PERSONAL NOTE: I decided to share my book with my friends and students in mainland China because it costs too much to order a copy from USA. Enjoy it and share it with people you love and care. Steve, peace, usa March 7, 2019 firstname.lastname@example.org blog – https://getting2knowyou-china.com
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I would say the picture of today’s Chinese youth is complex and mixed. On a different page on a different day China Daily reported this: “Upstarts and Startups: China’s Post-90s entrepreneurs”. And it continued with this Editor’s Note: “A start-up frenzy has gripped China since Premier Li Keqiang encouraged people to innovate and start their own businesses last March (2014). The country’s ‘post-90s generation’ of entrepreneurs—a term describing those born in the 1990s—has come of age. They are bold digital natives brought up in the founding era of internet giants like Tencent and Alibaba, and unafraid of failure. Products of the internet, and rapid economic growth and globalization, these young entrepreneurs have their own stories to tell.” The special article features nine young entrepreneurs, sharing their ideals and ideas on how their innovations will contribute to the betterment of the society.
Most encouraging to me is the recent report—June 29, 2015—on “How makerspaces are nurturing the next wave of Chinese innovators”. Makerspaces started back in 1995 when a group of young programmers in Berlin, Germany, were able to pool their ideas and began to share a workshop space together. It came to China about 2010 and there are now around 130 of these makerspaces clustered in Beijing, Shenzhen and Shanghai and other less known cities inland. Essentially, philanthropic entrepreneurs or companies help to establish spaces to help and encourage startups by young people who are searching for like-minded people or partners to create new companies with their innovative ideas and those not averse to experimentations and risk taking. Cheku Café is one of the most active makerspaces or incubators for grassroot innovators in Beijing, founded in 2011 by Su Di, an investor who was looking for suitable start-ups to invest in. Now thousands of individual innovators who have no resources to create a product or start their own business can get the help they need by going to Cheku Café. In the words of Li Yan, a Cheku manager, “Cheku is bringing in ordinary people without formal education, technology or money, and empowering them to do something that they want to do. This is especially important in a country where the innovation is largely confined to big companies, or elites.” In the words of Liu Hui, the co-founder of Cheku: “Checku is where you find your partner. It’s like forming a band. You have a singer, a drummer and need a guitarist. This is where you find one.”
It is my privilege to meet many promising bonsai kids and their determination to succeed under any circumstances on my campus. Albert Ai, Aaron Sun and Chen Chao are three outstanding bonsai kids who did not have wealthy parents to boast and support them. Only Chen Lishuai hails from a wealthy family, who once studied at TKK College. Albert and Chao attended XMU, while Aaron attended TKK College.
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This is Albert Ai’s story.
“On a hot summer day seven years ago, I went to a small internet bar to apply for colleges with Ta Wei, who sat with me for the whole three years in high school. We are good buddies. He told me that one of his relatives was a journalist and earned much money. So I added one major, communication and journalism, after accounting, cameralistics and international trade science.
“Days stretched long in summer. And it’s a long time to receive my application result. I was admitted by Xiamen University finally. But I would go to study journalism but not accounting. That’s why I am here.
“The tuition fee was 6,500 yuan per year. It’s a big number for my mom. In this case, many families in my hometown would hold a feast. Relatives, acquaintances and neighbors came and brought some money as gift. However, my mom didn’t plan to do this. She wanted to send me to college by ourselves. It’s also my pa’s wish.
“Instead, I went to borrow money from government-owned bank. The procedure was complicated and cost time. Once the officers saw “single parent” on my application form, they didn’t question me and just gave me a stamp directly. It’s still clear and fresh that I went down from the top of the mountain, where I lived, to the government office each day. The county city was built from the riverside to the mountain top. Sometimes, I stopped and rested on the way. I can see the Yangtze River flowing to the east quietly, clouds wondering aimlessly in the sky. I can hear different bugs singing in the bush. Dabbing the dust on butt, I continued walking.
“I went back to my hometown that summer. Our own house was rented out. So l lived in my cousin’s. De facto, I really didn’t like to hang out that time. Wherever I went, I met neighbors or acquaintances. First, they would say congratulations to me or something else. Then, they started to feel sorry about my pa’s death. My pa died when I was in grade two of senior high and my sister in grade three of junior high. Even they didn’t say it, I can catch from their face that this boy cannot afford the college.
“I spent lots of time on TV in cousin’s house. One afternoon, an acquaintance came, whom I call Uncle Yuan. He was seventies then and his back bended like a crescent. His favorite hobby was spirit and mahjong. He had a good friendship with my pa. He took out some money from his pocket. A bill of ten yuan, first. Then another ten yuan, another ten yuan…he collected ten bills, put them together, handed in my hands. At the moment, tears filled in my eyes and I managed to hold them back.
