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Today's Story by M. Eigh

Rarely did a school day go by without his shameless and incessant begging and my refusal, delivered as sternly and cruelly as I could improvise.

Dear Teresa


One late Thursday evening in 1979, I went to bed with my shortwave radio. March in this part of China was pleasant: comfortably warm, always breezy with little precipitation.

On a school day like this, I spent my evening hours plowing through the endless, backbreaking high school homework. At around 10, I was ready for bed. Voice of America’s English 900 was gaining popularity with Chinese students day by day and my parents had sensibly permitted me to listen.

Listening to English 900 was never a hayride. Navigating the delicate dial with the Chinese military’s jamming on VOA was not for the impatient. Many years later, when I went to college in the North I stumbled on a perfect metaphor for shortwave jamming: a snow blizzard.

Fortunately, I had an ear piece and could wander in the sinful Eden of shortwave frequencies when the jamming got the upper hand. Before long, I discovered that when English 900 was on air, Central Radio Station from Republic of China (Taiwan) was airing Dear Teresa.

Teresa Teng was China’s national sweetheart. My heart raced when I listened to her immortal titles like When Will You Return. By the time the verse got to, “Come on sir, let’s drain our glasses and move on to some hors d’oeuvre,” I would be already feeling a throbbing pain in my groin. She would go on to end the song by asking: “Sir, when will you return?” and leaving me with a wistful erection.

Her voice was magic, with rich colors and sensual textures; her songs flew with my fantasies and dreams. On that particular evening in 1979, I fixed my radio’s dial on Dear Teresa. I had not checked the signal quality on VOA yet but it was a Thursday – when an editorial by the Carter Administration would follow English 900 and the jamming would become unrelenting.

Dear Teresa’s hostess sounded like she was right next to me in my bed – talking, not bellowing like a mainland Chinese radio hostess would. I had heard her giggling and even sneezing once.

In hindsight, I could not remember the circumstances surrounding that sneeze. Adolescence was tricky: I would witness a thing, but would not be able to tell if it was reality or reverie.

My dear listeners, I am so thrilled to share great news with you tonight.

The hostess’s words had traveled a thousand miles in the air, bouncing off clouds and acquiring a feathery touch. There was a pause after her announcement, as though she was overjoyed and had to place her palm on her chest to calm the heartbeat.

. . . . I am so excited . . . .

If my parents had walked into my room and turned on the light then, they would see the telltale grin on my face and be outraged. My own heartbeat was catching up with that of the hostess, quickly.

Teresa has so graciously agreed to – oh thank you so much Teresa! – set up a special mailbox on our program. Anyone can write to her. I mean anyone – including listeners in mainland China. They can send the letters to a P.O. Box in Hong Kong or Macao. And I will give details about the PO Box in a moment. Listeners anywhere else can send their letters directly to Taiwan.

And the most exciting thing is: every Thursday, Teresa will personally answer two selected letters, on this show. She will answer the letter on air!

Nestling myself more comfortably into the pillow, I fast-forwarded my life to an imaginary point in the future when Teresa talked about my letter on air.

Today, I am speaking to a 17-year-old younger brother in the mainland who has written me the most touching note . . . .

The highlight and shades on her satin blouse revealed her sumptuous bosom. A pale orange aura wrapped her and made her features rather undefined. In photography, I later learned, such effect was known as soft focus.

The way Teresa enunciated the word brother (“di di”) just about killed me. She spared the twin syllables the resounding fourth tone, instead romanticizing them with the symphonic third tone. “Dĭ dĭ,” she had said, instead of “dì dì” as everyone else would.

I reached out a hand, following an overpowering urge to touch her. When Teresa gently brushed my hand away, my heart lost a beat and I jerked the radio dial. The loud squeal of the transistor radio brought me back to reality. It felt lubricated and smooth where Teresa had touched my hand . . . . And the feel was unquestionably familiar.

Boys and girls never mingled in my high school – gender segregation had been around in China for more than two thousand years. I often leaned backward during a class, putting all my weight against the desk of the girl behind me, just to irritate her with my body movement. She would push me away from her desk – not with her hand, as no touching was permitted in public, but with the eraser end of a pencil.

In 1888, Edward Weston filed a patent application for the electrical conductor. Long time before that, in China, conductors between the male and female bodies were invented to counter Confucius’ draconian “no-touching” institution. The most often used had been codified as props in Peking Opera – the maiden fans, the silk handkerchief and parasol umbrella. But the erotic slide followed by flirty pokes of the pencil in between my scapulae deserved a high score for originality.

Fate did bestow me a brief emancipation from the segregation. I had touched a girl once without a conductor; precisely speaking, I had shaken hands with a girl – her name was San May. My bare hand had touched her bare hand.

Like devouring a popsicle in scorching summer heat, the ecstasy was brief and memory numbed. Afterwards, I had often tried to recall the feel of her hand, only to find it traceless. Now, all of a sudden, precisely at the moment Teresa’s hand touched mine, I felt that sensation again.


