Saturday, December 10, 2005

So I’m back. Back from 2 weeks of escapism, self-discovery, entire indulgence in the rustic charm of Li Jiang, and wonderful, wonderful, most entirely wonderful peace and calmness restored to me through the silence of solitude. I went there to help others. I went there to teach the kids in Ming Ying Village and the students in Li Jiang’s Educational College English. But I think I ended up teaching myself instead.

I will never forget the first day I stepped into Class 38 of Ming Ying Secondary School.

“Holy shit,” I thought.

The weather was a moody grey in the early hours of the bleak morning. It was so cold that my fingers were numbed inside my gloves. The school was small and saturated with muted colours of muddy brown and greyish white. The classroom we were in looked as though it was a thousand years old. The ceiling, the walls, the floor and even the kids, were covered with black grimy dirt.

There were 5 of us in charge of Class 38. Heidi, Jia Sheng, Eunice, Pei Yee and I. Heidi was really very sick. Jia Sheng was sick too. Eunice was not feeling well and she seemed unusually perturbed. Pei Yee was overly quiet and lost in her own contemplation. That left me grappling with sudden uneasiness and nervousness.

“What do we do first? How do we get the class started? Why are they all staring at us with such humongous and bright eager eyes?” Questions questions. And there were so many of them! They were so small in size and their cheeks were like round and bright red apples. Mr. Amos sat at the back of the class, settling into his state of silent and discreet observation. The 5 of us kept quiet, fake smiles plastered to our faces as we tried to conceal our feelings. The class kept quiet too, watching us keenly and impatiently. I swallowed.

“Hello,” I said with a feigned smile.

“HI!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” they screamed back in an enthusiastic chorus.

“Oh my god,” I muttered, shocked at the loudness of their booming greeting.

The 5 of us did a self-introduction of who we were, and we prompted them to do likewise. Each little bubbly kid stood from his or her place and spoke their names and what they liked. And I think it started from that very moment that I really really warmed up to them. I was touched by their innocence, their sincerity, their complete and absolute trust in our abilities to teach and share with them what we knew, their bursting enthusiasm and hunger to learn, and their expressive joyfulness and excitement in seeing us- we were like superstars! For the first time in our lives, we were so wildly accepted, so popular and so unbelievably famous.

I felt something overpower me in their classroom. I don’t really know to describe it. I just wanted to teach them. I wanted to teach them. I wanted to pour out my heart and soul to teach them as well as I could and I wanted to do even more. I found within myself, within the depths of the core of my heart, a burning passion I never knew existed at all. In class, especially when I was teaching them, I became a totally different person from who I was before. I screamed with them, I laughed with them, I ran around the classroom like a lunatic, I acted and exaggerated my actions and words to dramatic effect, and I willingly threw my face to the ground and made a fool out of myself just to make them smile and understand what on earth I was trying to say.

The four of them said I was “damn high”. I was. They said I always became high when I taught the kids. But it was more than that as well. It was a realization that I really love to teach. I really love teaching them. I never felt a single nanosecond of exhaustion or sleepiness. I just wanted to make them happy. I wanted to make them learn and take from me as much as they possibly could. I gave all of myself to the extent that I fell sick. I lost my voice, had flu, had cough, and I didn’t even know that I was having a fever!

I remember sitting up in bed at night, looking at the thermometer and telling Mr Tonny Lim, “Yar I’m okay. 38.7 degrees only.”

His eyes widened, “38.7 degrees and you’re OKAY??!”

Jessica kept laughing, “Girl, you’re not okay. 38.7 degrees means you’re having a fever.”

“Huh? I thought normal body temperate is 37 or 38 degrees?” I asked.

“Noooooooooo…. 36.8 or something is then the normal body temperature,” Mr Lim corrected.

“Ooooooohh…” my face reddened, “I feel so stupid.”

“At least there’s one good thing about you falling sick. Now you know that 38.7 degrees means you’re not okay. It means you’re having a fever,” Jessica commented.

Ha ha…

And yet I still wanted to carry on teaching them even though I wasn’t well enough to do so. I couldn’t tear myself away from their cheery presences.

I found in myself self-confidence, passion, determination and initiative. And I wondered where they came from, and how come I didn’t act this way when it came to my studies or even my life. I think I learned a lot about myself simply by teaching them. I learnt that I’m a person highly motivated and driven by passion to the point of obsession and insanity. :P I learned how to be responsible of my own well-being and to take care of myself because falling sick wouldn’t do the kids or me any good.

