The Chengdu Commercial Daily reports that a rickshaw driver at the Sichuan University campus can speak four foreign languages!
"Worker, worker ... farmer, farmer ..." As Liu Zhibo steps into his rickshaw, he repeats English words over and over. But he can't spell these words, or even write down how they sound; he relies solely on his memory to keep them in his mind.
This master of the rickshaw has been pedaling inside the Sichuan University campus for seven years. A couple years ago, he decided to start learning English from the foreign students he often transported around campus. And now he can speak simple English, Japanese, Thai, and Korean.
The story of the rickshaw driver started to circulate among Sichuan University students: He's not young, he's hunchbacked, and he calls out a hearty "Hello" to any foreign student he sees. He's frequently spotted by the international students' dormitories consulting with students on how to say this word or that.
Liu Zhibo is 56 and part of the group of rickshaw drivers licensed to work inside the Sichuan University campus. "I'm uneducated; I can only say a few simple sentences." Although he's from a family of teachers and school staff, he said, because of the time he grew up, he attended school for only two years. He works 10 hours a day.
The first English sentence Liu Zhibo learned was "Where are you going?" One day a foreign student stepped into his rickshaw. The student spoke only English and then tried gesturing. But even after many tries, Liu Zhibo still couldn't figure out where the passenger wanted to go.
"There are so many foreign students taking rickshaws on this campus, what are you going to do if you can't speak even a little English?" said Liu Zhibo. From that day on, he started learning English. Some foreign students' Chinese is very good, so one day, Liu Zhibo worked up the courage to ask one of them how to say "Where are you going?" in English.
"Where are you going?" He repeated it over and over, all day long. The next time the student got in his rickshaw, Liu Zhibo turned to him and, with an air of foreign fashion, asked him, "Where are you going?" The student's jaw dropped.
Liu Zhibo then learned how to say, "Excuse me, what's the time?" His teacher is an American former Sichuan University student named Tony who's now working as a teacher at a foreign-language school. (But he frequently returns to the campus to play basketball.)
When Liu Zhibo is taking students to the east gate of the campus, he often cannot help but swing by the international-student dormitories. "Sometimes I'll suddenly think of a word that I want to know and I have to ask them," he explained.
Liu Zhibo's foreign friends come from many different countries: America, Germany, Thailand ... he recites the country names off from memory. "Meiguo is America, Yingguo is England, Yidali is Italy, Bolan is Poland. When a Korean student emerges from the dormitories, he greets her in Korean.
"The summer vacation has started, students have graduated, now there's nobody," Liu Zhibo sighs, turning to go.
But just as he turns, one of the students comes riding up on a bicycle. The two talk; this turns out to be a Sri Lankan student named Rahal. His English is also not very good, so after a few clumsy sentences, the two switch to Chinese.
"Piyana has a gift for you and let me give it to you," Rahal says, running upstairs. A few minutes later he returns with two bags of clothes. "This is an overcoat from Piyana. You can wear it in the winter."
"OK," says Liu Zhibo taking the bags. He's known Piyana for several years but now Piyana has graduated and returned to Sri Lanka.
But Liu's efforts haven't made him the "most educated" member of the Sichuan University rickshaw team. The drivers all agree that this title goes to Deng Qixing. A few years after he graduated, Deng decided to quit his job and take up work as a rickshaw driver on the campus. When he has saved up enough money he plans to work in the clothing trade at the Kowloon Shopping Center at Yanshikou.
Deng said that he can save more money working as a rickshaw driver than at his other jobs. He graduated five years ago and initially sold mobile phones and then became a real-estate agent. He earned RMB1,000 per month, but the work was tiring.
After a year or two he quit. At that time he spent all day at home with nothing to do and no plans for the future.
Deng's mother is also a rickshaw driver on the Sichuan University campus. On the days she didn't work, she would rent out her ricksaw. Some days, Deng would take her rickshaw and driver it. On days when he pedaled fast, he could make RMB150. He realized he might as well drive a rickshaw around the campus rather than work at a stressful, difficult job just for a little money.
Deng takes passengers every day from 8 a.m. until past 10 p.m. "I can earn RMB3,000 in a month. I live at the school, my lifestyle is very basic, so I can save some money," Deng said.
Deng always keeps a book in his rickshaw so that when he has no passengers he can sit in the back and read bit by bit. One of the other drivers said that Deng wants to save up RMB100,000 in order to open a business and because the rickshaw is his mother's he doesn't need to pay rent for it. "But who knows how many years he'll have to pedal before he can save RMB100,000?"