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Tell me a story, Dr Fang

Okay, now I feel bad for dissing scientists. The ones I’ve known all share at least one excellent characteristic: they’re natural born explainers. No scientist would dream of letting me draw something until he was sure I had a basic grasp of the science.

This probably does result in a slightly better illustration than they could’ve squeezed out of me otherwise, but I don’t think that’s why they do it. They do it because they can’t stand to be around ignorance. And for the sheer joy of explaining things.

To do science takes all sort of depth and, like, math and stuff. But the underlying concepts are usually pretty accessible. All you need is one excitable scientist with a pencil and a lunch napkin. Some of the top scientists in their respective fields have sat at my workstation and told me stories. Lordy, I love that.

My favorite scientist was an elderly Chinese. Call him Dr Fang. Everyone hated to work with Fang, because he was a high-strung chap with a completely impenetrable accent. And yet, he was a popular public speaker on the science circuit. That’s because he was fizzing with excitement. Old Fang was chuffed to buggery about science. But it was especially important for him to have good art, because otherwise no-one could tell what he was gabbling so happily about.

I always got stuck with him, because I have a good ear for Chinglish (and Indianglish, for that matter). Being, as most Chinese are, a fun-sized human being, Fang could barely peer over my head as I sat at the work station and he stood behind my chair barking instructions.

“Make it blue! No, make it yellow! No, make it green! No, blue! No, delete the whole thing! Ahahahaha! No, bring it back again!” That last order was especially off-pissing, as the software we had then didn’t undo.

I never heard how Fang got to the States. But the first time he was allowed back into China to visit his family, they had been disappeared. People, furniture…everything gone. Nothing was left but empty houses. Next trip, everything was back where it should be and no-one would talk about it. Spooky place, China.

On one of those trips, he brought me back this piece of artwork. He says these are ubiquitous in rural homes in China (he didn’t actually use the words “ubiquitous” or “rural” — I think his soft palate would’ve exploded). It’s a thin, translucent sheet of black and white marble and something that looks very like a Chinese ink painting of a landscape can be picked out of the dark streaks. An appropriate poem is painted on them. I asked what my poem was, and Fang said, “Ohhhh, I dunno. Rain, somethingsomethingsomething.”


He carried that thing in his hand-luggage all the way from China so it wouldn’t break. Very touching.

Dr Fang died this year. I was shocked. I didn’t even know he was ill. He retired several years ago, but he kept an office in our building and he was working on a book. I’d seen him around.

I hope he finished his book. I wouldn’t be able to read it, but he knew more about the thing he knew about than anyone in the world, they say.

Goodnight, Dr Fang. I shall forever hear your voice in the “rain, somethingsomethingsomething.”


Comment from Alissa
Time: March 9, 2007, 11:33 am

Aww. That was the most bizarre, though strangely touching eulogy I ever read.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: March 9, 2007, 10:25 pm

Ephemeral….nuanced….Deafening silence….pancreas….artform….one sock….porcine.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: March 10, 2007, 6:41 am

I have a horrible feeling I deserve you, McGoo.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: March 12, 2007, 1:07 am

Just confusing whomever I can with what I gots.

Actually, “Dr. Fang” was quite amusing – and strange – and I liked it a lot. Good style. Otherwise I wouldn’t have paid it the least attention!

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