A VISITING CHINESE TUTOR
One Monday morning, the studio door lurched open and the Senior Manager led in a quiet and tiny man from Hong Kong. We bowed formally and it was explained I would instruct this gentleman in Photoshop, Director and Sound Edit, for a presentation he was to give on return to his superiors at some University on the Chinese mainland.
Luckily I had tuition sheets I had prepared for my own PhD students and could bullshit until the Senior Manager, looking rather sheepish, had left. It transpired that one Doctor Mullen, a distinguished teacher and exponent of Jurisprudence , had been mentioned in an academic meeting one evening in Hong Kong, and that Li-Po (shall we call him?) was the first of the junior academics there to benefit from wholesale immersion in Doctor Mullen’s formidable culture. Moreover the ingénue would have full access to the banks of keyboards and monitors in the computer centre in order to fine-tune his considerable digital skills.
“I swear I mentioned it to you last week. I know I did.”
Being a keen absorber of opportunity he was at the keyboard by the time I got in the next morning. I did the introductions to the students in the studio. His manner was cool, even reptilian. It turned out I could only really have access to my emails when he scuttled off to see if anybody (usually female) would accompany him for a coffee. His command of English soon revealed itself to be minimal, compensated for by mysterious gestures and roguish smiles at private jokes.
Week after week he sat at my desk. Every now and then he would try and articulate how the experience he was undergoing barely matched the description his Boss in Hong Kong was given of this learning experience. He cheered up when the studio opened to reveal another woman student scuttling in to retrieve her portfolio.
But, I said, enough is enough. Why am I doing this? It was clear his colleagues in Hong Kong were desperate for him not to return, as I was desperate for him to leave. As a sop to my irritation, it was announced (through an interpreter) that he would give a talk to the MA Course as soon as his slides arrived from home.
The Wednesday MA lecture at six was chosen for his debut as a speaker. It was promised he would present us with comparative material in Higher Education, reflection on the collision of two cultures, and present a sampling of his own work.
Given the excellent attendance at the MA lectures he could count on at least a hundred in the audience. I was disturbed he appeared to have no notes, knowing he could not communicate adequately in spoken English. He appeared in the lecture room with four rotary carousels of slides. Each carried over eighty slides.
I introduced him as best I could, noting that the Managers who had recruited him were noticeable by their absence. He began with a pair of slides with two maps of Hong Kong. The next pair drew us down into his work station whichj was more sophisticated than anything he had encountered at Brighton with its slim pastel room dividers and casual groupings of Knoll Chairs.
He then used both hands to pat his chest, whispering his name and several patronymics.
“And now, he whispered confidentially, “my work. Li-Po photographs, all copyright please.”
As images cascaded over each other, giggles began, members of the audience shifted uneasily, and I had to turn away. Li-Po had a flourishing market in soft porn, small breasted narrow hipped damsels, alone or in groups, lying languidly in pools, splashing each other playfully, or artfully tossing a striped beach ball one to the other. After fifty minutes he clapped his hands amd whispered in the silence, “Water Fall!”
Artificially enhanced silver plumes of water cascaded over genial moppets who he was trying to cast as Water Sprites, perhaps dragging a young man down to his doom. The entire portfolio was entirely without merit, gratuitously sexist and hardly the stuff of the Sequential. Once doused, the damsels could only expect another dousing.
Not every visiting scholar was so unpromising. Professor Nakimura would make Japanese tea for us in the studio every morning, with a shaving brush and liquid seaweed. He loved to travel and encounter roundabouts which he assured us he had never seen before. He had never been in a room with bookcases with no supplementary lip to prevent the shaking of earthquakes.
The MA attracted several talented overseas students. One Korean illustrator of huge talents introduced me to her boyfriend who was either the Minister of Education or his Deputy. Oriole had found me the complete speeches of Kim Il Sung Volumes 23 and 24. One glimpse of this and he was off despite the fact that the books were the basis of my Key Note speech in Oslo the previous year.