Wei Guoxin, teaching in Indonesia: “I believe that one day they will learn English very good, and I am sure they will tell more people, ‘Chinese is not difficult to learn, Chinese characters are not difficult to learn’ I look forward to the day”.
Wei Guoxin, Chinese Teacher at East Balikpaban No. 5 Middle School, Indonesia
Indonesia was once a foreign name that I only came across in geography books, and Kalimantan was just one of its many islands. As to Balikpapan, it had never come into my attention. Before I became a volunteer Chinese teacher, they were just three irrelevant geographic names to me. But now, the No. 5 Middle School in Balikpapan in East Kalimantan, Indonesia, is the place I work.
It was Monday when I was registered at the school. The principal was very hospitable and introduced me to all the teachers and students after the flag-raising ceremony. When I greeted the students, they shouted out all the Chinese that they could speak: “Ni hao”, “Xiexie”, “Zai jian.” Some of them even said “Wo ai ni”,“Gong fu” and “Gong xi fa cai”, which I think they picked up from Chinese TV series. I realized they did not know the meaning of what they said, just that it was Chinese, my language.
From the “chaotic Chinese greeting” on the first day, I felt the students’ passion and friendliness. But I also realized they were complete beginners. How I wished the students could call me “teacher” in Chinese, even though not properly pronounced. How I wished they could talk with me in Chinese one day, even if only one sentence. But what I faced then was all blank paper. I needed to start from the very beginning to fill the blank paper with one stroke after another. I believed one day my wish would come to true. “Blank” need not be long-term if the students made an effort with me. I thought the breakthrough would not be far ahead. My first class was to teach the students how to greet others in Chinese. Some of the students said they had known “nihao” (hello) but they did not know its meaning. After this class, they always greeted me with “nihao” whenever they saw me on campus. This “breakthrough” built up my confidence. As time went on, the students made continuous progress. I can not recall when the students first called me “teacher” in Chinese. When they saw me leaving, they would say “Where are you going?” or “Good bye,” or “See you tomorrow” in Chinese. The students watched Chinese TV series and movies at home, though they had to rely on translated captions. They would ask me the meanings of simple Chinese expressions and sentences that they picked up from movies. I believe one day they will score remarkable achievements in learning Chinese and they will tell more people that learning Chinese is not so difficult. I look forward to that day.
The students are lovely and the teachers friendly. Though I speak a different language, I have never felt lonely. I think language is not the only means for communication. My communication with my Indonesian colleagues is sometimes a mere smile or a gesture. When the teachers read Indonesian newspapers in the office, they often pointed out some influential figures in the newspaper and asked me if I knew them or asked me to teach them how to pronounce their names in Chinese. I told them the Chinese name for Indonesia President Susilo is “Su-xi-luo.” After that, when they saw the president’s pictures in newspaper, they would say his Chinese name. Simple as such communication is, we all enjoy it. Sometimes, in order to make a question clear, I had to resort to a Chinese-Indonesian dictionary and the Indonesian teachers relied on Indonesian-Chinese dictionaries. We were talking and laughing while consulting dictionaries. We jokingly called this way of communication — gestures plus consulting dictionaries — “monkey language.” The teaching experience as a volunteer Chinese teacher is very fruitful for me. The smiling faces of my students, the warm-hearted help of my colleagues and the deep friendship of Indonesian friends will always linger in my memory.
Published in Confucius Institute Magazine
Number 05. Volume V. November 2009.
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