By Chun Yau (“Joseph”)
When Deng En was in his first year of high school he was required, like every other student, to adopt an English name. It was no delicate affair, however. There were no thoughtful name-selecting exercises or even a prior notice. As students were lined up for height and weight measurements, the question, asked almost in passing, was thrust upon them. His classmates, affluent and privately tutored, gleefully declared the “Donalds” and “Teresas” they already were. But Deng En knew little English. Embarrassed and panicking, he blurted out one of the few English words he could manage, “Eliphen.”
Why he chose the name “Deng En Elephant,” which has since sneaked onto his Identity Card, is still obscure. But misfortune always haunted his steps. School was a disappointment. He scrapped by marginally, barely passing enough subjects to prevent him from being kicked out. Yet it was not in want of effort. For most afternoons he could be found languishing in a sweaty, cloistered class room, with his eraser rubbed furiously against the exercise book as he redid algebra again and again. Several teachers offered to tutor him personally, and always he would appear on time, defeated and depressed, with all the exercises half complete as he could not solve them alone.
Nor could he find solace in friends. Boys mocked him with lewd gestures, depraved sounds and an assortment of insulting names that ranged from the typical motherly reference to the more bizarre and exotic. Girls, seeing his short scrawny figure from afar, would avert their gaze and pretend to be busy. Once, he was infatuated with a girl sitting next to him in class and wrote her a love letter. The response was quick and hurtful. She reported him to her parents and teachers, demanding that one of them be transferred to another class. At one point, even jokes became his enemy. A frustrated class teacher, noticing that En was not persuaded by his attempts at humor, awarded him “D-” for moral conduct, and further opinioned in the report card that he was “reclusive and lacked a sense of humor.”
The school knew him as the shy underachiever: hands in pocket and gaze fixed to the ground. But that stoop, though crushing in class, never followed him beyond the school gates. He loved model building: constructing racing cars, crafting frigate replicas, and piecing together Gundam models, that obligatory fantasy of every nerdy kid; and, when summer break arrived, he would plunge himself into a week-long model building competition, beating kids from Korea and Japan. The prizes filled his bedroom, and his eyes would sparkle as he recounted the histories of each whenever there was someone who would listen.
Despite these hard-earned victories, Star Trek was his greatest passion. He had all episodes on a hard disk, all with Chinese subtitles; from memory he could recite star dates, character appearances and Klingon; a large model of the Enterprise “D” hang from his bedroom ceiling. Not all of this was escapism: it gave him purpose and future. Every night he would walk across the street from home to a shady restaurant, scrapping woks, mopping the floor and cleaning plates and cups – to, in time, purchase an airplane ticket to a Star Trek conference in America. It was an absurd idea. Earning $1.8 per hour, his own calculations showed that he had to work 2 hours every night without exception for two years to save enough. He accomplished his goal in his final year of high school.
After school he became a security guard. The long tiresome hours did not treat him kindly. On March 15, 2011 he retired to his bedroom and left a note to his parents on the computer before he jumped out of the window. It read, “The idea of humanity consists of forgiving, not hating, those who have hurt us. I forgive those who have hurt me. But now allow me to rest with the stars.”