Shengliver’s Note: Friendship blossoms on the Web.


Richard is my learning buddy. With a buddy by your side, you would not find learning boring. A buddy would be a fountain of sympathy, encouragement, and inspiration.


Born in the early 1970s, Richard is one or two years Shengliver’s junior. His hometown is in Yancheng, Jiangsu Province. A hamlet boy, Richard followed the path most rural children in China do, and he was luckier. After doing primary school, middle school, and high school, he made it to a college in Nanjing, the provincial capital.


Richard majored in the Chinese Language and Literature in college. It seems that the discipline bored him for the teacher there was a mediocrity. To keep himself conscious, he had to down two strong cups of tea before attending the dry lecture. Without the caffeine counteracting the effect, the lecturer would have been more potent than a sleeping pill.


Upon graduation from college, Richard could have filled a vacancy at a middle school in his hometown as a Chinese language instructor, but he gave it up. It was widely believed that a teacher earned meagre salaries and that no sensible lassie would marry a schoolmaster, and the truth was so. Instead of becoming ‘an engineer of human souls’, Richard tried all kinds of jobs in Yancheng City. I reckon he worked in different departments of the local government.


While working as a civil servant, Richard realised how complicated the world was. If he had been a teacher, he would not have bothered about the networks and relationships which are typical of Chinese society. He then said, “If I were a teacher, I would stay pure and probably naive.” At his different positions, he tasted red tape and all the corrupt aspects of Chinese society, first-hand. During Chinese festivals, he was obliged to visit his superiors and pay his respects by presenting them with expensive gifts. Otherwise, he would find himself picked on by those bosses in his daily work later on. “I hate it,” Richard cried in the heart.


Having suffered a string of setbacks in his home city for some years, Richard made up his mind to quit his job in the government. He would venture on his own and be a freelancer.


The destination he chose is a developed town called Taizhou in Zhejiang Province. The town was teeming with private enterprises. Business was booming when Richard set foot there.


To make a living, Richard tried his hand at various jobs in the beginning. He started by doing advertising and promotion for some firms and companies. Graduated in the Chinese Language and Literature, he was well versed in the language. He wrote articles and contributed them to the local papers to help sell his clients’ products. This beginning was hard, but his new career took off, really.


Almost simultaneously, he started to be a tutor. He offered private Chinese lessons to school children in the evening and on the weekend. It was a hard time. One tempestuous evening, when a raging typhoon was on the way, he had to pedal a rickety second-hand bike, against high winds and heavy rains, to a child’s home to give a lesson for just 20 RMB yuan an hour.


While offering his Chinese language tutoring, he noticed that the number of people, children and adults alike, who were learning English, was huge in the town. Richard was smart. He thought that he would make a fortune were he able to teach English. But his academic discipline had been Chinese in college.


In his spare time, Richard took up English studies earnestly. He followed New Concept English (a series of four English language course books by British author L G Alexander) first. When his English was good enough, he watched CCTV 9, the English language channel from China Central Television. When his family were sound asleep, Richard the breadwinner was burning the midnight oil, watching and absorbing the shows on the telly channel.


In time Richard’s perseverance paid off. He made tremendous progress in his English studies. Soon after he posted an advert for his English lessons, students swarmed to his class. He even did translation and interpretation for local businesses. Apart from those jobs, some evenings he gave English lessons to the employees of a company as part of their on-the-job training programme. Last year, he participated in the preliminaries of the CCTV English Speaking Contest for his city. He came first locally and thus went on to the second round held in the provincial capital, Hangzhou.


Richard has established himself by teaching English and doing jobs related to the language. He is his own boss. He is no longer a victim of mistreatment as he was when he was working in the government back in his home city, Yancheng. The freedom and the independence his endeavour earned him in Taizhou have convinced Richard that he is on the right track and that there will be no going back.


Geographically, Richard is in a small town in Zhejiang Province; Shengliver is located in the mountains in northwest Hubei. How did our paths manage to converge then?


The Internet was where we met. I was speaking English as a volunteer speaker at a learning community on Sina UC in 2007 when one evening Richard took the mike and our chat went off. We learned about each other’s family and career. We shared our views on Chinese society and the world. We encouraged each other to work on and never to give up. The truth is that we found we two had so much in common that we clicked straight away.


When Richard happened upon my English blog—Shengliver’s Garden, he devoured it, which surprised me. On the mikes, we discussed the blog entries, and the familiarity he showed with what I wrote impressed me. He even quoted some sentences from the entries. At times he found spelling errors and inconsistencies in my writing. He sincerely pointed them out in his email, and I corrected them following his advice. He was not fault-finding. Instead he hoped that my blog would be better and improving. His attitude towards Shengliver’s Garden strengthened the writer’s resolve to keep the blog neat and tidy. I have been extra careful with the language quality since my encounter with Richard.


Richard recorded our English conversations using a utility of the learning community. And this inspired me further. When he was free, he would re-listen to the conversations on his PC. If he happened to find it was hard to make out a word or a phrase I uttered, he would send the audio file to me by email and ask me to listen and help check out the item. A word I used in a chat—inquisitive—is still fresh in my memory. He failed to place the word in the recording and emailed the file to me. After hearing the sound file and typing the sentences out in a Microsoft Word document, I forwarded the transcript to him.


Richard and Shengliver progressed side by side in the virtual world. Looking back on those happy times and thinking about all the efforts I have made to learn and use the language over the years, I cannot help but be touched by this friend.


Some time later, a friend in his town met me online. She told me that every Friday evening an English corner is on in a flat rented by Richard. Richard is the organiser. His learning buddies where he works get together and practise speaking English in this slot of evening. What a learner!


All of us exist in the real world. We have to make a living for ourselves and our family. We take responsibility for society by doing our jobs well. We are not supposed to live in the virtual world the Internet has created, by gaming, chatting, or blogging. However, the Internet or the virtual reality can play a positive role in changing the way we live, work, and learn. While many guys are said to be abusing it, I will draw on the shared experience with Richard and integrate the technology further into my worldly being.


Richard and I have not met for several months. Our paths crossed and then diverged. We are now going our separate ways. We have our own lives and careers. Hopefully both of us will lead positive and productive lives in our own worlds.


One topic we commented on in English was why China needs more entrepreneurs. Numbed by bureaucracy and apathy in the public sector, I am aware of the role that average Chinese, like Richard and me, can play in changing Chinese society for the better. Richard, a freelancer, has the power to say no to unfairness. I still work in the public field. I do not plan to go freelancing in the near future. While staying in the public sector, what ways should I stick to? Should I succumb to forces that I deem bad? Can my individual effort make a difference? Shengliver will bear the answers in mind and fight on.


Thanks, Richard.



If Richard happens to read this entry and find any details misrepresented, please let me know. I would modify them.


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