Of the first one I posted I said: “I just reread this for the first time in years, and aside from fond memories of Sydney High and Bob Li — he is second from the right in this photo from 20 years ago — it cheers me up to recall that I may after all have done some good through my teaching career!”
In senior years students used to come voluntarily to the ESL staff if they felt their English may be costing them marks. Let one of 2000’s Year 12 students speak for himself on this, but it should be added that all his teachers assisted him achieve his goal–to study Medicine at the University of New South Wales:
Wish you all the best for Christmas and the New Year (and later the Chinese New Year). Hope you have a great holiday!
Thank you tons for teaching me 2 years of English, which enabled me to achieve the top 10% of the state: something I thought unrealistic before.
I still have all these 12/20 and 13/20 poetry essays from early year 11 in my folder… and also the 15/20 ‘The Scarlet Letter’ and ‘Richard III’ essays from the yr11 yearly exam. I still keep the 16/20, 17/20 ‘Empire of the Sun’, ‘Robert Gray’ essays from yr12 assessments, and also the 19/20 ‘Satire’ essay from the trial HSC. And of course, the ESL practice essays which scored 18/20 and 19/20 marked by you over the internet. And now, the record of achievement which says 91-100% percentile band in English.
It was indeed a solid progress, and I thank you again for teaching me, Sir!
The ex-student whose letter of thanks I just quoted is Bob Li (2000). In his email giving permission to quote him he said:
Of course you can quote me in the High Notes! I hope more and more students come to ESL and benefit from it just as I did. English is a headache for so many students from non-English speaking backgrounds. Continuous practice from year 7 is a great way to minimise (or even eliminate) the tremendous difficulty they are likely to experience in the HSC.
It is worth quoting the autobiographical piece Bob wrote as part of an ESL test at the beginning of Year 11 1999:
I’ve only been to Australia for six years, but my personal opinion about Australia has changed quite dramatically.
I still remember how I wanted to go back to China when I first came. I felt that everything had changed. Life here in Australia is so different. The streets are so quiet I could hardly see anybody. I’ve always liked to live in a crowded city like Shanghai, where I could see people everywhere doing all sorts of activities. Language is probably the biggest problem that I have faced. I couldn’t understand anything in English. School was disastrous, as I was always sitting in the corner waiting for the bell. I remember I always got scared when people talked to me. I felt very lonely in this totally unknown world.
My thought of going back to China started to calm as years went by. I started getting fluent in English, made a lot of friends here. I started to like Australia. Today I love Australia. I want to stay in Australia forever. I’m very used
to the life here and I love it.
My first goal for the future is to get an excellent result in the HSC. Hopefully I could get into Dentistry or Medicine and have success in my future. I think I will have my future life in Australia, and I wouldn’t get used to life in China.
In another email Bob had this to say:
Just to share something with you. I’ve been practicing Wing Chun Kung Fu in Melbourne in the last month, and I founded it very very beneficial. It not only helps my self-defence and fitness, but also increases my physical and mental awareness, reflexes and confidence. Kung Fu is really a beautiful art, practicing it transcends to a higher mental and physical level.
Just in case if you haven’t heard of Wing Chun, it’s a style of Kung Fu derived from the Southern Shaolin Temple. Usually it takes 15 to 20 years to develop an efficient martial artist in Shaolin, which was a rather long time. So some 250 years ago, the 5 grandmasters discussed their techniques, by choosing the most efficient techniques from each style, they formulated the new training program which takes only 5 to 7 years to develop a Kung Fu master. It was named “Wing Chun” and represented “hope for the future”.
Here’s the Philosophy of Wing Chun that I’d like to share with you.
- One who excels as a warrior does not appear formidable;
- One who excels in fighting is never aroused in anger;
- One who excels in defeating his enemy does not join issues;
- One who excels in employing others humbles himself before them.
- This is the virtue of non-contention and matching the sublimity of heaven. “The practitioner should meditate on these principles and make peace through the study of Kung Fu – a way of life.”
I found it very rewarding, so I think I’ll continue to train… hope uni work doesn’t prevent me from doing it.
I have seen such a slogan from time to time. Bob is a good example of healthy pride. As the last letter shows, he is finding much to learn from his Chinese background. At the same time, he is as comfortable as can be with other aspects of Australian society. In him the problem of identity seems to have been solved.