I saw Eunice, Jia Sheng, Pei Yee and Heidi grow and I feel I have learned a lot working with them too. Eunice became a really good leader. She persevered to do Ming Ying’s programme and especially the organization of the Amazing Race game even though everyone around us was falling sick one by one, and she was clearly feeling the despair and demoralization that derived from it. I saw in her a strong conviction to make things right. I saw how she moved in to take the place of Lionel and become a leader, and how she cared for all of us and worried herself sick. There were times when it seemed as though she was on the verge of breaking and giving up, but she always managed to pull through and remain upbeat. It’s something I really admire about her and it’s something I really want to learn from her.

I feel that Jia Sheng matured by teaching the kids. He said on the first day that he felt guilty for getting tired so easily and taking a break to slack when he felt like it. I thought then that it takes a great deal of courage and honesty to admit something like that. I could sense in the days that followed that he really tried his best to be better. He stopped himself from yawning, and he smiled so much that I was sure it must hurt. He acted like a clown and he had an amazing ability to make them laugh- even just by flipping his scarf or blowing his nose would send ripples of giggles all around the room. He also took a lot more initiative than I ever saw him take before. He was always the first to volunteer to teach the class, so much so that we actually had to ‘wrestle’ with him to get a chance to teach the class as well.

Pei Yee had an indescribable connection with the kids. There was something about her character that drew the kids to her. When they didn’t understand something, she was the first person they would run to. I saw how caring she was, how gentle and patient she was with the kids. I saw how she excelled in teaching them one to one, how she actually knew this about herself and how she worked on it. Even though she had stage fright, she pushed herself out of her comfort zone to stand before all 62 of them and teach them. I thought that was really very brave of her. I saw how willing she was to be a pillar of support to us wholeheartedly. Through her, I feel that I learned how to take a step back, to take the role of an assistant to my friends, and to step back right in to lead the class only when I was needed. I learned that whatever role I get, no matter how small or how seemingly insignificant, I should just put in my very best.

Heidi made me learn teamwork and co-operation. I really feel that I should have been more observant and sensitive to her feelings. She was not feeling well, and she seemed really lost in her own world at times. There were many things I saw happening in class that were extremely subtle- even the expression of helplessness on Heidi’s face when she was teaching- which I was not alert enough to pick out as distress signals. Still she bravely put a smile on her face and carried on being the bubbly, funny and talkative girl we all love so dearly.

Jie Ying is also someone I feel I should have cared more for. It was only when she burst into tears that I realized how all along she had been silently feeling lonely and missing home. I learned that I have to watch out for the people around me. I should have cared for my friends more. I should have been more cautious and attentive in observing my surroundings and the feelings of the people around me. Instead I pushed them all to the back of my mind and I did not think much of them. I feel that was a very very selfish and tactless thing that I did. It’s something I’m not going to let happen again.

The thing that struck me the most about the Ming Ying kids was that they live in such a simple, poverty stricken, unsanitary and backwards environment, and yet they are so genuinely contented with their lives. They don’t even complain or find fault with anything at all. They want to learn and study so desperately that they study in class until night falls and they can hardly even see.

I remember the times when out of the blue the electricity would be cut off, and the entire classroom would be thrown into darkness. We would continue to teach them in the dark, and their enthusiasm and responsiveness never faded. It felt as though nothing could ever deter them from reaching their goals. I saw how focused and hardworking they were. There is so much to learn from them. Compared to them, I am so much more fortunate. I find myself so pampered, lazy, unmotivated, and I give up too easily. I want to try to be like them. I’m going to work towards this goal from now on.

I didn’t really feel much commitment teaching the students at LJEC. In fact I actually found some of them proud, spoilt, and unwilling to learn. Especially on the second day, when we had to handle a class that was mischievous, unenthusiastic and totally the perfect mixture to give one a huge headache, did I realize how hard it is for teachers to teach. I think I’ve actually taken my teachers for granted. I feel I didn’t really appreciate the effort they took in teaching me. It was only when I stepped into their shoes and became a teacher myself that I realized how tough it is to teach, how discouraging and disappointing it feels when students sleep in class or don’t pay attention or skip lessons.

