Frankfurt to Sanary, spring 2003

highs and lows of bikepacking II


Lin Xiaoyu was a student of mine a dozen years ago at Shenzhen University. I remember the term paper he turned in, in which he had written an original sentence followed by a 100-word quotation from a textbook, then another original sentence followed by a similarly lengthy quote, and so on. As a teacher I was going after critical and creative thinking, and on his second attempt Lin produced a paper begun with an original sentence, followed by 100 words of paraphrase, then another original sentence and a lengthy paraphrase and so forth. I told him to throw away the textbook and give me all original sentences. I don't remember what he finally produced, but I guess he had been nudged into the direction I wanted.

Over the years Lin became one of the score of my former students I kept in fairly close contact with. I interviewed him for my dissertation. He sought me out after we had lost contact. He had the habit of phoning me regularly when he was bored at the job (he was a quite successful stock broker who had made enough money to buy a double apartment for his parents to move in with him, and a Buick) with the most bizaar questions. We would have dinner once in a while, and from what I could tell he didn't have many friends, no close friends, but had a close family. He had two dominant traits: He was a nice guy who never, at least to me, said anything mean or nasty about anyone. Secondly, he was a background type - he never stood out in the foreground. But he remained an enigma; I felt I never got to know him as I knew other students. But I liked him; he was a really nice person.

Last year I was to go to Lin's family's home for Mid-Autumn Festival. Before he was supposed to pick me up, he phoned from the hospital. He had had an accident. What really happened was that he was assaulted by his upstairs neighbor when Lin had gone to complain about noise in the middle of the night. I visited Lin twice in the Shenzhen hospital. He assured me he would put the attack behind him and go on with his life. I went on a trip and returned in January. Lin had moved back to his parents' home and had not returned to the brokerage house.

I spent the springtime in Shenzhen and I repeatedly phoned Lin. It wasn't until a week before I left for this tirp that he visited me. He was buying and decorating a new apartment and would sell the old one. He planned to return to work sometime. I now suspect our meeting was his attempt to say good-bye for, in Grenoble, I received an e-mail from Lin's brother that he had killed himself about a month after I last saw him.

Lin's family doesn't understand why. As one who has managed his own depression for over half a life-time, I now suspect Lin was in agony, but none of us knew at the time. I was probably the only one to know he was in any pain at all; I just didn't know how much.

That's why this has been the worse of cycling trips. The pain and grief I myself feel will go away with time. If you permit, life can be filled with 'what ifs' and 'should haves.' My rational self says I'm not responsible for anyone but myself. My other self - the one that makes me more human - feels pain and guilt to the degree that my rational self says is undeserved.

There have been only two times I have regretted ever having taught in China. One was when I learned that my former student Liu Xu had been killed by his Ford Explorer. The other time was when I received e-mail in Grenoble.

24 May 2003

Sanary s/ Mer