Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Short Story 2: Life's Lessons

Short Story 2: Life’s Lessons

          “Here I would like to announce that the proposal of “The Quality of Education Determines the Excellence of Human Capital” by the government is rejected by the parliament.” The immediate cheers came from the audience. It was the second victory after the first where they defeated Muar district in the elementary round. They were elevated as the announcement made confirmed to Li Li that they managed to get into the finals for parliamentary debate for teachers in Johore state. Her team members, Nazira, Teo, Zulkifli and Hanita were so pleased that they shook hands congratulating each other on the success that was not easy to come by. The next battle would be in Pasir Gudang where Li Li’s team would meet Kulai to fight for the winner in state level. The success was just right in front of her eyes. One more stage to go before they could enter the national level! Wow, it was indeed remarkable!

“Well done, guys. We must prepare ourselves for final during the holiday!”

“Oh my, this means our holiday is gone. What a pity.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll try my best to find the evidence for both government and opposition to support our argument”

“Okay, set!”

Although Li Li did not directly taking part in the debate, her contribution towards the success was indeed not insignificant after all. As the reserved debater she was somehow pretty sure that she would be given the chance to stand on the stage and present her point of view on the topic given some day later. It was only a matter of time before she would be standing right up there on the stage to fight for the victory of her debate team. The waiting is worthwhile without any doubt. Li Li gained a lot of experience in these two years’ time and the experience that she secured would be the essence for her success one day when she was given the chance to take part on stage in the parliamentary debate in the future. Deep inside her heart the feeling of success was sweet yet it did not come so easily. The fact of being an English teacher and at the same time was able to participate in a Malay Language debate for teachers in the district level mesmerized her heart. If her parents did not send her to the remote primary school in the very first place, she would not have gain such a sound proficiency in her Malay Language which enabled her to take part in the debate. It was indeed an honour given to her. Only five teachers were selected to represent the district level and she was actually one of them! However, only God knew the many obstacles that she faced at that time when she was still a seven year old young innocent girl. Those memories in school lingered vividly in her heart till now.

“Mama, is it true Pa is going to send me to a Malay school?”

“Yes, Amei. We’re too poor to let you study in town. Moreover, there is no transportation to the school. It is so far from our house.”

“But I don’t understand Malay. How am I going to study there?”

“It’s okay. Your cousins are there. They will take care of you. Slowly you can pick up the language, don’t you worry about it.”

Sitting beside her elder brother Li Li paid no attention to what was happening all around her. With a copy of Doreamon comic she pampered herself with the fascinating stories of Doreamon and his friends exploring the amazed creativity of the world’s inventions. It was already one week in school yet Li Li was still not able to penetrate into the classroom’s culture. She did not feel secure at all. The surrounding was like an alien to her. She was a weak and vulnerable girl and she would burst out anytime if she could not deal with the blow which came too hard for her. Li Li’s grandmother had accompanied her for one week sitting on a wooden stool under the tall bamboo plants yet she was still not sure of herself in handling this catastrophe of hers. Li Li would keep looking out of her classroom looking for that old slim figure sitting on the stool under the bamboo plants.

One week passed and Li Li’s grandmother was not there for her anymore. Immediately, she lost her pillar of support. She was in her comfort zone for all the years and suddenly she noticed that she was landed in such a hostile environment. It was just too cruel for a young girl like her. She just could not adjust herself adapting to the situation right in front of her eyes. She needed familiar face or faces to accompany her in this unfamiliar environment. She cried dreadfully and her class teacher had no choice but to let her move and sit beside her elder brother in Standard Four. Li Li moved to first floor and the teachers teaching her elder brother were always looking perplexed at her as though she was not supposed to be where she was. His elder brother’s friends seemed to like her and they tried to speak to her. However, Li Li did not understand even a word. She just kept quiet and once in a while she would show her comic book to her elder brother and tell him about the interesting characters in the comic. That was so many years back.