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“At the end of the summer, my cousin, the Big Brother, companied me to college. It’s dark when we reached Xiamen after three days’ ride by ship and train. I felt sick on the ferry. This was not the only thing making me feel bad. I didn’t know how to use the computer and one time I was asked by one student where I came from. My face was burning.
“Steve took me to a classroom and taught me how to send an email. He was my English teacher and good friend. The first time I received his phone call, I was doing collective gymnastics. I didn’t catch much his words but felt so warm. He was interested in my stories and cared about them.
“Another thing, I cannot bike. I never had a bike when I was young. All my roommates bought bikes and rode to class. I walked alone. It’s really a bad choice in summer afternoons.
“Anyway, there was goodness. I had more time to feel and enjoy the beauty of the campus. I found a melon vine on the lawn near a big boulder one day. Every time I passed, I went to have a look stealthily. It grew longer. It blossomed. It had a little melon. The melon became bigger and bigger. The last time I saw it, it was as big as my fist. But it disappeared the next time. It really hurt me for a while.
“Steve hoped to teach me riding. I rode on his bike while he balanced the bike behind me. After several rounds, I gave up. Four years later, a summer nightfall, I had a ride with Steve, riding on the path I had walked. I wanted to say something to him but not.
“Listen! Cicadas are singing outside. Another summer.”
I had the opportunity to visit Albert and his mom and sister and the hometown where he came from. He and his family lived in a mountainous area and that would explain part of the reason why he never did have a chance to ride a bicycle. Albert could not forget the day when his father came to see him in the boarding school. He told his father he was very busy studying for his coming Gaokao. That night he received an unforgettable phone call from his mother saying his father had passed away that evening. Albert could not forgive himself about this. He took me to the mountain where they buried his father, a simple grave with huge rocks covering the hole with the coffin in it. I knew then his family did not have the money for a proper burial. But Albert performed well enough in his Gaokao that he was admitted to study in a prestigious Xiamen University. One day Albert shared with me a story that he wrote that took me by surprise because most Chinese students, despite years of studying English from primary to junior to high school, could not write a decent sentence or a
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paragraph when they first entered a college or university. And he had written other stories to show his literary skills when he was at XMU. I was completely surprised by his literary talent: fiction and non-fiction stories.
Aaron Sun and I met when he was a freshman at TKK College, an expensive private school. And here is his story in his own words.
“In Chinese, there is a saying that goes like this, ‘Misfortune might be a blessing in disguise.’ I did not do well in my National College Entrance Exam, and I actually did not feel happy about going to TKK for college. However, later on, I realized it was one of the best decisions I have made in my life so far, because it is at TKK College that I met Steve, who changed my life, it is at TKK College that I was able to excel in studying English, and it is at TKK that I decided to pursue my career in teaching English.
“I first met Steve because he was my teacher of English learning skills. We got to know each other through emails, QQ, and hanging out. He is a really nice person who really cares about students and has great passion in teaching. His teaching style is different from other Chinese teachers due to his educational background in the United States. Later on, he became my mentor who encouraged me and guided me to find the ‘right path of my life’. Whenever I have questions or concerns about study and life, he was always a great resource for me, and he often shared the story of other students he knew, who were able to accomplish a lot in their academic life.
“I came from a single-parent family where my mom strives so hard to bring me up. Maybe it was because I did not enjoy many privileges that my friends and classmates, or even relatives have, I was not confident about myself. I often questioned myself, doubted myself, and I was unsure of what to do in the future. Yet Steve always encouraged me, told me to be confident, and taught me about life. Because Steve himself grew up very poor, refused to be a farmer to please his adopted mother, studied hard and got scholarships to study in America. Steve came at the right time in my life and showed me the way.
“When I was a sophomore, I participated in the English speech contest at TKK. Though I did not do very well, some teachers found my potential and encouraged me to join the speech training program on campus. I was not sure if I could do it, but Steve said, “Just do it. There is nothing to lose.” Steve was there every step of the way, patiently teaching me how to craft a speech, not an essay, how to deliver it not just with my mouth but using all parts of my body and gradually I felt the transformation in my ability to make a good speech. Fortunately, with my persistent efforts, I was
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chosen to participate in the provincial speech contest on behalf of my school. Later on, in my junior and senior year, I made it to the national speech contest twice. The president of TKK himself came to the regional contest and invited me to his office one day and advised me personally how to perform well in a speech.
“My experience as a student at TKK helped me realize that we need more English teachers who can really teach English, not just teaching test taking skills, and somehow I found myself interested in teaching. I shared my thoughts with Steve. He was glad and told me that if I wanted to teach English, a bachelor degree is not sufficient. So he encouraged me to pursue a master’s degree in ESL (English as a Second Language), that if I do well in my studies he would be willing to sponsor my study in America, as he also thought that China needs more English teachers who can really “teach” English. With that ambition and opportunity in mind, I worked very hard to improve my GPA and prepared for the TOEFL test. I was admitted to the MA TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) at San Francisco State University in the USA.
