In the fall of 1961, I attended Austin College, a small and (hard as it may be to comprehend, considering that I was admitted) rather elite Presbyterian school in Sherman, Texas. The curriculum was demanding, and the school boasted the highest percentage of high-school valedictorians in the state.
My first roommate was a total asshole who dropped out of school before the end of September. I had a blissful ten days with a room all to myself and then there was a knock on my door.
I opened it to see a local minister and a little Chinese guy. The minister explained that he had been a missionary in Taiwan and that he was sponsoring the Chinese fellow – Richard – and that Richard was to be my new roommate.
My new roomie said “Herro.” and not knowing what else to do, I said “Come on in.”
It proved to be a great experience.
Richard I-Fu Ho – In Texas, Ho was pronounced like a garden tool and was his last name, but in Taiwan, his name was pronounced Huh (like a strong, sharp exhalation) Ee-Foo. The Richard had only recently been tacked on when he was baptized.
He had flown from Taiwan to Seattle and then taken a Continental Trailways bus to Sherman. Somewhere around Denver, Trailways had lost his luggage, so he showed up at our room with the clothes on his back and one suitcase full of several varieties of green tea. Trailways said that their posted policy was that if his luggage did not show up in two weeks, they would pay him $50 for the missing items.
Upon learning of Richard’s situation, the guys in the dorm collected a small pile of clothes, most of which fit, and a small sum of money for him to use to buy more. The next day, I took him to downtown Sherman and dropped him off at J C Penney’s while I ran a personal errand.
I came back half an hour later to find Richard and a middle-aged saleslady standing in the aisle screaming at each other. I quickly stepped in and asked what was wrong.
The saleslady said “Son, you get this boy out of here or I’m calling the police.”
Richard said “Tell stupid rady sell me srack bru-jim.”
So I told her “Sell him some srack bru-jim.”
She said “What the Hay-ell is srack bru-jim?”
And I said “Richard, what the Hell are srack bru-jim.”
“SRACKS!” he said, pointing to his pants, “SRACKS! LEEWEYES! BRU-JIM!”
“He wants some blue jeans.” I told her.
“Well shit!” she replied, “Pardon my French. Why didn’t he just say so?”
Richard’s English got a lot better over the semester, and by Thanksgiving, I could actually trust him out on his own.
He had a sister who was an assistant professor at M-I-T, and when he called her in December, they could NOT communicate in English. By then, he was speaking Texan (with a Chinese accent) and she spoke Boston (with a Chinese accent) so their only option was to switch to Mandarin.