Looking at her students in Year One, she could not resist herself from recalling her past experience. Nowadays the phenomenon was so different. Her students were so active and they could mix so well in the classroom. However, Li Li’s situation was very much different from them. Li Li came from a typical Chinese family. Her family was rather poor and her parents could not afford to send her to a national-type primary school to pursue her early education in Mandarin. In the end they had made the decision to send Li Li to a national primary school in Kampung Padang Sari. It was a small school not far from her house in Kampung Parit Separap and furthermore a few of her cousins were studying there so she would not be deprived of company. Though she did not even know a word in Malay her parents eventually enrolled her in this school as they were left with no other better choice and there her education started to be a brand new page in her life.

The images transfixed lucidly in Li Li’s mind. It was the bitterest journey of life in the beginning yet eventually turned out to be the most astonishing chapter in her life too. If Li Li’s parents did not send her to the remote national primary school in the first place would she be able to stand proudly in front of her class and engage her students in the instructions that she had designed for them? Would she be given the chance to explore the amazing world of knowledge together with her potential students now? Her parents’ decision to let her stayed in the school left her an opportunity to carve a new chapter in her life. This was indeed awesome. All thanks to her parents’ initial decision!

Li Li was lost in the school. She was not able to communicate with the people around her. Her dialect was Hokkien yet no one in the class was able to communicate with her using this dialect. All of them spoke Malay Language. She could not understand a single word that they spoke. Li Li was feeling terrible. She was a small size timid girl and landing herself in this situation she was indeed helpless. Her world was in a blank. She did not know what to say and what to do. She could only sit silently and cry inside her heart.

It was indeed a tough life surviving in such an alien environment. Li Li’s classmates around her were hostile towards her existence. It was maybe because she looked very different from them. Her complexion was fairer and she did not wear tudung. She was in her blue pinafore whereas the girls were in their baju kurung. Li Li always asked herself why she looked so different from the others. It was a question that kept lingering in her mind. A young child by the age of seven was placed in such a situation where she was bombarded with so many questions and hostile treatment from the elements of the environment surrounding her. Li Li could hardly cope with it and she lost control of herself when her grandmother was not there to accompany her after one week. She cried and cried and how she wished to return hoem and never came backto the school again.

Luckily Li Li’s elder brother was there to accompany and comfort her. With his existence she did not feel alone in the school. She felt that there was someone who was the same kind with her, so familiar and so secured. This kind of feeling ended her about two weeks staying in her elder brother’s classroom listening to the same lectures with him where she was not supposed to do so as she was only a Standard One student. The syllabus was too difficult for her and she did not understand a single thing the teachers were talking about.

Two weeks passed and Li Li slowly noticed that she needed to go back to the place she belonged and it was no where else than her own classroom. Her brother managed to convince her that it was the place where she should be and not sitting beside him. Life still had to be carried on and Li Li should not just sit and do nothing except flipping her comic book. She gave in and moved back to her classroom. The moment she made the decision was actually the turning point for her. She did not even notice that time passed so fast. In the blink of an eye, six months passed without leaving any trace. She brought back her report card and showed to her parents. She managed to secure the sixth place in the class out of 18 pupils and she reminded herself that it was indeed a very good achievement of her.

“Mama, I get number six in my class!”

“Good, Amei. You must work hard. Mama sure you can get number one.”

“Okay, Mama. I’ll try my best!”

Li Li would always do her revisions in the evening. Whenever her siblings were playing she would sit on the steps and did her revision on her own accord. No one needed to force or push her. She could manage the time on her own pretty well.

“Amei, go and play with your siblings, don’t keep on studying!”

“Mama, I’ll go and play in a short while. Let me finish up this exercise first.”

From that moment onwards, Li Li set an amazing record where she was the number one in her class from the second half year of Standard One and right through Standard Six. Not to mentioned that she obtained 5A in her Penilaian Tahun Lima examination. In order to get something meaningful in life, people must be able to pay a price for it. There was nothing that they could get without putting in effort and making some kind of sacrifices. She was amazed with her ability to adapt to the environment. Though she was only a small creature in this vast world yet she was able to turn the things around and they seemed to be on her side. It was indeed incredible!

“Are you sure you want to cycle to your friend’s house?” asked Pa.

