A woman from the Chinese mainland teaches Mandarin in Hong Kong. Her name is Fang Yihong. Fang was born in the eastern Chinese city of Anji, in Zhejiang Province. The former country girl is now the best-known Mandarin teacher in Hong Kong's Kowloon District. She teaches at La Salle Primary School and Kwun Tong Maryknoll College, among others, and also tutors executives at LG Asia and International Paper. Our reporter Shuang Feng brings us the story of Fang Yihong, from which you can see just how much Hong Kong's attitude toward language has changed since its return to the mainland in 1997.
In 1984, 19-year-old Fang Yihong left her hometown in Eastern China's Zhejiang province for Hong Kong.
"It was a rainy day. I sat in a two-story bus, watching the thriving city and busy people out of the window. My aunt told me, 'If you want to live in Hong Kong, you've got to fight, try your best and keep on studying.' The word 'study' came to my ears frequently in the following years."
What her aunt said made Fang anxious. She didn't have any specialty. What's worse, she couldn't speak either Cantonese or English, both of which the local people generally spoke.
Due to the city's colonial history, few residents in Hong Kong could speak Mandarin.
Since Fang couldn't speak the local dialect, Cantonese, she had no choice but to find work in a factory. But she soon found that the job was not what she sought. She outlined her first goal: Speak fluent Cantonese.
"I learned from TV every day. When people talked, I wrote down what they said in Pinyin and practiced after them. Later, I bought a dictionary with Pinyin for Cantonese. I studied every word in it."
After only three months, the country girl from Anji could speak excellent Cantonese. She was soon sent to work as a receptionist at the factory.
"It's very challenging. I was scared. When other people were eating, I practiced alone, 'Mr. Chen, your call, please.' When I received calls from customers, I was supposed to say through the speaker, 'Please take the call.' They were just a few words, but I practiced them again and again."
Through her efforts, Fang was promoted to secretary of the company. But she soon found that English was also a necessity in a city as international as Hong Kong.
"My boss was doing business with foreigners. I was the secretary, but my English was not good. When foreigners came, I felt extremely embarrassed. From then on, I tried as hard as I could to learn English."
Fang learned Cantonese and English all by herself. She had finally acquired the fundamental skills to make a living in Hong Kong.
In 1994, Fang Yihong got married. The next year, she and her family moved to Malaysia, where her husband's job was located. According to local regulations, family members like Fang Yihong were not allowed to look for jobs. But Fang did not remain idle.
She and several other women set up an international women's association to exchange cultures from different countries. She learned to perform English plays, which made western methods of teaching accessible to her.
"My foreign teachers taught in a very lively way. Students were not required to sit still, and the teacher did not give formal lectures. We could play jokes on the teacher, even hot jokes. In other words, you could make any joke you wanted, as long as you spoke in English."
In 2000, Fang Yihong and her family moved back to Hong Kong. Three years after Hong Kong's return to the mainland, the exchanges between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland were increasing on a daily basis. The local government was promoting Mandarin studies, and the local residents' enthusiasm for Mandarin studies had reached the highest point ever.
"When I came to Hong Kong the first time, people would get a condescending look on their faces when I spoke Mandarin. But now, things have changed. They admire me."
Fang decided to polish her Mandarin at Hong Kong Baptist University. She soon attained qualification as a senior teacher. Since Hong Kong was thirsty for qualified Mandarin teachers, Fang soon found a job.
"I like trying new things, so I went to a government-run night school and asked the director, 'Why don't you open Mandarin courses?' They told me they couldn't find teachers. I told him, 'You can hire me. I taught Mandarin back in the mainland.' To my surprise, they gave me a form to fill in and asked me to come and teach the next day."
Fang Yihong took flexible approaches in her courses, helping students learn Mandarin in simulated real-life situations.
"I adopted the methods my teachers in Malaysia used in the acting lessons. They appeal to the foreign students very much. My favorite scenes are making phone calls, eating in restaurants and shopping. The students were encouraged to create the scenes freely and their Mandarin improved very rapidly. I became a formal teacher."
Fang's students loved her.
"She is really nice, and her Mandarin is good."
Fang was touched by her students' devotion.
"I used to teach in Tsuen Wan. When I moved to Hong Kong, I told my students that I would no longer teach there, but would be in Wanchai next week. To my surprise, in my first class in Wanchai, half of the students in the class were from Tsuen Wan. I was very, very touched. They smiled at me, supported me. You know, it takes more than an hour to travel from Tsuen Wan to Wanchai by subway. It's an unforgettable memory."
The director of Hong Kong Children's Kingdom Learning Center, Kong Sui Wah, also complimented Fang's work.
"She is very devoted to her work. Her students have a deep affection for her. It might be because her class is very alive and she teaches them from her heart. Her students have very close relationship with her and love her class."
Kong says since Hong Kong returned to the mainland over a decade ago, Mandarin has become increasingly important in daily communication among Hong Kong residents.
All primary and most junior high schools in the city now offer Mandarin courses. The demand for Mandarin teachers is very high.
"The demand is large. As our relations with the mainland get closer and closer, many more Hong Kong residents travel to the mainland. We need Mandarin to communicate, so Mandarin will become increasingly important in the future. Moreover, many people from the mainland are traveling to Hong Kong. They also speak Mandarin. So Hong Kong residents know that if they don't speak Mandarin, it will be hard for them to go to school and do business in the future."
Now, the youngest generation in Hong Kong can understand and speak much better Mandarin than the older generations. Their parents are gratified.
"After all, we are Chinese. Even foreigners are learning Mandarin; as Chinese, we have every reason to learn it. When I was traveling with my child, he translated Mandarin for me. It's a shame that my Mandarin is not good. I didn't have many opportunities to learn Mandarin when I was a kid, but the children today have much better opportunities."
In the meantime, Mandarin teachers are enjoying increased social status and income.
At the moment, an average Mandarin teacher makes 20 Hong Kong dollars an hour, while renowned teachers like Fang Yihong makes 300 Hong Kong dollars an hour.
But salaries are not the only thing that has increased.
"When people look at you with envy upon hearing you speak Mandarin, how do you feel?"
"I feel proud, really proud."