching profession has done bad things to you. You'd better guide him to study at another school, I think," I said.
"My wife said the same thing. But teaching is the most important link in training human beings. A good education breeds a prosperous society, you know! Teaching changes lives. One had better not refuse that noble calling!"
After that conversation, I intended to help my teacher by offering him an administrative job in our company's office, but he thanked me and declined. He said he was used to his job and did not want to change it for the rest of his life.
Finally, I had to say good-bye to my teacher with a heavy feeling in my heart.
Translated by Manh Chuong