“Yes, Pa. I’m going to my friends’ houses for raya puasa. Then we’ll take bus to our teachers’ and headmaster’s house.

“Okay, but remember to be back earlier. Don’t stay out too late!”

Apart from her remarkable result Li Li also showed improvement in the relationships with her teachers and classmates. During festivals she always visited her friends. Once they went from house to house in the village and Li Li was amazed with the relationships among the villagers. Things that remained fresh in her mind were the delicious kuih raya, duit raya and not forgetting the air sirap. All the houses that she went served no other drinks but air sirap. This was so much different from her Chinese New Year where people mostly would serve carbonated drink or packet drinks especially chrysanthemum drink. The duit raya she received was not put into any packet. They just gave her like that whereas for the Chinese they would put the money into red packets or ang pow. The differences among the people whom she encountered had actually enriched her understanding of diversity of cultures. It was the life’s lessons that taught her to be more tolerant towards the others in the society.

“Hello, is that teacher?”

“Yes, I’m. That’s Jie Lie right?”

“Teacher, I want to inform you that I got A2 for my English!

“Well done. You deserve what you get my dear. I can see the effort that you’ve put in. I can still recall the story on the adopting sister that you’ve wrote last time. It was a touching story. And now the news that you’ve got such a good result for English has touched my heart! Congratulations. I wish you all the best and do keep in contact, allright?”

“Of course, teacher. Thanks a lot, teacher!”

Li Li’s student’s call that day kept her thinking on her own success that year when she took my SPM’s result. Though she did not get straight As’, but she was the best student in her school. Li Li always kept on reminding herself, if her parents did not send her to the remote primary school would she be able to get such a good result for her SPM especially in English subject? Li Li’s Year One teacher suddenly appeared in her mind. His name was Cikgu Fadzil and he was the best English teacher she ever had. His style of marking was imprinted in her mind forever up to this moment. Although she had been a teacher for almost ten years yet she still could not mark her students’ work as nicely as his. His style of giving ‘tick’ was the one and only that she had ever come across. It was like putting a signature at the end of every student’s work which was right. In her ten years of teaching none of the teachers possessed the unique style that her English teacher had.

Because of his unique ‘tick’ it became her objective for every exercise that she did. She remembered for the items that she did wrongly she made it an effort to do correction and in the end she would still get the ‘tick’ that she liked so much. She remembered once she did the correction twice. The first attempt was failed yet she did not give up. She tried the second time and finally she got it. It was this kind of motivation and commitment that she managed to secure such a good foundation in English and eventually she managed to further her studies in the field of English Language. The inspiration was actually a mere ‘tick’ from her Standard One English teacher, Teacher Fadzil! Although it was an insignificant thing done by her dear teacher, it actually created such a big impact on her who was his student!

After SPM, Li Li continued her studies to Form Six. Though she enjoyed the feeling of staying on the top of the world right from Standard One up to Form Five, her STPM turned out to be a very big setback for her. After Form Six she was denied the entrance to public university as she did not get a good result in STPM. She was suddenly drowned in the sea of doubt. She did not know where she should go at that time. The sadness was very overwhelming. Was it the end of her education life? Did it mean that she was not able to study anymore? Li Li continued her work in Southern Hospital in Batu Pahat as a Registration Clerk cum Cashier. Without noticing the hospital eventually became a place for her to learn and prepare herself for the real world. There she was given a chance to sharpen her speaking skills especially in English. All the while her writing skill was good but when came to speaking she was not able to speak fluent English. No relevant environment to practice at all as school environment was too exam oriented. In the hospital Li Li was exposed to people from all walks of life. From there she learnt a lot of things which she was not able to learn in school before this. The two incidents which happened really changed her life after that.

Li Li’s heartbeat was getting faster and faster as she walked into the doctor’s room. She was called into the doctor’s room and was not aware of what was happening that led to the doctor in calling her into his room. This was the first time Dr Kee asked to see her after about one year she worked in the hospital. It must be very serious or else he would not summon her. Li Li’s steps suddenly became heavy and she had to drag them as she walked weakly towards G.04.

