Saturday, April 28, 2007

Magical lives

Chen Gang is getting married on May 4th. And guess what! I will be able to attend his wedding in Linfen, Shanxi--my Chinese hometown. What a special event it will be.

At some point I must scan some precious old photographs from my time in Shanxi from 1993-1996 into the computer. I would like to have the picture of Chen Gang and "Lao Er" as young 16 year old boys holding a huge birthday cake that they had bought with the very little money that they had as students from families of very modest means. The birthday cake was for me and Qu Mei, who I call "the mother of Shanxi" for it is around her that a growing community of friends emerged. My birthday is on January 21 and Qu Mei's is on January 22 and these two young boys who were students at the nearby teachers' school (a vocational high school that prepared elementary school teachers) wanted to celebrate it with us. Here is a picture of Cheng Gang (on right) and Lao Er (on left) in 2004 ten years later when they were both grown into powerful young men.




In those magical Shanxi days, Chen Gang recruited me and a student from the teachers' university, "Jessie" to help him teach the students in his school English. English was not offered at his school at that time. He charged the students for the classes and shared his profits equally between me, himself and Jessie. Chen Gang's schoolmates were delighted to have this opportunity to study and there were almost too many interested and eager students for us to handle. I earned almost as much from Chen Gang as I did from my regular job teaching at the university but that was not why I did it. Chen Gang at such a young age inspired your trust and admiration. You wanted to work with him because you felt he was so GOOD, so trustworthy, so noble in his aspirations and so capable. That was 1994. Now 13 years later he is the president of an educational empire. He was an early innovator in the private English education industry that has since exploded in the Chinese private education market. Because he started out early and was able to recruit some of his foreign friends as teachers and paid attention to advertising and because he inspires people's trust and allegiance, his school grew, branches around Shanxi and even around the country sprang up. With his profits he opened a primary school in Linfen. He works with the Badi Foundation and with other projects in other educational and socioeconomic projects such as the Breezes of Confirmation project.

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