Sunday, 24 January 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.


  1. cha..chaancela thala...enakenamo..oru mushy hollywood movie paatha mathiri iruku..just by reading this post i've become a big fan of that lady...i am sure she will make it big in her new and all assignments. UKla avangaluku ethachum help thevapatta sollunga. Nalla ullam padaitha Makkal neria per irukanga :)

  2. what a touching post Ramesh! amazing!!

    every one can become a teacher, but only a few teachers can become a Guru. Not by their age, not by their knowledge, but by their passion and by their devotion to ensuring that the student learns rather than studies.

    i hope you realize, you are one of them as well. Not by (ahem!!) your age or seniority but your sheer passion to share your vast knowledge with morons like us and the absolute humility with which you do this.

    In the context of this post, I Salute Thee, the Guru of the Decade that was and the decade that is!!

  3. You always were, and will be, one of the true romantics of our time. It courage to put yourself out there...

  4. @gils - Thanks for your good wishes to her ; I'll send her a translation of your warm Tamil sentiments !!

    @sandhya - Yes teaching is a calling, almost like a religious calling. I am a million miles away from that - broadcasting some blah blah does not amount to teaching. As usual you are very very very kind.

    @dada - Now that's a surprise. A writer of a boring business blog can aspire to earn such a sobriquet !

  5. Athivas24/1/10

    It requires a patient teacher like Zhang Dan to teach a really new language (whose scripts are completely different from what we are used to, as well!) and a sensitive student(!!) like you to write a post like this!!

    Our very best wishes to teacher Zhang Dan for all her endeavors in the future. God bless!!

  6. I am touched by the warmth of the relationship that you share with Zhang. The post left my eyes teary. A student-teacher relationship is such a speacial bond. My heart goes away to wish all the best to the lady for all her future endeavors and of course, special salute to you for being a torch-bearer always. You are a great human being Sir!!!

    It is enthralling to see you learn Chinese and equally enthralling to gauge her maturity level sitting right here in front of my laptop. Yes, it is a small world, you would definitely meet her again. Amen!

  7. Very touching.Completely understand and totally agree.Hats off..both to teacher and student.

  8. A very touching post. I have always been my teachers' pet, and they have meant a world to me. I can absolutely relate to your words here. And also, this goes to show that age has nothing to do with being a good student or a good teacher.

    Good Luck to her in her endeavours.

  9. @athivas - Its a difficult language indeed, so I am very jealous at the number of Indians here who seem to speak it fluently without going to a single class !

    @VA - Yes, a teacher is special indeed. I have unfortunately learnt nothing ; just attempted to !

    @Deepa - I can completely understand you being a teacher's pet !! Yeah, thats why teaching is one of the few "noble" professions.

    @Vinod - You bum ; had no idea you had started a blog yourself. Will see you there !

  10. Another great post! I just gone back to my school days. Indeed having good teacher is a real blessed thing and you are no exception. They're the thrust of students - not necessarily in the schools or colleges but - in everything. It's just like we learn lotta things from you.

    May god bless her in whatever she peruse and also you to get another GOOD Teacher to continue your journey of learning chinese..

  11. @LG - Yes a great teacher is a real blessing. I am nowhere in that category so I can write objectively about it !!

  12. Beautifully expressed.
    You write well Ramesh. You touch hearts which is what good writing is all about.
    This post reminded me in some ways of one of Tony Parson's books. Will mail you details if you want to know.

  13. First hats off to you in your attempt to learn new language. Not many of us would do that after we are "tad" old. Its really heartening to see the relationship between you too. Chinese ppl are always nice to move with and they way they care and show affection is just lovely.

    And that was wonderful writing, emotions well expressed. I wish her all the very best in her studies. So whats your next step ? writing chinese economic articles for local paper ?

  14. Such a sweet post. She seems like a very special person and I hope she enjoys her new life.

  15. @Preeti - Thanks so much. This is high praise coming from a published author and I am much touched. Would be very interested in anything you can send on Tony Parsons.

    @Sri - Thanks Sri ; yes the Chinese are inherently friendly. I just know how to say hello and goodbye in Chinese and I can write my own name which qualifies me as a Chinese literate. To write in a Chinese newspaper will require another 20 years of learning !

    @J - Yes, she's a nice girl and hope she does very well in the future.

  16. Thanks Ramesh , and you are most welcome to my humble attempt at blogging :-).

  17. I am glad to see your passion toward Chinese language. It is not an easy language, but you can get in, I am sure....

  18. @Qin Li - Xie xie. I am trying ....

  19. Hansjoerg.Siber21/6/10


    You can't be such a terrible student. I heard your moving 10 minutes speech in Chinese last Tuesday. I did not understand a word, but everybody else in the room did and was totally thrilled about your words. In fact I believe you are a highly talented student and you had an excellent teacher because she taught you with her heart.

  20. @Hansjoerg - You are very kind. Yes she and Yuan Zi who's been subsequently teaching me are excellent teachers; hence some progress although I am still hopeless in the language.


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