“Good morning, Dr Kee. Is there anything I can help you?”

“Is it you who told to the patient that they can just buy the blood used for blood transfusion? This is absurd! Nurse, please bring Miss Kee to the laboratory to find out what blood transfusion is and its procedure. I could not talk to her about this anymore! Go, please.”

“Dr Kee, I…”

Li Li was denied to chance to defend herself and both her legs followed the nurse weakly and unwillingly and both of them walked towards the laboratory. Mr Burn was there ready to explain to her on what blood transfusion was and its procedure. She was in a state of shocked and words were so difficult to come by. She was helpless and she just listened to the lecture in order to fulfill the doctor’s order. From there, Li Li noticed the danger of miscommunication. Any information should be conveyed in a very clear state. Clarity was of utmost importance if people were not sure of what they wanted to find out. It was indeed the careless part of her causing the patient telling the doctor that if they could buy the blood for their mother’s blood transfusion prior to what the girl at the counter said. RM60 was the payment for a pint of blood. The Initial stage where the explanation was about the procedure of blood transfusion which cost RM60 for a pint turned out to be another story. How frustrating it was to her!

Another day, Dr Jonah walked furiously towards Li Li with a red face though he had a darker complexion yet she could see clearly that he was very angry with her, reproaching her for allowing a patient to go for lunch. As it was already into lunch hour, Li Li registered for the patient who came with a reference letter from a general practitioner and asked her to come back at two. It was really out of her expectation that Dr. Jonah was actually blowing his top after she showed him the patient’s file. She was stunned and she did not know what had happened. Dr Jonah refused to talk to her anymore and he went straight to the matron to inform her about this matter. Later Li Li came to know that it was totally her fault. The patient was a suspect appendicitis case and if it was a critical case her appendix might burst if she was to taken her lunch. She noticed that it was a serious matter and it would cause a person’s life due to her own negligence and ignorance.

The two incidents were both very painful and they hurt her deep into her heart. Up to this moment she could still recall the past as if they were still happening in front of her eyes now. Yet from another perspective, the two incidents thought her valuable life’s lessons. From there she learnt her lesson, she decided to further her studies to better equip herself. She could not afford to make such blunders in her life again. She learnt that for communication to take place clarity was of utmost important. Any mist or cloud of doubt should be cleared in order to get the message conveyed. Working in hospital needed expertise in that field. She noticed that she was not suit to work in such a place and I decided to move on to a place better suited her.

Li Li enrolled in teachers’ training college and obtained a diploma in teaching majoring in English Language and Living Skills. Her best friend, Doreen taught her a lot of things especially about standing on one’s own feet. Doreen was indeed an independent person. They were in the same class, enjoyed their dinner together and had their practical sessions in the same school. They often gave their opinions on the various current issues that they discussed after their dinner that they prepared secretly inside their hostel room where they were not supposed to cook in hostel. The moment that they spent in college was really memorable. The life lesson that she learnt from her was that a person needed to be independent and not to depend on others all the time. It was very important as most of the time people needed to make decisions on their own without the help of others.

The course settled Li Li in a national-type school; a Chinese primary school in Kahang, Kluang. With the title of Best Student for English Language and Living Skills option she embarked on a new horizon. Yet the picture was not as beautiful as she visualized. The students were not easy to deal with especially when she was assigned the last class of Year Six. The first two years was indeed a struggling period for her. However, life after that was easier and it was a mixture of sweet and of course bitter memories. That was what life was all about after all.

“Teacher, now I know the meaning of the word bone!"

This was what her student Pei Pei told her when she engaged the class in a game where she asked them to match the words with pictures in cards form. The game was rather interesting and motivating. The students were able to learn while playing the language game. she was thrilled by her statement. Though it was merely a simple word yet the certainty reflected by her face verified to Li Li that her student had indeed understood the vocabulary through the activity that she prepared for her and her friends. The satisfaction was indeed indescribable. In other occasions, whenever Li Li walked on the street back to her rented house from school afternoon extra classes, her students would always call her name.

“Miss Kee!”


“Good evening, Miss Kee!”