San May’s elder brother Er Wah died in February that year when China launched a brief war against Vietnam. He was serving in an artillery battery that survived a brutal fortnight and made it to the perimeters of Ho Chi Minh City, before a faulty shell exploded upon loading in the howitzer by his side.

The home town held a memorial ceremony in his honor. After a petty cadre stammered through a perfunctory eulogy, the guests bowed to Er Wah’s portrait and proceeded in a single file to offer condolences to the bereaved.

I was selected to attend the ceremony because I contributed the portrait. Creating a likeliness of a face on paper was my special talent and nobody in that small town could do it better. I had done the portrait from the only photo of Er Wah in an army uniform but had failed to remove the somewhat derisive smile from his face. Now Er Wah had to observe his own memorial ceremony with inappropriate amusement.

Frankly, his facial expression was the least significant blemish to his honor. In the old days, he used to fool around on the riverbank with us in the summer, doing nasty things he would never have done had he known he had to live up to martyrdom eventually.

He would swim out to a barge, grabbing the helm and climbing up, like a monkey atop a tree branch, with his butt sticking out. Then he would defecate.

Occasionally, he would hide behind some boulders — with a few younger boys as spectators – and masturbate. The way he manipulated himself was harsh and the finale evoked the spasmodic twitching of a freshly slaughtered chicken.

I savored every microscopic sensation from San May’s hand, feeling guilty for my indecent motive. Our bodies were so close to one another I could smell the banana shrub flower pinned on her chest and see the glistening streaks on her cheeks left by dried tears – the kind that crisscrossed a child’s face and hurt when impromptu laughter broke out.

Standing alongside her parents, she held her head down. When her hand landed in mine, my heart melted in tenderness. I saw the flutter of her eye lashes. She had sensed the lust in my heart and instinctively raised her eyes.

What followed was all a void in my memory. I floated around aimlessly like a balloon, inflated to the very verge of ecstasy. It felt like I had just recited Odyssey to her. It felt like I had just run a marathon and collapsed into her arms at the finishing line. It felt like I had said so much to her without actually uttering a word.

Years later, I learned that such a void – the feeling with which I had associated a great deal of imagined achievements – was a common biochemical reaction to sexual orgasm for men.

What was impossible to replicate was how San May’s hand felt in mine. I had felt the same with Teresa, before I realized that it was actually San May’s hand in that dream. She had acquired a young woman’s body and Teresa’s wardrobe. I had not recognized her face at first due to the soft focus effect.


If God had a sense of humor, it was manifested in the vocal transformation that presaged manhood. While his Adam’s apple bulged into a bragging reminder of erection, the pitch of a boy’s voice took a free fall, with a few notes going either silent or scratchy such as an errant blow into a flute would generate. Quite befittingly, the Chinese referred to this transitory phenomenon as “male duck quacking.”

My bench-mate Ja Goo was the only boy in my grade who had not been afflicted. Wide spread suspicion was that he had stalled his manhood with some secret herbal concoction. Tellingly, his demeanor gravitated toward that of the fair sex. He would curl up his pinkies when fixing his shoelaces and rake of his mother’s pungent face lotion in the morning. Not surprisingly, he had a penchant to touch the imaginary ponytail on his head. The way he went about it was diligently rehearsed to perfection, with his elbows high, chest open, back straight, his lips puckered to hold the imaginary hair band; and, of course, the pinkies all curled up like delicate flower petals.

I could read his mind too. He wanted nothing more in this world than one of my portraits of Teresa, of which I had generated only a precious few and handed out as tokens of male bond to my most loyal friends. They treasured those portraits and everyone who had seen them could not help falling in love with them. “Wow, I never knew Teresa was such a beauty!” people always commented, “And a little bit like San May too!”

The boundary between the gang of boys and Ja Goo had a 38th parallel that crossed the middle of the bench he and I shared, marked with a pocket knife and reinforced with fountain pen ink. Under the close scrutiny of my fellow boys, I became a dutiful border sentinel and self-censored the way I dealt with Ja Goo. I could see the lust on his face without even looking at him. Rarely did a school day go by without his shameless and incessant begging and my refusal, delivered as sternly and cruelly as I could improvise: “You are the pimply toad who wants to taste a swan. Dream on!”

Ja Goo had showed me with chachkas from home, day in day out, offering to barter and hoping I would surrender to material temptation. It made me all the more proud of myself for resisting these seductions and dashing his hopes again and again.

Before long, he had given up proffering chachkas. “Anything you want,” was the new offer on the table. “Please, just tell me what you want,” he would cry, “I will steal or kill, just for one Teresa portrait!” He finished with a pledge on the verge of tears: “I swear!”

His entreaty was like a dull saw grinding on my nerves. “Isn’t there something you want in the world?” His hand traveled tentatively across the 38th parallel but I slapped it hard before its soft fingers could touch my shoulder.

“Don’t you fucking dirty my shirt!” I was furious.