“I also found an urge within myself to help those around me who want to improve their English, and so I founded an English club called Ensanity when I was a senior. I encouraged students at TKK to come to the club every week. We had topic presentation, discussion seminars, impromptu speeches, etc. Steve was a mentor in the Ensanity, and he was always there to support the club and offered help to us.
“I want to say thank you to Steve, for his endless care and support in my study and life, for being a mentor who is always there for me, and for making my dream to study in the US and become an English teacher come true.”
And this letter to members of the Ensanity club before the 2015 summer hiatus, Aaron wrote from America:
Hi everyone. I hope that you are all doing well with your study and that you have been learning and enjoying coming to Ensanity this semester. I would like to share some thoughts about this club with you.
When I started this club two years ago, my initial intention was that I wanted to create a safe learning environment where people come here because they love English, because they want to be able to speak English fluently, because they want to use English in the future; not because they have to take all kinds of tests, like CET-4 and CET-6. I think Ensanity is a place where people get together, share their thoughts and understanding about English, about life, and learn from each other. It
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is that simple.
I understand that some of you might feel tired, or even bored, because of your busy schedule, because you feel that you do not benefit from coming to this club. However, I think it is important for you to realize that learning has to happen from you. It means that you must be the person who takes the initiatives, takes the action, to improve your English. One of the most significant differences between Chinese education and American education is that in the US, teachers will ask students to read, read, and read; and students will learn a lot from reading the books, not just by going to the class and listening to the teacher. What I am trying to say here is that if you think that by going to the club every week, sitting there and listening to others, you will improve your English, you might be wrong. Instead, you need to be active, participate in those activities, and take the opportunity to say something. Do not be afraid of making mistakes, because you will always learn from your mistakes.
I also want to say that Ensanity is a place where people share. You can share your thoughts, your ideas, your knowledge, etc. I know that all of you are smart and brilliant, and you must have many new ideas. So I hope that you will continue to work together, to make this club better. It can only succeed when everyone contributes, and most importantly, you will improve your English, if you take the chance, and do not give up!
Last but not the least, I wish you all good luck with your finals and have a relaxing and fun summer!
June 17, 2015
I worked many hours with Aaron after our lengthy discussions on whether he should spend time doing all the demanding preparations for the competitive speech contests, from college level to the state, to the regional, and finally to Beijing, China’s capital, for the national contest. He was a senior then and he had to take care of his senior graduation requirements. In the beginning I taught him how to write a simple speech but more importantly how to deliver it to the judges to get their winning approval and high scores. Within a short time, Aaron got the hand of it and I did not have to edit his speech later because he knew then the ingredients of a winning speech. After seven years teaching in the English Department in China, I discovered, to my sadness and dismay, that most Chinese English teachers do not use English to teach English in college classrooms. Should they use English to instruct the students, they fear the students might fail in their tests and could mean dismissal as teachers by the college.
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Unfounded fear? Because Aaron is one of the very best students I had the honor of being their teacher, I made the decision to “invest” in his future by sending him to
study in the United States. And now it is my dream he would consider pursuing a PhD in his area of specialization. I have a simple advice to Aaron: If you are happy teaching English in a high school, then you do not need to spend time pursuing a PhD degree in the United States. He understood what I said. I want him to return to China using English to teach English to all our bonsai kids because they need English teachers who are proficient in the mastery of the English language. I believe one critical way to help our bonsai kids to master the English language—in listening, speaking, reading and writing—is to have teachers who will use the English to teach English from primary to junior to senior to colleges. And China needs it now and urgently as China continues to spread its economic power around the globe.
Aaron’s search for his biological father was a failure from the start because his grandparents did not want him to know the whereabouts of his father. Why? He left Aaron when he was a child and in many conversations he would mention how much he wanted to know his real father. When Aaron was a senior in TKK College, he reported to me one day that his grandma was very sick, that she might die. I told him if she died his father would appear at the funeral. I was sure of that. Unfortunately grandma survived. She died when Aaron was doing his graduate studies in the United States and there was no way he could come home for the funeral, because of the distance, cost, and he was busy with his studies and assignments. I told him the same thing: your father will appear at the funeral. So when Aaron talked to me one day that he was too busy to think about returning home, and that his mother told him his father had appeared at the funeral, I was elated and happy for Aaron. Aaron’s mom arranged for his father to meet me to thank me for taking care of Aaron when he was a student at TKK College. We met on my campus and I reported to Aaron everything I told his father in the presence of his mother. It was a very emotional meeting for us, with unstoppable tears as I shared all the important events Aaron went through in college, as he continued to search in vain for his father. Soon after, Aaron was able to contact his father, now remarried with a grown-up daughter, living in Sichuan Province. I told Aaron simply: “You have a sister. Try to be a good brother and when you have time, build that father-son relationship with your father.”
This is China.