Saturday, January 23, 2010

Zaijian xiao Zhang

Goodbye Zhang ; as the title says , this is a farewell post for Zhang Dan, my wonderful Chinese teacher.

This week, I had my last class with Zhang, a moment tinged with some sadness. For she leaves next week to study in the UK. She hadn’t expected this to happen, but an opportunity came and it all worked out. So off she goes.

Some months ago, I had gathered courage to attempt to learn Chinese. I was met by a young, earnest girl, who was to be my teacher. She was a post graduate student at the university and this was her first attempt to teach Chinese to a waiguoren (foreigner). Now the Chinese word for teacher is laoshi; the prefix lao stands for old age. It is assumed that the teacher will be an elderly person and the student somebody much younger. But here the tables were turned- she is a young girl and I am (ahem) just a tad older !

But what a teacher she proved to be. I’ve rarely seen anyone who’s so obviously born to the profession. She loves teaching she says and it showed every minute. She showed patience and maturity that was way way beyond her years. And she made learning fun – every class was full of laughter; but never at my pathetic attempt to pronounce the words right. A teacher who can make learning a difficult language fun is a treasure indeed.

I am a terrible student. I may have some (er !) redeeming qualities, but learning a language is not one of them. But Zhang was patient and encouraging, when even after months of effort, I couldn’t get any sentence right. Where did she learn to be so patient ? And not once was “bu dui” mentioned. For the record bu dui is the standard phrase of most teachers; it means “wrong”.

And as I learnt, she became as much a friend as a teacher. She represents the best of young China. Bright and hardworking and yet warm and humble. She comes from Hohhot at the very north of China , but has come all the way down south to study at a good University here. With a burning desire to do well by sheer effort. Open and friendly to a foreigner and very interested in understanding the outside world. Eager and proud to show her own country in good light. Willing to be sporting when I criticised something about China, especially the net nanny. Sensitive to insist on only ordering vegetarian food when we went out occasionally to eat. Such a delightful young lady.

She now goes abroad to continue her studies. She’s never been outside China and this will be a completely new experience for her. In this, she joins the thousands of young Indians and Chinese, who step out of their country to a strange land with a flutter in their hearts , but with a steely determination to make it good there. She will face new challenges; strange situations, different people, exotic food, but equally, I hope, friendly people, warm experiences, much learning and great joy. I really wish she gets half as good a teacher as she has been to me.

When we finished our last class, she couldn’t but help let a tear trickle down. She said men don’t cry, but she just couldn’t hold it back. No Zhang. That’s not true. You didn’t see after I walked away.

Goodbye xiao Zhang. May you achieve all the success and enjoy all the happiness that you so richly deserve. I hope we can meet again somewhere, someplace, sometime, for after all, it’s a small world.

Good luck and Godspeed.