WE MULLED OVER his every word. Chi was a magnetic professor. In Chinese his full name meant “Power from Excellent Obedience”, which baffled us Western rationalists a bit, since he was such an animated spirit and comedic friend. To our stuffy group of young calculator jockeys, he once offered as an elixir that, “humor is actually a vital component of Zen, attending the intersection of earthy and more expansive realities beyond.” It’s Joyful Samadhi. Pure Joy. I think Mark Twain wrote a parable about that too.
Chi paused another time, sharing his morning Tai Chi regimen along with the benefits and history of Green Chai tea. Unbeknownst to us, Old Man Chi was building trust – welcoming us into that epoch together – by patiently inviting us to join the Lion Dance of teacher with student as real people. Those were the wonder years too, when his kettle was always on during office hours. “Tai Chi” and “Chai Tea” are virtual cognates of Dr. Chi’s given name. “Many Chinese names are phonetic AND visual puns,” he shared, “since combined letters sometimes resemble characters for other words.” His name in calligraphy looked something like the symbols for “Power (from) Water (on) Rock,” so we called him “Rocky” after that, which he seemed to like.
During one particularly enlightening detour, Chi embellished the story of his co-worker, Dr. Mäsch. “He was my teacher at UT before we hired him here.” This was complicated since Mäsch was our teacher just then too, but not much older than Chi himself, so we were fully-dialed-in. “He was a TA in those days, and a mountain of a man from a small town. On fire for learning he took every class the Department offered, and taught most too, until they finally sent him to Berkeley to finish his degree under Hans Einstein. UT wanted him back though, making it a good move for both sides. He was on track for Distinguished Professor. We’re lucky to have him here.” Mäsch shared an modest version of that story years later, when all ears were somehow reassured by the saga’s unpredictability. We knew Mäsch as a good ole’ boy – with an endearing Foghorn Leghorn type of stutter – who was a Gentle Giant. Mäsch taught us the most important engineering marvel is Integrity.
“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” – John 14:9
Artist: Avicii (2011)