Ultash Language School
I met Yusup under strange circumstances. In the market in Turpan a young girl came to me; “Hallo,” she said handing me a grey mobile phone, “English Man?”
I took the phone and heard a tinny, far away male voice. The voice told me its name, Yusup. He was an English teacher, he wanted me to meet his students for an “English corner.”
“If you have spare time. You have spare time?” asked Yusup.
Me and the girl waited for him under a tent selling veils. It was hot. I was given tea while I waited. The girl and I exchanged small talk. Her long brown hair was in pigtails and she was chubby, Caucasian looking. She was 12 and worked in a nearby restaurant.
After 15 minutes, Yusup arrived riding a ten speed bicycle. He was tall and slender with short black hair and a pencil mustache. He got off his bike and strutted over to me.
I disliked him for he had a certain kind of vanity, an awareness of self that was visible from afar. There are many like him in the third world: small men made large by their position in a bureaucracy.
“I am the boss of the school,” he told me as we walked. “It is called Ultash language school. It means rock. Solid.”
A group of teenage girls walk past. They were wearing tight jeans. He sees me eyeing one of them. “You like girl?” he asks.
He signs. “I also like but I am single. No girl. I had girl but she find boy who is better. All over world, teacher is poor. Also, I am Artush boy (he was from Artush, near Kashgar). We are stingy. I want to find rich girl. Can I do it? I am poor so girl must be rich. Yes, rich, beautiful, smart. She must be Muslim, she must listen to me. Can I find?'”
“I don’t think so,” I tell him. “Women want you to be rich, not stingy. Even if the girl is rich, she’s gonna want you to have some kinda money. If you don’t have any money, you have to have other things.”
“What things?” asked Yusup, looking at me.
“Like..if you are really smart..that kind of stuff.”
‘What else?” Yusup asked, quickly paying attention.
“Uh, man, you know…if you can paint beautiful pictures or…you know, make good music or some shit. Then chicks will dig you for sure. Or if you can kick anyone’s ass or..if you are really funny. Yeah,” I say. “Funny…if you can make a girl laugh then you can bang her easy. Just don’t like ‘em too much. You like a bitch too much then you get all fucked up about her later.”
He nodded intently.
We pass by a stand selling sunglasses. He pauses and looks at his face in a small mirror. “I am too ugly for girl. I think.”
“Women don’t give a shit what you look like.”
He wasn’t listening, choosing to fuss with his hair instead. He was balding.
‘I want to make sex with girl but…it’s impossible. You must marry.’
“Well,” I tell him. “Find a girl who likes you. If a girl likes you enough she’ll let you do pretty much whatever you want to her. You just gotta talk to ‘er right. Chicks wanna fuck too, they just can’t say it. They are just like us.”
“Whaa! – where can I find such a girl?” he asked, amazed.
“I don’t know, man. Take your pick. All of them are like that. Shit.”
We continued to walk through the bazaar. “I look for the foreigner and bring them to my school. They teach my students English,” he told me. “I tell my students ‘whenever they see foreign man, to call me.'”
We arrived at the school. It was only across the street. I wondered to myself what the delay had been.
We went up a flight of stairs. The building was poorly lit, crumbling. The entrance had been partly blocked by a pile of broken, dismembered desks. In chalk a vandal had written, “hello. ok.” on the wall.
“Ok, we first go to my room.” I shrugged, not knowing what he meant; his office? His classroom?
We went down a dark hallway. “You know Marx?” He asked, pointing at a poster. The hallway was lined with these posters. Copernicus was there, as was Kahlo and Farraday.
He unlocked a door and I followed him into a room. It was a bedroom. Two beds sat side by side. “One for me, one for other teacher,” Yusup explains. A table sat in between the beds. Upon it was a dog eared English-Uyger Dictionary . It was the only book in the room.
A windowless, depressing place; no music, no art. The linoleum floors were vomit green. No evidence of habitation except for a single fake plant and several bright posters of Chinese pop stars. Cheap, by-the-number-imitations of Western sexual edginess, the posters featured scowling teenagers in Western clothing. One pictured a Han Chinese man with bleached hair holding a baseball bat, the other had a girl holding a rose and an umbrella, looking upward.
“Excuse me please.” Yusup says to me. “Maybe I pray now.”
He took off his shoes and prostrated himself on his bed, facing Mecca.
Yusup deeply wanted to be a man of letters, a professional writer, he told me after praying.
“What shall you write? Novels, poetry, journalism?”
“I don’t know,” he says with a shrug.
He would never be a writer.
“How you become writer?” He asks suspiciously. “I don’t know. I just kind of did it and it felt right. You don’t choose writing, it chooses you.” I had heard Charles Bukowski say that and liked it.
“I want to write books,” he says.
“Who do you read?”
He shrugged again.
“You gotta read to be a writer. That’s how you find out what’s good or not.”
“I like to read about the Jewish peoples,” he said suddenly. “I always looking, how they become so rich,” he continued with a swirl of anger.
He had read poison; I wondered how deep it went.
“You have to be careful about these books sometimes bad people write them. Sometimes they are not good books,” I explained. “Sometimes they tell lies.”
“Yes, maybe I think. Yes,” he said nodding at the wall.
Suddenly he burst out again; “I want to write about God. How each person must believe in God, love God.” I turn my head away so he doesn’t see me roll my eyes.
“To be a writer, good writer you have to write about new things. Many people write what you are saying,” I tell him. “It’s not so simple. Maybe if you want to write for fun, you can write about these things, but not if you want to make money or be published. Writng requires great thought.”
He looked hard at the ground, disappointed.
Looking up at me he asks, “What your religion?”
“I’m Jewish. But not really…I mean, I’m not really very religious. Like a Jewish-Atheist, kind of.”
“But you must believe. You must say yourself, who is making the tree, the car, the person? Your shoe,” he says, pointing at my Converse. “Human can make shoe but who can make human to make shoe?”
“Thats a dumb argument,” I said.
“Only God make, he droned without missing a beat. “You must agree,” Yusup lectured, wagging his finger at me.
“No, I don’t have to agree. I believe in other things.”
I hated this. I hated these “conversations.”
“Why are all Jewish hate the Moslems?” he asks, throwing up his skinny hands. “Why all Jewish afraid the Moslems?”
“There is no ‘all Jewish’ anything.”
I was losing patience. “Jewish people think lots of different things. Some don’t like Moslems, but lots of people do not like Moslims. Many Jewish people defend the human rights of Moslems. I had a girlfriend who I loved who was a Moslem. Jewish people are not afraid of Moslems.”
There was silence.
“Do you love Hitler?”
I looked at him. I wanted to punch him in the face.
“I think some Moslems like Hitler”
“So then you shouldn’t ask me why some Jews don’t like Muslims.”