The Jelly Bean contest continues!!
Deadlines are: Midnight today (Saturday) for USA; Noon on Easter Sunday for those in China.
The Most Active Contestants: 大学同学, University Classmates
Things have been slowing down from the USA end with 28 entries but my Chinese contest entries have been exploding. You would think this would be among my English Association group, which is composed of 300 + students who are interested in English. But surprisingly enough, that is not the case.
The most active and enthusiastic are among 大学同学, University Classmates. This is an alum group of my college, some who were my students years ago and others from different majors. They now have teaching positions, have taken on other jobs, have husbands and wives, and children of their own.
Joining this group: A bus ride that nearly wasn’t connects us together
How I joined this group is one of those “nearly wasn’t” stories.
Two years ago, I had just finished swimming at the new natatorium which is located clear across town. It was 4:30 p.m. and I was very tired. After a full morning of teaching, then a 2-hour work-out in the pool, I just wanted to get home in a hurry, which meant a $3.00 (19 yuan) 10-minute taxi ride back to my campus.
But after waiting 20 minutes for an empty taxi, I gave up and decided to take the long way home, a cheap 40-cents by public bus but a full 50-minute ride.
As I settled into my bus seat, I was in no mood to chat with anyone. The last thing I wanted was to engage in small talk with curious Chinese who wanted to either practice their English with the foreigner or ask me questions in Chinese about my life in Luzhou.
This is probably why I ignored the strange person sitting directly in front of me, with a little boy next to him, who kept looking back at me numerous times. I say “strange” because he was wearing a mask to cover what obviously was a noticeable disfigurement. I could see, peeking out from beneath his facial cover, the obvious aftermath of a horrific burn. His neck was also scarred as were parts of his exposed arm and a half-eaten-away ear.
I continued to ignore him, even when he spoke to me. I couldn’t quite understand what he was saying so I just smiled wanly and continued to look out the window.
But then came my name: “Connie!”
At first, I thought I misunderstood but he repeated it again. At that point, I knew this must be someone I knew, even though I was certain I’d have remembered a disfigured friend or student from years ago. Who could this be?
“Yes, I’m Connie,” I replied, rather shamefully because I’d been so distant before. “Do I know you?”
The little boy sitting next to him perked up as the masked man turned completely around to engage me in conversation.
“I’m Chuck! You were my teacher,” he enthusiastically said. I could tell there was a huge smile under that mask he was wearing.
“Perhaps you don’t remember me,” he added.
Are you kidding?! I have so very few boys in my classes of hundreds of girls. Did I remember Chuck from over 10 years ago? Short, scrawny, skinny Chuck whose English was deplorable and who always had this mischievous grin on his face? Who never did his homework? Who always hung in the back of the room with his two best male buds, poking at one another from time to time when the lesson didn’t interest them? The one who failed his final oral exam twice before I finally, exasperated and with a compassionate heart, passed him with a 60?
“Of course I remember you, Chuck! It has been many years,” I said.
Chuck went on sheepishly.
“I was a very bad student. My English was so poor. But you were always very kind. You never got angry with me. I wish I studied harder.”
“I know English was hard for you,” I laughed. “It is not easy for everyone but you tried your best. I’m so glad I was nice to you! Sometimes I’m not.”
Chuck pushed his son toward me.
“This is my son, Jack,” he said.
Chuck was very aware of people sitting near us, leaning in and admiring him for speaking to the foreigner. Might as well show off his son as well.
“Say something to my teacher, Jack. This is Teacher Connie.”
His son, like Dad, showed no restraint when it came to talking to the foreigner.
“Hello! My name is Jack. I’m 7 years old. I’m from China. How are you?” he blurted out.
Talk about a proud papa! I could tell Chuck was gloriously beaming under that mask.
As the bus careened onward over the Yangtze River bridge, heading toward the downtown district, Chuck shared with me that he didn’t have a job now. I was wondering about the burns and how he sustained those. He certainly didn’t have them 10 years ago, and from the look of them, they were not recently obtained. But Chuck didn’t volunteer any other information and I didn’t ask.
Before he got off the bus, he announced that there was a special alum group that he belonged to. Did I want to join?
Eagerly, I pulled out my phone and he sent me the link to join the WeChat 大学同学. I did so immediately, right before Chuck and Jack stepped off the bus. We waved good-bye, with plenty of promises for future contact and maybe a reunion dinner, before the bus continued onward.
For the next 30 minutes, my phone was receiving numerous “Ding!”s as more and more of my former classmates began sending me notes. Chuck had already mentioned, in a post in Chinese, that he saw me on the bus and was connecting me with everyone. My exhaustion and desire to be left alone immediately disappeared as I watched all those names pop up, one after the other, with photos of my first students in Luzhou along with their families. It was the absolute best public bus ride I have ever had.
Reunions Are Treasured
Since that time, I have invited all the group members to bring their children to any campus event we’ve had. The English Association’s campus Halloween Activity Night and Christmas Activity Night are always times when my former students descend upon me, accompanied by their kids, to participate in all we have to offer. Chuck always brings Jack along with the other alums, if they have time. Other former students, who are now teachers themselves, bring their own students to enjoy the fun as well.
At every gathering, we take pictures together and these are posted in the 大学同学 (University Classmate) group. Comments, silly remarks, and joking asides take place in every posting.
Even during the seriousness of the virus situation in China, the humorous bantering, along with concern and worries, never stopped. It is obvious this close-knit group of alums have strong feelings for one another and their time together at Luzhou Vocational and Technical College.
How very lucky, and honored, I feel that I was invited to join them as a beloved member of their alum family. And how very, very grateful I am to Chuck, who overcame the shame of his poor English study in my class to talk to me not as a lackadaisical college kid but as a confident, bold young father and adult.
Here’s to you, Chuck!
From Illinois, here’s wishing you 平安 (ping ahn) for your day.