Shengliver’s Note: For whom does Shengliver fight?


What is the driving force behind my learning endeavour? I found myself pondering the question while walking to the diner for breakfast the other morning.


A number of faces jumped into my mind’s eye. They were my students over two decades ago. I have lost track of their whereabouts in most cases while some of them are still in touch.


Of course my interest in the English language has been motivating me all along. Yet in the beginning days of my career some of my pupils inspired me and became the driving force behind my personal effort at learning the language. When I am faced with some challenge, I know somewhere out there in the world someone is watching and cheering Shengliver on.




The first to come back into my memory is a girl called Wei Huan. She finished high school in the summer of 1996. She was not a high achiever academically but a nice student in character. In class she was obedient and quiet. But she was not one of the top students in the league table after the results of each exam were out. Just before the students sat the National Matriculation Test in July, I left the school for a training programme in another city. By the time I returned, all the students had been dismissed and the campus was closed for the summer vacation. I met one of my colleagues on campus. He passed a parcel on to me, saying it had been left behind for me by one of my students. The parcel was carefully packed in a file, on whose cover the name of the student was handwritten. It was Wei Huan.


Upon opening the parcel, I found in it an English reader used in American schools. The book was printed and bound in the USA. It is the first English reader from an English speaking country that I have ever got, and it is not a pirate version.


The book left me thinking long and hard about why I had chosen the profession. Do I teach just for the small number of top students who excel in exams? Should I be fair to all my pupils?


Since then Wei Huan has never been heard from. I have no idea where she is or what she is doing. Very probably she is a mother now.




The second face belongs to a student called Miss Geng Rui. She left high school in the summer of 2000. She and Miss Wei had a lot in common. Like Miss Wei Huan, Miss Geng was not one of the smartest students in the teachers’ eyes. But she was also a nice pupil and worked very hard. But for a later incident, I would never have thought of her after she graduated.


Around the Christmas after she and her classmates left high school, I received a parcel from the post office. It was a Christmas gift from one of my former students. Actually I did not very often get presents from my ex-students. When the postal notification was handed over the counter and a parcel was shoved across to me, I found the name Geng Rui printed on the wrapping.


The address told me that Miss Geng was reading English at an academy in Tianjin. That school trains civil aviation staff, air stewardesses and engineers for instance.


Inside the parcel was a compact disk of American country music. It is the first CD I have ever got. All the songs are classics and the sound quality is superb. Even today I still play the CD on my PC DVD drive from time to time. When the music is on, I am lost in the melodies. Students like Miss Geng help me further balance my attitude towards my career. Why do I teach? Is my work all about high marks in exams? Am I good enough to be a teacher of English in China?




The next to come are a pair of boys, Mr Liu Hang and Mr Xuan Liang. I taught them for two years before they finished high school in the summer of 1999. That time marked a turning point in my teaching career. On the one hand, I was passionate about ELT. On the other, I was trying to figure out some big concepts on ELT in China, with an urgent need to upgrade my language proficiency. Around that time, I became head of the ELT team of my grade. Young and inexperienced, I worked like crazy. And I think my students were aware of the effort Shengliver was putting in. Long office hours and painstakingly marked assignments left an impression on the teens that their teacher Shengliver talked little, worked hard and dressed plain.


Mr Liu and Mr Xuan were two of the bright teenagers, intelligent, ambitious and studious. They were obedient but had their own ideals. We did not get to talk very much when we were together. Their struggle for a better chance for university brought teacher and students close together. Though little verbal communication was exchanged, deep empathy developed between us.


Both got enrolled at renowned institutes of the country that autumn, and we did not lose touch with each other. Mr Liu and I wrote to each other in English through his college years. One winter vacation the two came back for a visit. They presented me with an Encyclopaedia Britannica Yearbook 1997. They said they had got this book in Beijing from a UN organisation for their teacher Shengliver. On the inside cover were inscribed their words of encouragement. The thick volume still stands there on my bookshelf.


When doing his master’s degree, Mr Liu worked part-time for an interpretation agency in the Chinese capital. Through his recommendation, I started to moderate the agency’s forum. It was my first online working experience. Though the website did not last more than three years, my communication in English with members of the site helped a great deal with my writing skills, giving me a clear picture of my strengths and weaknesses in using the language. My confidence grew tremendously on the website while I kept in mind the weaknesses that I was determined to overcome in the coming years. It was on the site that one of the users introduced me to the Sina Show English speaking communities. It was during the time I was working on the site that my blog was born on the MSN spaces. One incident triggered another, which has contributed to my presence on the Web today. Without Mr Liu’s recommendation, my life journey and learning experience would have been on a different track.


Mr Xuan ended up at a UK university for his master’s degree. He now works and lives there in the British capital. On his two trips home to visit his family, I requested he come over and give my present pupils a talk. Twice he accepted my invitation. His talk did put hope into the struggling teenagers and raised their awareness that the school was not a place to waste their youth in.




I do not stay in touch with my former students usually. When they graduate, it is time to let go. They have their own lives, and high school is not their destination. Ahead of them there is a big big world for them to explore.


The above four came back into my memory when I was musing about the question mentioned at the beginning of the entry. Actually there are a lot more like them who have given me inspirations all these years. Some names I tried to recall but failed, but their deeds are forever engraved on my mind.


When I am getting lost, those faces pop up. I know out there someone is watching and cheering, “Shengliver, you do not give up.” I have lost contact with most of them; I cannot even recall the names in some cases. But they ARE out there.


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