High School in Suzhou

New England Review - - Table of Contents - Cate Marvin

They play ping-pong. They are all boys. They play ping-pong cease­lessly in the vast gym­na­sium, will not stop to glance at us visi­tors from the West, will not un­tie their eyes from the tiny ball. The prin­ci­pal

of the school, sala­man­dered-slick hair, is dis­pleased the vis­it­ing pro­fes­sors are fe­male, leads us out from the gym­na­sium with silent loathing to a men­tho­lated room in­side which a hazed Plex­i­glas cage con­tains

a stiff leop­ard, so frankly dead its fur looks as if it'll fall off from the stroke of our glance. I have to pee. In the girls' room, I squat where thou­sands of girls have squat­ted, the rich min­er­als waft­ing up from

the toi­let's well, imagine how all of our urine moves through the mys­te­ri­ous pipes be­low, leaves the high school, de­posit­ing it­self into the river that days later I'll move along with the throng of id­iots I've joined

to crawl this coun­try as fleas do a dog. We visit one scholar's gar­den af­ter an­other: here's the Gar­den of the Master of Nets. The rocks are bones of the earth. The fur­ni­ture is re­ferred to as in­ter­nal or­gans. Gar­dens

are tra­di­tion­ally en­tered through a nar­row pas­sage. Schol­ars were not girls. Girls are not schol­ars, though girls are gar­dens en­tered through a nar­row pas­sage. The girls at the tex­tile fac­tory we tour do not look up.

The guide snorts. We have no con­cep­tion how lucky they are to have at­tained these jobs! It's only nat­u­ral they wear masks to pro­tect their lungs. In high school, I was the Master of End­less Fail­ures, thrashed nightly

in bed, on the verge of cough­ing my lungs out, in that Gar­den of Spit­ting Up. And didn't ev­ery girl have her gar­den? The Gar­den of Jut­ting Neck-bones. Gar­dens Pocked with Black Eyes. The Gar­den of Let­ting Him

in De­spite Many Protests. A dead leop­ard re­lent­lessly sheds its fur above an au­di­to­rium of chil­dren hurtling to­ward adult­hood. In that gym­na­sium, there were no girls play­ing ping-pong. They are all boys, cease­lessly.

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