It’s interesting. The people I wanted to get to know better, I never got to really know. I wanted to somehow talk to them more, and help them to overcome their own personal problems. But I think I ended up helping myself instead. The people I didn’t really expect to be close to, I became close to. The late nights when I ate cup noodles with them, and chatted with them, and we confided in each other and shared secrets are nights I’m really going to miss...

Fatein and her "cover your nose" stint and her uncanny ability to laugh at almost anything at all,

Jess and her "whatever" tagline, that super big and happy smile, and all the medicines she gave me as though she was a doctor,

Chia Hui- my partner in the many crimes of full bloom insanity, running down the street pretending we were swimming, telling Jia Sheng to shut up, and plotting to drug him and stuff him inside a box and leave him up in the mountains to rot,

Jia Sheng tugging at his hair, quacking irritably and er hem... wanting to treat my body as a playground and me telling him in response that I would make him strip naked, tie his hands and legs to the bed and let him wait there, expecting me, but I'll never come, and he can rot there forever,

Lionel and his schizophrenic police officer personality,

Eunice threatening to make me drink poisoned apple juice since I was the modernistic Snow White,

Neilson and his "pai mia" tagline, his short affair with Roasted Pork the china student, and his constant 60s outfit,

Toon and his weird way of dancing the Cemo Dance as though he was suddenly possessed or an insect just crawled up his spine and ran down his arm,

Marcus and his "let's chat" tagline and all black outfit which constantly reminded me of a failed technician or assassin,

Shi Wei claiming I'm the Queen of Insanity, getting high dancing crazily with Heidi,

Heidi selling, eating bao, always hungry for bao and buying cup noodles, and dancing like a floating chinese ghost with a dreamy smile on her face,

Yuan Long's aka Yuan Yuan's witty sarcasm, my angel, the guy with madness in full display through his dishevelled hair,

Hui Ning's, Yati's and Ying Hui's missing person melodrama turn surprise party,

Tina's gu niang occasional slips out of her tomboyish personality,

Franson's hip hop style and hillarious dance and imitation to Chicken Little's "Myya hee, Myya ho, Myya ha, Myya ha ha..." song,

Jie Ying's ultra cold jokes and the need to get an extra jacket to protect herself from the coldness of Jia Sheng's lameness,

Pei Yee, my china bride and my dance partner of Summer Sunshine, and her admirably frank attitude towards Miss Poh,

Miss Darrell and all her famous qoutes such as "I'm thinking aloud", "Jia Sheng, think before you speak", "There's a dip",

Miss Poh dancing in the Sunrise Cafe to our jaw dropping surprise,

Mr Tonny Lim becoming Tonny Boy and his low-maintenance life of eating only tofu and beansprouts,

Amos insisting I look like Snow White and imitating me by saying, "You suck", "You rock", "You want to die?",

and amidst all these crazy people, I'm somewhere... Somewhere. :)

This trip feels so short, and yet the memories that I have amassed from it seems to come from a stretch of more than 2 weeks. And everybody has grown so much! I don't even think they realize how much they have grown, since I myself don't feel I have grown much, as much as I want to. But I think this trip has really given me the motivation to become a better person, to keep improving myself, and the desire to serve others selflessly.

Oh my god... I sound like some goody two shoes. Pardon me. Am in the mood for reflections and perhaps not practising what I preach. WAHAHAHAHAHAHA... What am I saying??!!!



Miao said...

haha i remember teaching some primary 4 EM3 kids when i was back in secondary school. yeah, teaching is fun :)

Anonymous said...

HAHA~!glad u had fun & learnt lots of stuff... so we'll be seeing a more..erhum... mature faith soon? :P kiddin... great tt u grew up frm this experience :) ciao soon.. and take care of ur health will ya?! haha! :P get well soon...
missing u always
ur fiancee

lost said...

right... So i have a split personality? I always thought it was me!!! And hor, sad.. I fall ill and eunice got to take over.. hate to see that.. ARgh.. shld have taken care of myself.. ah..

JY said...

No, what happened during the trip was not because of you. There's a saying that the people who are worth crying for won't make you cry, and those who make you cry aren't worth crying for. I was glad to get to know you better during the trip, and hope we stay in touch in the new year.

Faith said...

I'm not glad to know you, jy.

I'm over the moon. :)

Take care.

And that saying is beautiful.