Many people often look back at some point in life, and try to think of what earlier years were particularly formative for them….. Continuing from A
At the very fine high school that so affected me, music instrument competition, choirs, and orchestra were all part of the normal program at school, even winning lots of top prizes in the colony. You might have noticed in part A that the current Headmaster was previously the Music Director, which sounds like a statement. What I thought was particularly fun for me were even elocution competitions, which I joined with some enthusiasm. My mother, being American born, and formerly an English teacher, would often emphasize that my diction in English speech should be as perfect as possible, and coached me personally for the competitions. Mother was a very quiet person, barely saying a word at times, but she seemed really eager to coach me in this, and I think that it set the stage for my lifelong interest in teaching and speaking clearly. I’m not sure that elocution competitions are popular today, but I’m very glad I had that great opportunity then.
There was also drama, which I found fascinating, and which I joined, and grew to like the stress of performing on stage. I did not have major roles, but the roles were good enough to stimulate me to think about important stage skills, such as throwing my voice to the last row of the room, something I put to good use in many later indoor and outdoor class teaching sessions (like in packed classrooms in village towns of China, or the mountains of Thailand), where the acoustics was highly variable. The skills of elocution and drama, combined with my beginning to teach Sunday school, in the Chaozhou language(!) at our Swatow church, and the usual involvement, like many other church raised youth, in church drama performances, also in Chaozhou language, were imprinted deeply in my mind and actions. The best time to learn communication and teaching skills, I am convinced, is in the formative years of one’s development, and I instantly clicked, and picked up many later intuitive skills that made me the enthusiastic teacher that I became, in my careers of teaching at the medical school, hospital, and church.
A big event occurred when I was about 15 years of age. I remember it was at a church retreat, and the minister was a scholarly lay preacher, Dr. Philip Teng, who later went on to be a very distinguished seminary professor and president in Hong Kong. I remember being very alert in the service, and deciding then and there to make a deliberate decision to follow Jesus, as Lord and Savior: in our church tradition, you could make a public decision by walking forward to the altar, which I did.
Up to that point, can you believe, I was a very quiet introverted boy, and didn’t much talk to people! But, once I became a believer, I remember vividly the teaching that it was a wonderful thing to let others know about the “good news.” I came to a logical decision, that I really could not remain quiet, since I had now received such a great gift. So, to many people’s surprise, I began to open up, and start talking with others, and at times to “share my faith” with others, with variable results. Today, you might find it hard to believe I was originally not a talkative person, but in reality, I still have my secret desire, to hide and not talk at all! Which might be why my last phase of life, “writing and hiding,” could be a reversion to my secret introvert life.
Actually, I think, for my subsequent life path, a most important practical skill I learned from the school was teambuilding and organization. Supposedly the model for the school itself was the legendary Eton School for British aristocracy, in England, transplanted to the colonies. In fact, the British Headmaster of my initial years went on to be Headmaster at one of the second-tier aristocratic schools back in the “home country.”
The tradition of British elite schools was clearly to train up a new generation of leaders for society. Elitism is a is a dirty word today, since we think, especially in America, that we should be an egalitarian society, but for those fortunate enough to be trained to lead, it was a great gift. I guess any snobbery that comes with such an elitist system, might have to be unlearned, and which I have tried to temper consciously. I think my new-found faith, and my Swatow church training, helped keep me closer to my non-elitist roots. However, I did have to struggle with pride issues, which you might sense from some of my uncle Reggie stories, like the “Cockroach story.”
英式贵族学校的传统，明显地是要将新的的世代培养成社会的领导者。菁英主义，在现代是个肮脏的字眼，特别是在美国这个强调平等主义的社会。但是对那些有幸被训练成领导者的，这是一份宝贵的礼物。我猜想，任何从这种菁英系统来的势利态度，是我极力且刻意要避免的 。我认为我的信仰，以及在汕头教会的训练，帮助我立足在非菁英的根基上。不过，我过去确实在骄傲上有所挣扎，你可能已经从我其他的故事里意识到这一点，比如说“蟑螂与谦卑”Cockroaches and Humility的故事。
Commonly, in the British school system at the time, high school was considered over, after Form 5, or grade 11 in the American system, when “matriculation courses” were then taken for entrance into college. In Form 6, which is a kind of pre-university, or transition to college year, or even first year college, some teenagers were selected as prefects, which meant that we were given significant responsibility for the discipline of the lower grades. Usually each prefect was assigned to supervise one class of students, and all prefects had the authority to punish misbehavior. The penalties given, of 100 “lines,” or 200 “lines” were like, “I will not fight in the hallways,” or “I will not throw chalk at my classmates.” Simple stuff by today’s standards!
一般来说，当时的英国学校体系，在第五阶段（也就是美国学制的十一年级）之后，高中的教育就算就完成了（注：英国中学不分初中、高中. 中学一共有六阶段） 。学生完成此阶段教育后，能修习大学预科，为接下进入的本科做准备。第六阶段是所谓的大学预科、或者称为进入大学前的过渡期，甚至是大学的第一年。在这阶段，有些学生被点选成为“级长（prefect）”。这些级长，被赋予一项重要的责任，那就是管教低年级的学生。通常一名级长被分配监督一个班级，而且级长们有权力处罚品行不端的学生。处罚的方式是罚写一百遍、或是两百遍“我不会在走廊上打架了”，或是“我不会再对同学丢粉笔了”，这些行为在现今的标准来看相当轻微！
Prefectural law enforcement, though somewhat oppressive, resulted in the law enforcers becoming extremely well disciplined and responsible, and it worked remarkably well, especially in terms of on-the-job leadership training. Also of course, the prefects system works in taking potential misbehaving students out of the pool. It was basically understood also that “it takes a thief to catch a thief.” This was said to be the highly successful British model for the colonies, since locals were always trained and expected to serve and lead their own people. Local leaders would certainly know much better how to handle the underlying culture, much more than the ruling Brits. Good colonial management principles, and the prefect system definitely used a similar logic.
We had “exotic” discipline problems, since the school attracted international students because of its caliber, including many students from sophisticated Thai parents. The expatriate youth often “boarded” at the school also, under relatively strict supervision. However, supposedly because these Thai students came from rather wealthy backgrounds, they often got into trouble, and became famous for their Thai boxing style fights, meaning bare fists, and legs and feet were freely used. The Thai kids had fights behind the bushes at the periphery of the unusually vast territory of the school, but prefects, who only a year earlier may have hidden in the same bushes, were ready to find them out. Certainly, the younger kids definitely could not outsmart the older ones; whereas, they could have easily outsmarted the teachers. A “great system” indeed.
Formative years are truly formative. Their impact and imprint stay with us consciously and unconsciously. I believe, personally, the teen years are among the most important for life……. To be continued in part C