“Oh, come on, there has to be something I can do for you?!” he pleaded desperately, in a whisper: “I will drop my pants if you want to fuck me in my ass.”

I looked at him with disbelief and, with stealth peripheral vision, sized up the surroundings quickly. Fortunately nobody was paying attention to our exchange. I searched hard for words that could convey my infuriation but only managed to stare at him, as if to say, “Are you out of your mind?” Realizing I was not indignant, as I thought I would be, I was suddenly drained of the hostility I had hitherto premeditated against him and was shocked at the point blank insanity.

“I’m serious!” his face reminded me of those posters of war heroes who were about to commit a fearless act for the great revolutionary cause.

That was it. I realized that I had been condoning his game for too long. Any further than where we were, shit would have hit the fan.


My threat worked like a charm and Ja Goo never asked for Teresa again.

I told him that I would go straight to Deputy Principal Chang’s office and report his secret offer if he dared beg again. And he understood that there was no chance of him getting one of my Teresas. All the recipients were my close friends and they had all sworn to Heaven and Chairman Mao that they would never re-gift the portrait or exchange it for anything.

Well, to count Chang as one of my close friends was a huge stretch. He was the school disciplinarian in charge of student behavior. I had given him a Teresa a while ago as an investment. Heaven forbade if I got into some trouble and I sure hoped that Chang could return a favor.

But I trust Chang as a safe custodian of my Teresa. His mere cough from afar could almost make Ja Goo pee in his pants. What were the chances of Ja Goo begging Chang for the Teresa?

Now that the nuisance Ja Goo was silenced, life could finally return to normal. I could not wait till Thursday evenings when I could listen to Dear Teresa. I savored every word Teresa uttered and went berserk whenever the shortwave signal petered out or got jammed amidst her sentence. Most of all, I was fascinated about the things people in the mainland confided in her. Things you never heard in everyday life. Things people kept to themselves.

One couple wrote to Teresa and claimed that their new-born had to listen to Teresa any waking moment, or else the baby would cry murder. Some guy sent her one of his front teeth, freshly pulled out to show his love and loyalty. One soldier told Teresa that he had honored a dying comrade’s wish in the battle field of Vietnam by singing him a Teresa number. So many people from the mainland asked for Teresa’s photo that she had to issue a general statement informing them that anything mailed from the outside world into the mainland was subject to censor and printed materials showing her image would never make it.

I really wanted to write to Teresa; however, I felt I had nothing original to tell her, compared to what others had to say. That I dreamed of her also seemed very mundane as it was a staple in almost every letter. It appeared that everyone else lived a more dramatic life and in a different world – A world totally surrealistic and inaccessible to me.

It remained surrealistic until one Thursday when I heard Teresa answer a letter from Ja Goo.

Right away, I dismissed the possibility that it was my bench-mate, as Teresa had addressed the person as “Xiao Mei Mei” (little sister). After all, there had to be tons of people named Ja Goo in China’s 800 million population. As I heard more of the story, though, I became convinced that it was him.

Ja Goo, your note brought me to tears. I am moved by your love for my music. I am saddened by the suffering you have endured, just to get a portrait of me. And I want everyone to know: at the age of sixteen, Ja Goo has lost her virginity to a deputy principal in her high school, in exchange for the portrait of mine in his possession.

I want to tell dear Ja Goo: you may have lost your physical virginity, but your soul is as virgin as a virgin can be. And thank you for taking possession of my portrait. It disgusts me to think that the evil principal could have kept it in his filthy hands. I am grateful for your sacrifice.

Ja Goo, I will never forget your name and your letter.


I never verified what I heard on Dear Teresa. Listening to a hostile enemy’s radio broadcast was punishable by jail terms. I would have to own up to a crime in the first place just to confront Ja Goo or Chang. And even if Ja Goo could confirm it, Chang would never have admitted it.

Did Ja Goo pretend to be a girl outright in his letter to Teresa since in his twisted mind he thought he was indeed a girl? Could it be that the gender of Ja Goo was Teresa’s assumption? After all, it was hard, if not impossible to ascertain a person’s gender by a Chinese name.

Whenever I had the urge to write to Teresa, I managed to find a radio station and listened to her music instead. The joy and sorrow in her songs felt beautiful and soothing. I longed to adopt the sunshine, the drizzle and the creeks from her melodies to my own solitude.

Often times, immersed in her music, I would compose a mental letter to her. There was a repeating theme in these letters I had never transferred onto paper or sent out:

Dear Teresa, Is it true that we brought nothing and were naked when came to this world? How come when we go back, upon death, we carry so many unanswered questions? Is it true that our backs slouch when we age because we can barely move with all the secrets we keep to ourselves?

Will my path ever cross with that of Ja Goo’s? Many years from now, when high school has become a distant memory, will he be able to see the past as water under the bridge?


M. Eigh is a computer programmer by day and a writer by night. He blogs at http://M.Eigh.com/ 

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