PERSONAL NOTE: I decided to share my book especially with my many friends and students in mainland China because the book is not available in mainland China. So enjoy each chapter. Make sure you share it with your friends. Steve, USA, November 21, 2018 Stephenehling@hotmail.com
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One particular past episode of my life continues to bother and perplex me because it prevented me, about a decade or so ago, from going to mainland China to teach. Because I did not meet the most critical basic requirement in order to enjoy that privilege.
It happened some years ago in a small, remote town about one hour away from Seattle, Washington State, USA, the city known for the headquarters of Amazon, Starbucks, Microsoft and Boeing. A small ad in a newspapers got me all fired up—like winning a lottery ticket—causing me to wow with my mouth and nod with my head, luring those interested to register for training to teach in China. China? It was like a banana to a hungry monkey. Allah must have heard my prayers. Another of my dreams was about to come true, I was so sure. I thought. But it was not to be.
For years, I harbored dreams of visiting or teaching in China, the land of my ancestors.
With the small ad, I dialed a university phone number—using the real phone! And told a female secretary or receptionist, obviously a white woman, I was excited to have this opportunity to register for this scheduled training at the University of Washington campus. It was only about an hour or so away from my house if the highway wasn’t busy and congested. I was thrilled singing Baby I am on the way to China and jumped with happiness like a little boy in a toy shop. Little did I expect this invisible white woman would simply demolish all my hopes and dreams in one quick second—like a sudden earthquake—of my going to China with four simple damaging words: “You are not qualified!” Me? Not qualified? All blood seemed to leave my body. You might think I saw a ghost or became one. I thought to myself, “Hi lady, I have all the requirements you are looking for: charm, personality, academic qualifications, teaching experiences, cosmopolitan in my outlook and attitudes, easy going, amiable, tolerant, out going, eager to learn, diligent, a team player, a fast learner, and, above all, I have enviable connections with mainland China because my grandpa is buried in Fuqing, Fujian Province and I am an authentic Chinese from head to toe. I like Chinese foods. All other virtues or qualities are deeply rooted in the marrows of my bones!” I am the right man for the job! So why the rejection, without warning? My face turned pale. My body collapsed. I felt like the French guillotine was about to fall on my neck.
Why me Lord? You could say I was naïve and not this-worldly. I was not told why but soon, after sharing the tragedy with a few confidants, some kind of reality began to
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surface and hit me like a huge rock straying from the side of a cliff.
“Maybe you were blind to a small print in the ad which said ‘for native speakers only’,” someone told me. “You are Chinese, Steve? And that is not good for you,” a dear friend laughed at me. It quickly dawned on me that being a Chinese was the obstacle, the main obstacle, to being accepted as a candidate for training to teach in China. What an irony, I thought. My hair is black, not blonde. That is it! My eyes are slightly brown, not blue. That is it! I am not very tall like many white men. That is it! You are not a native speaker, Steve Ling? That is it! Someone shouted the truth at me. That is it! Did I miss the small print in the ad or I had ignored it, unable to face the truth that I was not a native speaker. Hm! It means I was not born on the American soil. My skin is yellow, not white. The receptionist must have concluded my voice did not sound distinctively American! My voice betrayed me. And therefore not qualified to teach in mainland China! A biased judgment I could not accept rationally.
Suddenly, a picture flashed through my mind of the time when a group of American students were talking loudly enough among themselves so I could hear it, maybe not intentionally, “Mr. Ling is a Chinese, why is he teaching us English?” Blissfully, I said with a smile on my face, catching them by surprise, “Because Mr. Ling knows and can speak better English than you all!” Silence descended like a heavy smog from the heavens. The Chinese in China did not know that. The American female secretary, hearing my voice, knew that the Chinese would not want me. They were not interested that I had taught English in America for years. That I might have better and more qualifications than some of the white men and women they had hired to teach in China.
Maybe I could have pleaded my case before a panel of distinguished university officials or administrators in China. If that was possible then. Flexibility, as I would learn later while living and working in China, is not a cherished virtue or desirable trait or goal in China. “For native speakers only” means “For native speakers only”, and no amount of Moutai, a famous Chinese wine, (prices are coming down because of President Xi Jinping’s warning to all corrupt government officials greedy for the once much coveted gift from Chinese citizens) will move the officials to change their minds vis-à-vis my intense desire to want to teach in China, the country of my ancestors. Maybe some of your Chinese ancestors originated from Poland or South Africa. Mine, like most normal Chinese, definitely hailed from mainland China.
Governor Gary Locke, the first Chinese American to become the 21st Governor of Washington State from 1997 to 2005, was my governor and he was very popular with many Chinese in China. He and his wife were always warmly welcomed in China on
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his trade missions and many Chinese in China admired and congratulated him as the first Chinese American governor in the history of the United States. I contemplated to pay him a visit to discuss my personal predicament, being rejected to teach in China. The more I thought about the Chinese policy of hiring only native speakers, and the mysterious internal workings of Chinese government, the less inclined I was to seek a private audience with Governor Locke despite his popularity with the Chinese government and some citizens. He was American ambassador to China 2011-2014.
Who am I to question the Chinese policy of hiring only the native speakers to teach in China? Confucian ethics teaches us never to question but obey authority, especially those on the throne. “Only native speakers may apply” ads continue to appear online and in countless other places in 21st century modern China, and no one seems to know or care to ask for the rationale behind them. Lack of transparency is nothing new in China. Like many other aspects of life in China, there are many conjectures as to the rationality or lack of it behind the Chinese policy of hiring only the native speakers. What a tragedy if they truly believe only “native speakers” in the world can speak and write excellent and flawless English.
China has yet to learn some of the native speakers they hired, rather blindly, are not trained to teach English or have experience teaching English or have experience teaching in the regular classrooms, and therefore their presence in the Chinese classrooms are detrimental to Chinese students who really want to learn English. I was rejected for training to teach in China because the American lady decided I was not a native speaker, someone who obviously spoke with a slight accent, not caring to know I had taught English in American schools for years.
In the words of Alexander Pope, an English poet, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” I kept my dream alive like nurturing caringly a potted plant. I did not give up my dream of one day teaching in China.
Many moons later on April 2008, after my February visit to Beijing to spend some time with a professor friend and his family, I did receive a completely-out-of-the-blue invitation to be a visiting professor at the Department of Journalism, Xiamen University, Fujian Province, China. I was finally granted a working visa to travel to China in early September 2008, after the Olympics as they had promised me: We love to have you come to China after August 8, 2008.
The invitation to teach in a distinguished Chinese university came like manna from the heavens.