In his own words…

When my ex-student, Soon Yiew, had gone back to Singapore, he wrote something so very nice and touching and shared it on Facebook. I am going to include a copy in my blog because usually, on Facebook, I would delegate everything to trash eventually and it may or may not reappear after many years via its MEMORIES section.

I did not remember the first time we met but he remembered it well, to my slight embarrassment. He told me that I made a good impression, much to my surprise.

I was at our sister school next door for a competition, the English Language debate between our school team and SMK Kapit. There was an empty seat beside me but no, none of my students, for reasons unknown, would ever dare to go and sit beside me, never mind that I had always been so nice, so kind, so fatherly, so everything!

Suddenly, out of nowhere came this little boy…who plonked himself in the chair, looking so interested and engrossed in everything going on. I guessed he must be Alvin, the son of my good friend from the 60’s and 70’s and he probably did not think much about sitting there since his father and I were good friends. “Are you Alvin?” I asked. “No,” he replied and he promptly told me his name.

His class teacher had sent him and other potentials in Form 3 that year over to watch as they might be taking part the following year when they entered Form 4. I told her and she found it all so amusing.

Mr. Arthur Wee was one of those who made a difference in my early formative years, growing up in a sluggish town in Sarawak. He was my secondary school English teacher. I had always enjoyed his lessons and still carry fond memories of being in his class.

He spoke really well, very eloquent with his own very pleasant accent. They joined the debate the following year under another teacher but did not get very far. Of course, I roped him in for my public speaking competitions…

…ferrying him from his house and the competition venues and sending him home and probably because of the amount of time we spent together, training, practicing and what not, we became very close, much closer than with my regular students.

Learning English in a non-English environment was challenging. It was frightening and most of the time, I felt lost. There were many seniors who spoke the language well, exuded much confidence and at times, portrayed an attitude of flamboyance that made me roll my eyes, flaunting words as though English was a status symbol.

Yes, I remember them all, my debaters and my public speakers. One of them eventually became a friar/priest…

– he certainly will be doing a lot of public speaking in his life, eh?

Mr. Wee was never such a person. He spoke immaculate English, did not mangle the language just to make it easier for the listener, yet when I talked to him, I felt like he was not speaking down to me; instead, he was lifting me up like a sparring coach, egging me on to throw punches above my weight.

Seeing him again after so many years brought back sweet memories. He was a huge influence, literally and figuratively. Without him, my journey of learning English, and by extension, the learning of everything else, would have come to an abrupt halt. For many, including myself, English felt like an ill-fitting attire. For him, I always got a sense that English was tailor-made for him. He did not so much teach as live the language.

I remember once he printed copies of an article from Her World magazine, probably pilfered from his wife’s collection (LOL!) and went through the entire essay with us, explaining the meaning of words, pointing out sentence structures and grammatical nuances, offering anecdotes along the way. That was especially memorable because I felt a sense of accomplishment at the end of the exercise, having read and understood a lengthy English article. My love for reading had been kindled.

Yes, I never depended on the prescribed textbooks. I would take articles from here, there and everywhere – the short stories from Her World were excellent. There were those written by well-known prolific Malaysian writers like the late Ridzuan Chesterfield for instance, poems, songs, newspaper reports and so on and so forth. The beauty of the language cannot be found in those deadpan, obsolete textbooks – the teacher will have to look for these to share with his students. Eventually, I wrote my own workbooks

…so I would not have to spend so much time looking for excellent pieces of writing to share with my students. Of course, if I came across anything good, I would not hesitate to use that in the classroom.

The secret to learning English is simple. One needs to have these:
1. Access to high quality material (books, TV shows etc)
2. Constant practice in speaking, listening and writing
and lastly, perhaps the most important thing:
3. Arthur Wee.

I was among the fortunate ones to have had all three.

I could not remember my parting gift to him before I left for further studies – a key badge with “Arthur” emblazoned on it…

…which he uses to this day. But I do remember his parting gift to me – a lifelong love for the English language.

Thank you, sir.

I wasted no time in sharing this on Facebook and got a total of 125 LIKEs and 33 comments within a day. I must say that I am indeed grateful for his kind words – they have made all the blood sweat and tears over my years of teaching worth every second, every minute of it.

Thank you, Soon Yiew.