When the 3 kids were slowly growing up My Excellency would harangue me often that the kids must learn English from me. They were all studying in a Chinese based primary school. And I had a Bachelor degree from a local university and a Masters degree from London to boot. That was when I was still based in my home town while I was working in a foreign bank.
She reprimanded, “You must take responsibility for the education of the children as you have some fancy degrees while I have none. I have never heard you speak to them in English. All you do is to speak to them in Cantonese and occasionally with a sprinkling of some crude and coarse language, too.” Cantonese is an excellent language with all its subtle nuances, sarcastic inflexion, flowery adjectives, swearing and cursing verbs and dramatical highlights. Well, that was my Mother’s Tongue.
Bla bla bla and bla, and so on and so forth. Maybe I heard it for the first few times. Then subsequently I still had to listen to her as she continued her tirade but I thought that I was not hearing no more. It was just like an old LP broken record which stayed on the same groove while it was still spinning on the required rounds-per-minute on its table.
S.O.S. (distressed signal of Mayday Mayday, Same Old Story or Same Old Sh**)
“Every week you must sit down with them for 3 days in the evening for a 2-hr session. OR ELSE!” She shouted, arms akimbo, eyes glared and legs apart with a kung-fu hard stance. Oops, there went my peace and my own yoga meditation and inward journey astral traveling to far away places.
As Her Excellency or perhaps Her Royal Highness or maybe the Empress had commanded, so let it be said and let it be done.
I dutifully, as a good old father would do, went to the bookstore and bought some English books suitable for the 3 kids. School text books were out. They had enough of that at school and if they were to score 100 marks in English, where I coached them at home with the same text books used at school, that was no B.F.D.
So we had our few good lessons. And the first thing I thought them was how to write proper sentences. Then repetitiveness and fatigue set in. Before long, the boys were having the comics on their laps while their text books were on the table and I was part reading my favorite novel, beneath the table too. The eldest girl was studious so I left her alone, giving her some titles to write about. The TV set was of course switched off.
My Excellency or the kids Tiger Mom gave up. She employed an English tutor for the 3 kids and I said onto her. “That should be the way, Excellency. One can never teach our own kids on school subjects. They must be taught by outsiders.” After having made this smart-ass remark, I quickly scooted off before her verbal assault just might shattered my frail ear-drums.
Then came the day when I was head-hunted for an overseas job to head the business of a consortium group in Indo-China (Cambodia, Vietnam & Laos). So their education was left to My Excellency who in her infinite wisdom and motherly guidance used the reward and punishment system of making them take their studies seriously. Some said one should speak softly but wield a big stick, oh no, she spoke loudly but she used a small cane which the kids feared at first but after some time they would ignore it.
Anyway, whenever I had the opportunity, I would teach them My Way. And that was to learn from experience, to go to strange places and to read and read as there was a limit as to what a teacher and parents could taught them. So I had to inculcate in them a reading habit. But I had a problem here. MoneyLena, my eldest daughter was no problem child. She read avidly. But the 2 boys were only interested in Pokemon cards, comics, computer games and other activities in vogue at their time. I bought them books like Famous Five, Biggles, Tom Sawyer, Hardy boys but all these books were lined up very orderly in their room while other things were all helter-skelter. It was just like some Great English Classics, they were excellent in adorning the personal library of a house to give the impression that a man or a woman was well read, but they were just some pieces of nice furniture. Apart from dusting off motes of fine dust occasionally, they were never read at all.
Perhaps I was wrong to introduce to them the books I loved when I was a kid. I was an avid reader by the age of 8 and I devoured a few books in a week. Times had changed but I was still clinging onto the old idea of what was good for me then was good for them.
Then I had a brilliant flash-in-the-pan idea while on one of our family travels abroad. We were at the Tunnels of Cu Chi, Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam when Cal (my second son who was then 12 years of age) caught on the reading habit where I creatively set him on the path of a well read person.
Next post : The Tunnels of Cu Chi.