“Good evening, my dear.”

The appreciation from Li Li’s students was really invaluable. It could not be bought using any amount of money. It just came sincerely from her students and she would always appreciate their respect and acknowledgement.

The failure getting her last class of students to pass their English in UPSR forced Li Li to find new option to upgrade her teaching skills. Thus she enrolled in the PKPG course for teachers to upgrade themselves to degree level. The three years’ course once again was full of unforgettable memories which imprinted deep in her heart. The first year in MPTI itself hurt her so much until she could still relate the whole matter to anyone if she was asked to do so.

“Chan, you better see the lecturer personally when you’re back later. She did mention something about you to the class and I think it isn’t fair to you.”

“What did she say about me?”

“Well, it’s difficult for me to tell you anyway I think there is a need for you to clarify the matter with her on Monday, is it okay?”

A mere concern for a friend who faced discrimination from her class landed her in hot soup. Her friend was so furious until she could not wait and texted the lecturer immediately. This caused the lecturer to be very upset and the next Monday she went up to the class and asked with the intention of finding out who the person was. Li Li was so upset about the whole matter and she talk to her friend and both of them went up to see the lecturer. She admitted that she was the one who tipped her friend off just because she felt that it was unfair to make such a remark of her friend in front of her classmates during her absence. She was not given a chance to defend herself right away and of course the other classmates would cast a negative opinion about her. Li Li did not mean to hurt anyone. Her initial action was to inform her friend who was not around to investigate and clarify the matter and not to receive any unfair treatment.

In the end, the lecturer apologised to Li Li’s friend in front of all her classmates including her. The lecturer did not tell the rest who the person was and she was to let the matter ended at that very moment. It was indeed a life lesson that Li Li had learnt through this incident. Her anxiety of helping her friend landed her, her friend and the lecturer in an argument. It was her who caused the two off them becoming hostile to each other. The courage of the lecturer who admitted her mistake was appraisable. Ways of communication were very important. Apart from clarity, the appropriateness of time, place and people were the factors to be put into consideration. Though it was a bad experience for Li Li, the matter ended quite well in the end of the day.

The second year in university, one of Li Li’s best friends thought her how to be compassionate rather than sympathize. Through Cher’s teaching, she realised that sharing the knowledge was caring for the others too. However, there was a risk where people might face the accusation of trying to show off their ability at the same time. During college time Li Li was more on her own but this time around she opted for collaborative learning. She tried her best to get the result that she aimed for and at the same time she tried her best to help her friends who were weak too. Group discussion was being carried out from time to time. Whatever it was, the fact of not being able to satisfy everyone was inevitable.

“Why is it that you always help her? I also need your help!”

“Oh my goodness! Meow, you’re the best student before this. And you’re of English option too whereas Foo is from Chinese option.”

“Yes, she is weak. But I am weak too. Why you always help her and not me? This is so unfair!”

“Her proficiency is not good. That’s why I’m offering my help. To me you’re very good and independent too. How am I going to offer my help to you as we are on the same level?”

This was what Li Li called life’s lessons. When she showed concern for a good friend, she tended to neglect her other good friend at the same time. It was not easy to act fair to all. Human beings were so unpredictable so were their feelings. These were the life’s lessons which she could not obtain from books. Two years’ of persistent struggling passed and Li Li was graduated with first class honour and the loan made earlier was converted into scholarship by PTPTN. Her mother was very proud of her and her other siblings too. Li Li’s mother often talked about her children who liked to study so much, a level higher after another.

Li Li was posted to a school in Batu Pahat, about 19 kilometres from her house. Last year PMR, her school obtained the highest percentage increase in English where she taught three out of seven classes of form three students. She was pretty sure that her contribution and hard work did play a major role in securing the high percentage. She was of course proud of herself too. Meanwhile, the number of students’ getting the bronze awards for NILAM project in school also increase tremendously. It was a year of hard work yet full of satisfaction for her.

In pursuing the goal in her life, Li Li enrolled in a masters’ course with UKM. In the field she was specialised she was definitely going to create another miracle in her life.

(4870 words)