Category Archives: Public Letters 公開信

A Letter of Gratitude ─ To Siu Sir, the One Who Shares

A Letter of Gratitude ─ To Siu Sir, the One Who Shares

Dear Siu sir,

Please forgive my oddness and spontaneity in writing you this. As a loyal reader of your former blog and published book “英文由F字學起” (Learning English from the letter F) , I have long felt obliged to express my gratitude personally for the inspiration and profound impact your works have on me. I wish to do this by sharing two stories from my life with you.

The first story is about how it all happened. I found your blog by sheer serendipity in my formative years, right before taking one of the allegedly most trying examinations of the world, the Hong Kong Advanced Level Examinations. As you have criticized time and again, most of my time at school was wasted on mechanical drills on papers ─mock or past─ rather than devoted to appreciation and learning of real English materials. Although my school was a band one “EMI” school, and thanks to the regular use of English in doing assignments my English level at the time was not too embarrassing, the odds of discovering the true color of English as a language alive, one that I would fall madly in love with ─ not the vocabulary and sentence structures and grammar I was to memorize ─ are slimmer than finding true love outside Disney’s cartoons, but for your awakening words and the ideas they brought to me.

To say your works have altogether changed my life may sound clichéd and overkill, but having reflected deeply on it, they really have. Had I not stumbled upon your blog, I would not have uncovered the pleasure of quality English reading beyond newspapers and assigned readings, let alone learning anything from it; Had I not enjoyed quality English reading so much that I became addicted to it, I would not have decided to study English in university (nor could I enter the course with my satisfying A-level English results). Had I not entered the BA English course, all the rest that followed would not have been the life that I have had. During my most impressionable and important years, your works had led me to a less-travelled path, as well as giving me the courage to stick to it, and that had made all the difference.

The second story I wish to share with you is about the aftermath of the first. Despite the crucial influence you have had in my life, I could never imagine myself as a teacher. Even when I was tutoring my limited few students English to earn a living as an undergraduate, I told them straight your motto: “I don’t teach; I share.” It’s shameless stealing, I knew, but I admitted it unapologetically. So you can imagine how ill-prepared and helpless I was when I walked into the classroom of a secondary three class as an English subject teacher. In fact, I remember vividly how much I felt like quitting right after the very first lesson I had as a teacher. It was hopeless; I was to teach a class of 17 secondary three students English in replacement of my precedent who allegedly quit to go to Australia for a working-holiday, after reporting duty for less than a month; The lessons were to be strictly in English, while the majority of the audience, I learnt in the process, could not even write a simple English sentence without a dozen of grammatical or spelling mistakes; Oh and let’s not forget I, as a teacher assistant, was also responsible for photocopying the whole curriculum of the whole form ─ worksheets, quizzes and tests for  the whole year ─ in the midst of marking quizzes, writings and worksheets, and performing a wide variety of administration duties. All in all, I was officially screwed.

Two things have kept me from quitting right away. One was empathy with my students, whom I can easily relate to as a former student of the same system; another was, surprisingly, the positive feedback I got from students after I made the decision that I will help these students learn, in spite of all limitations. They don’t understand what I taught in English, so I switched between Chinese and English from time to time. I don’t have enough class time teaching them anew from the basics, so I organized voluntary after-school remedial classes. Some of them learnt, rather slowly, but on the right track. Some didn’t. Some didn’t care whatsoever. It didn’t matter; what mattered was that there has to be that someone sharing, letting them in on that window, that possibility, the existence of that path ─ the path that will make all the difference ─ that I was let in on by what you have shared to me, and all the others that were lucky enough to have seen it and had the courage to follow on.

As Steve Jobs remarked philosophically in his famous Stanford Commencement Address, “You cannot connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards.” In this regard I believe I am no exception; by no means could I had seen any of these coming when I came across your blog; even when I was studying as an English major I did not see it coming; I suspect you haven’t, too. Yet in retrospect these were somehow all connected ─ learning, teaching, sharing. And I am grateful they do.

So that’s all ─ I apologize again for my oddness, and lengthiness too─ I want to share with you today. Thank you for your precious time, attention, and patience. I sincerely look forward to hearing back from you.

p.s.: I have recently started a personal page as an experimental attempt of bilingual writing (Linked below).  I would be real honored if you could take a glance at it and, if possible, give some comments.

Yours Faithfully,

Robin Chan

Your forever beneficiary

22, October, 2013


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