I was born in 1971. I remember nothing of my first year or two. According to my parents, I was a weak baby. I had ill health and my parents took me to the doctor almost weekly. My mother doubted if I could survive. But I did. Actually before I was a teenager, I fell sick often, which was in sharp contrast to the good health enjoyed by my active younger brother.




I had my first success in an exam. This success came sudden and unexpected. My first teacher was a young woman. She taught us all the subjects – Chinese, Arithmetic, Singing and Drawing. Because of my shyness, she thought I was stupid. One of my friends was her pet. The truth was that the teacher and the boy were relatives. She praised him all the while and she gave him high marks in quizzes. But that year my People’s Commune organised an exam for all the pupils. For no reason at all I got a first in the exam. I remember I did well in the Chinese test but I didn’t finish all the questions in the arithmetic paper. Probably my total score was the highest.


My success in the exam shocked my first teacher. The authorities organised a party to take the news to the students’ family. A group of musicians went along with their music on. When they reached my house, father could not believe his eyes. I was standing at the centre of the courtyard when the messenger announced the good news to my family. It brought my neighbours and passers-by to the scene. “This boy will be something,” father murmured.




I started middle school. This was a turning point in my life. Before 1983, I lived with my family. My parents looked after me very well. When I went to middle school, I had to leave them for the school about 7 kilometres away. I had to live in the school. I had two days off every other week. Meals at the school were horrible and hunger was an everyday experience. Worse still, I got infected with a terrible skin disease. Most of the students ended up with the skin disease. The whole body itched. Scratches led to infections. All the boys slept on a huge bed, which was actually some wooden boards put together.


One Sunday afternoon, I left my home for school, carrying on a pole the food (cornmeal and flour and a bottle of pickles) I would need for the coming two weeks. While I was climbing a mountain on the way, it was getting dark. The load was getting all the heavier and I had to stop a lot of times for rests. As the day slipped away, I got worried because I was the only soul on the trail. While I was standing on the top of the mountain, enlightenment dawned on me – I came to realise that I have to depend on myself in this world. My parents could not help me forever. My brothers could not, either. Anytime I think of that moment, it seems as if it had just happened yesterday. That Sunday when I managed to get to my school it was already completely dark.




I started high school. I saw a big town for the first time in my life, with streets, markets and trucks. Actually it was just a county town, but for me then it was the world.


Life in high school was much better. Meals were better and hunger was away. Without my parents around, I tasted independence. On the weekend I stayed in the big dorm with a few friends of mine. I was able to do things on my own, without any interference from my parents. Though I had to do the washing myself, even in cold weather, I really liked the freedom. This independence made me more capable. I learned how to plan my life, how to budget my money and how to communicate with others though I was still terribly shy.




In the winter of 1988 I fell in love. It was my first love. The passion and the feeling of being on fire for someone are still as vivid as if everything had happened just now. Before I fell in love, I had thought those boys who were in love were idiots. I had been puzzled. Why could a girl make them so weak and stupid? When I was in love, I finally came to understand why. The girl I had a crush on then looked so perfect and so good to me. The first love did not become my wife. But the experience itself was the teacher to me of love.




My studies in a teacher training academy were completed. My two years of diligence paid off in June 1991. I studied the English language for two years at the school. Toward the end of the programme, there was a national proficiency test for students of English in schools of the same nature. I performed well in the test and my teachers recommended me to a high school in the region because of my achievements. Two years after I finished high school, I became a teacher of high school. It was like drama and even my father could not believe it was true.




I met native speakers of English for the first time. My high school sent me to a training programme in the summer of 1994. That summer my first students graduated from high school and entered university. After doing a round of the three grades, I was fully aware of the necessity to improve further my language abilities – especially the abilities to use the language in the classroom by speaking, hearing, reading and writing. The first three years saw me gaining some teaching experience and helped me see where I should go next in my career. Actually my teaching was done rigidly then. Basically I adopted the way my former instructors taught the language to me. It was more like the grammar-translation methodology, with little meaning and interaction in the teaching and learning.




My daughter was born. My wife and I had a simple wedding, but the birth of my daughter changed both of us.  A gift of God, she made her parents proud of her. Overnight, I became a father. The next few years saw me mature a great deal as a man and as a father. When she was still a baby, I carried her to a clinic for a flu shot a summer day. She was scared of the needles. After the doc managed to syringe the liquid into her body, she was crying hard, clinging to me. She was crying all the way from the clinic to home. While carrying her in my arms, I felt a greater sense of fatherhood surging in me. I may be small in the world, but I am the world to this creature.




I met the second batch of native speakers of English in the city of Wuhan. Compared with my programme in the summer of 1994, I fully enjoyed the interaction with native speakers of English this summer. I left the programme fully convinced that the sole way to learn to speak a language is to speak where I am. Reading and listening may help, but you will have to talk meaningfully to be a better speaker. And it takes a lot of physical work plus mental work. You would need the hours and hours of talking meaningfully to get your speaking organs coordinated for the speaking. A lot of learners do a lot of mental work for speaking. They do not know that mental work is not the key to better speaking. Of course your mind has to work when you are talking but in China we need the physical job of moving the mouth, tongue and lips much more than the mere work of the brain. We do not have a natural environment where the language is spoken and exposure to the language is limited.




I bought my first computer. I started to learn to use the technology. As I progressed, I came to see the potential of the computer. Gradually I did more and more work on my computer. As a language learner and instructor, I was fascinated by the way the technology facilitates language learning and teaching. I made up my mind to work more on language learning and teaching in the context of digital technology in the coming years.




I lost my father in the spring of 2004. That summer I ventured alone to the capital city of Beijing and took part in a learning camp organised by a readers’ club. Language learners and teachers from across the country got together at the camp. My performance there gave me further confidence. At the end of the activity I won a first prize in the speaking contest. Sitting there in the auditorium after the contest, I found my thoughts rushing back to the past years of hard work and my eyes moistening. And I was more determined to take the language seriously and to progress further in my endeavour.




My English blog “Shengliver’s Garden” opened. I run my blog using the blogging service provided by Microsoft Networks. The service is superb. In the beginning, I never expected my experiment in blogging would amount to anything. As my blog grew, a lot of net-pals and friends gave me encouragement and a lot of positive feedback came in. Writing on the blog is a way I practise my writing, sort out my life and study the Chinese society.


I used to post hastily but now I read an entry a number of times before publishing it on the blog. I watch the spelling, grammar and the possible inconsistencies carefully. Shengliver’s Garden sharpens my mind, betters my language skills and functions as a bridge between my friends and Shengliver.




I am a volunteer speaker of English on the Internet. I put the time in and harvest friendship and better speaking skills. My friends and I learn from each other. I will stay modest, confident and hardworking. I will practise self-discipline and Shengliver will grow further both in the real world and in virtual reality. Good luck, Shengliver.

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