There are some for whom things may not be so harmonious. For them, perhaps, Asian Pride may be in opposition to people or aspects of cultures other than their own, rather than a healthy balance. At extremes it may even become exclusive and racist. I have to say that, even so, Asian Pride is better than Asian Shame!
The rest of us must make sure that no-one is ashamed of who he is. That is the core problem of racism–we build ourselves up at the expense of others, making others feel ashamed or inferior–or angry. This is bad for the community as a whole, as we all have to get along.
That was published in the SBHS newsletter and led to a rather amazing dialogue, too long to paste here: see A debate on race.
Experiencing cultural change through the eyes of young Australians who have been students of Sydney Boys High. The texts are not corrected, but may be slightly edited. These stories were gathered between 1998 and 2000 as part of my testing of student writing, but parallel stories occur still, over and over again.
Boy aged 12: in Australia 7 years
What happened to me when I was little would take pages to write, so I will just tell you one of the main point when I was little. Our family immigrated to Australia except for my father because he had to work in Hong Kong so we would have money but my father would visit us every 3-4 months and would stay for about a month in Australia. Every time when he leaves Australia I would cry for a very long time.
Now I’m 12 and whenever my father is going back to Hong Kong there isn’t a tear but I feel a bit sad. Also, now I’m 12 I have made it into Sydney Boys High and it is a very good school but I have to wake up very early.
In the future I would like to have a good HSC mark so I can get in to a good university and make alot of money after university. In this piece of paper is all about my life.
Boy aged 12: In Australia 2.5 years
Five years ago, I was a dull boy in China. Everything was just fine. I went to School in the morning and Slept in the evening. When I found out that I was going to Australia I had mixed reactions. My first thought was Yes I finally had my Childhood dream come true to travel in an aeroplane. Also I got to see dad for the first time in my life. When I was only a year old he came to Australia but I thought wait a minute I’m going to have to leave my friend.The thought hit me. I was confused.
Now here I am in Australia. I just got into Sydney Boys High. Our family is now prospering along very well. My study is improving gradually. I really think my future would be fantastic.
Growing up to be an adult is a time of tense learning and important decision-making. In the portion of life that I’ve got left I wish I could receive a worthwhile job and a reasonable pay. I wish to through my work benifit both to community and the country. If I have achieved these things then when I die I will look back and think that was a job well done.
Boy aged 12: in Australia 4 years.
It wasn’t a great year, but that is common in most school years. I think it was then that my parents had the strange notion to emigrate from Israel. I do indeed remember them discussing the move, I remember not being too happy about it at first. I did not want to leave in the least bit because I didn’t want to leave my friends behind, but eventually I realised that it was a wise decision. Approximately then I started watching the news and learnt that a war was raging between Israel and Iraq. And when my father went to serve in the army, as all Israely men have to, I realised that I would nothing more than to leave.
My life now is much better than before, I can state that quite clearly. I have become quite accustomed to the english language and the Australian way of life. It did seem strange to me at first but now I do not mind it. Over the last few years I have made a lot of friends and I consider my life now very good.
In the future my life should improve and I plan on gaining more friends in this new school. I expect succeed in my academics as well as my physical education and sport.
X*** aged 12: In Australia 6 years.
Hello! My name is X*** and I will write in this paragraph about an incident that happened nine years ago. When I was still in Shanghai, something almost fatal happened. It was a hot and stuffy night and some of my grandparent’s friends came. While they were talking, I climbed onto the window sill of a bay window. It was much cooler sitting on the window sill.
What I didn’t know was that the window was opened. So when I rocked a bit too hard, my upper body was dangling out of a 12 storey high apartment! Luckily, my grandmother saw me and grabbed me just before I fell out of the window and made a mess on the road. So, as you can see, I had a very frightening past…
Boy–aged 15–in Australia 3.5 years.
5 years ago I was in Shanghai, China. I went to my local comprehensive primary school which was a alright school. In school learn mainly Math, Chinese and Biology. But we also used to do secoundary subjects like Art & crafts and music. The school was fairly small compared to the Public schools in Australia, but we had fun. In school every subject was very compatative and stressful. In school sport was not one of main componants. Every once in a while we play table tennis or soccer.
… In the next five years I want to go to America and Major in Music and Computer Engineering in “Julian University”. Julian University* I heard was a good school for musicans. might even get a Doctorate in Music. When I’m a bit older, I wish to join the Venia Philharmonic Orchestra. That is my vision of the future. I might even say I might marry a very good looking
super model, but I don’t think that will happen.
* He means The Juilliard School.