I joined fellow Radio Beijing co-host Alison Zhou onstage at the Tuanjiehu community’s English event, when we were given the stage not only to promote the newly-created Handbook of Everyday English for Beijing residents. The event was held in the morning hours of 31 May 2014 at the Tuanjiehu local community activities centre.
When you come to think of it, it was a big deal at the end of the day. Both city authorities in charge for international affairs and Radio Beijing, as well as leading English experts in town, took the time to come together and to create a book for the rest of us, telling people how English should best be spoken and used.
Kids, seniors and local residents all joined us in the free two-hour session to get people more and more excited about learning English. Many said they loved listening to our spoken English as they could really learn from this. The event finished at 11:30 with a commitment to take such events to more places around the city. ▶
Academia is a weird industry to be in. On the one hand, in particular here in China, you’re admired as a university professor. (My end I more than know that from the undocumented perks and extra clout that got me!) On the other hand, we’re in the same industry as the feared Mad Scientists and all-academese scholars. They can take you forever to explain what in the end would merely turn out to be a mighty simple concept.
Being part of Chinese academia as a non-Chinese citizen is odder still. The Chinese government is never hesitant to declare you a “Foreign Expert”, yet that licence alone won’t get you free upgrades to Business Class. You get to live in an apartment where all city calls are on them; yet it comes and goes with the job. You are given cool invitations to all kinds of fancy functions, yet they try to keep the microphone away from you, fearing you might “meddle with the internal matters of China” (unless you’re very active or have solid local connections). Your “expert ID” begets you status, yet to advance your career, you must head overseas. (Strange: Isn’t China supposed to be the place where everyone should be right now?)
Locals live in a scarier-still environment. It is said lecturers hardly lecture as the publish-or-perish bug has jaws of reinforced steel in China. Lecturers escape lessons and desert their fellow students just because of the random academic summit happening probably next door. There are horror stories of ghostwritten papers, sub-par PowerPoints, and the all-too-usual suspect: the Feared Teacher Posture. This is the absolute worst thing to do to students, yet it is precisely this position that has upgraded the academic statuses of many a lecturer. ▶
So, September 2012 is here. I’ve just entered China a few days back on a Z visa, or a working visa. I’m going to both be a kind of generic-alised “English teacher in China” and also a little more. I’m going to head to the Communication University of China as a Lecturer so that I can do a little academic research as a side schtick as well. My topics: new media and social media.
But here’s the thing: a teacher is not the smartest thing in the universe. There’s: (a) sure bound to be extraterrestrial life that knows more than we do (I think); (b) people who are not teachers that know more stuff than teachers do. So I’m cutting it short here — yes, I’ll be a teacher, but I’m not gonna outfox anyone. In fact, I’ll be pretty happy when folks outfox me. That’ll also be the case a few years down the line when the baby is due (or babies are due, rather): I’m perfectly OK with these guys being smarter than I am from Day One. ▶
I’m now safely back in Beijing.
I have to say — I’m having one of these days when I don’t really want to sleep, despite not doing it for something like 24 hours or so already. The past two weeks were filled to the brim with adventures and “flashbacks”, and memories. Things that have been with you for twelve full years and that simply refuse to go away.
Things like my former school, ICS (the Inter-Community School Zürich). That place started me off in 1st grade. The end of my PhD programme was the end of “22nd grade”, of sorts, for me. So I thought it would be a perfect way to head back to the place that I started 1st grade with — just to say hello to the teachers that made it all possible. ▶
I, David Feng, would like to announce that I have gratefully accepted a teaching job offer from the Communication University of China as foreign education expert (teacher). Lessons will begin September 2012 and I will be teaching mainly undergraduates and MA candidates, as well as other students, English, Western culture, and media, in particular new media. My academic rank is expected to be that of Lecturer (equivalent to Assistant Professor in the United States of America). The language of instruction shall be English.
I am indebted to this University for the chance, its gracefulness and the opportunity to teach and inspire the young minds of tomorrow. I will selflessly educate and inspire young aspiring media talent with the aggregate of my experience and professional knowledge. I shall teach all that is fit to be taught, within the Constitution of China and the principles it may enshrine.
I shall have no goals other than to ensure that the true winners from my educational and academic commitments shall be the students, and that the winners from all my commitments shall be society at large.▶
I’m telling ya, I haven’t always had good impressions of quite a few textbooks (the one my mum bought me in Hong Kong about maths in primary school was a disaster, with super-crazy names of fictitious people all over the place), but at least I let ’em survive. I did throw away one book — the one I had for my MA in linguistics and media presenting — because the guy that authored it was an arrogant brat. No, seriously.
But as of late, I’ve been taking a good look at a kind of snow — you got that one right — a kind of snow — as in snowstorm — in a campus in central China. Turns out these were books that overworked students ripped out in anger as their university entrance exams were approaching. It was quite a sight.
Seriously, though, this is but the tip of the iceberg in the disaster that has become the Chinese educational world. The edu system in China is a mess. ▶
My wife Tracy thinks I’d make a good teacher. I’m not too sure of that. But I think, given the inspiration I’ve had both in Switzerland and China, I don’t object to being one. Although, hey, I’ve an equally big heart out for trains, because they take me to new places to learn new stuff.
That said, here’s an incomplete list of the teachers that made a big difference over the past 30 years. As a courtesy, I’m referring to them only by Mr X or Ms Y… ▶
Our train tickets are with us: we’re headed back to Beijing in the next few days. I leave behind a Harbin I’ve found more crazy Chinglish in (and even up north in Bei’an), but also a Harbin I’ve tried to de-Chinglish-ify as much as possible.
I have to say that I’m happy with Harbin and the lessons. I spent time teaching groups — be they just four people or a class filled with dozens and dozens on end. There was no real multimedia service, so I had to rely on a blackboard and plenty of body language to engage them. Which is good, as nobody really does that here in China… ▶
I’m not kidding you people… in I think it was 7th grade (or 8th), I was charged with teaching 8th graders — things about Chinese characters. My knowledge of Chinese was basically zip, zero, nada, zilch, nothing — back then, so I considered it a living miracle that I managed to finish the lesson without having eggs pelted my way. (Thankfully, mom got me through by helping out!)
That was the first case where I potentially could have taught someone who was older than me. That very same phenomenon would repeat itself about five years later, when in late 2000 the teacher for the China Today course (required for all international students coming into China) suggested I teach the vocational middle school (now absorbed by the university I was then in) English. I was a bit of an academic darling: probably because I looked “too” Chinese (the class was 70% Korean), that endeared me to the maths teacher who, despite failing me in the exams (20%!), “upgraded” me to the position of Class Vice-President. The China Today course teacher gave me a task — to teach 19-year olds (I was 18 back then) — bang, smack on Christmas Day 2000. (I remember that I went into a restaurant that same day that sounded like a freaking war zone. Welcome to China…!) ▶
As Facebook made me aware: Mr David Leck, former English teacher at the Inter-Community School, passed away last Sunday, May 11, 2008.
Mr Leck is an outstanding teacher of English and it was a great pleasure having him teach me English. He along with Ms Trimming made up the classic duo of English teachers throughout middle school and part of high school.
Mr Leck’s comments came at the best possible time. Just a few years later, the beginning of the end of this era in which only “formalized and archaic English” was used, came.
Up above, I am sure that Mr Leck can rest peacefully knowing that through his exceptional teaching and unparalleled humor, he made a world of difference to my English skills. His sense of humor — the never-to-be-missed “old bean” jokes — made all the difference to be in a Mr Leck class. ▶