Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Tutoring in Hong Kong


Today I went to a 1:1 English tutorial with a nearly-five year old and cannot tell you how much I dreaded it.  It was to be in his birdcage home, as his father described it, on the 43rd story of a building overlooking the West Coast of Kowloon in Hong Kong. 

His father had sought me out after he discovered the profile my agency created for me online.  He saw my photograph (in which I was holding my half-Korean niece) and read my profile in which I describe the ways in which I've worked with kids in the past and enjoy creating enjoyable environments for them.  And then contacted the agency who, he related to me later in a telephone call, tried to defer him to other tutors, but he persisted that he reach me.

So I felt sought out and special. I know that he in part wanted me because I am American.  Maybe that's entirely why he wanted me.

He also, he told me outright in our initial phone call, wanted me to be the tutor for his son for the next several YEARS.  And I told him outright that, although you never know what's coming down the pike, my intent was to stay in Hong Kong for one, possibly two, years max.

After my initial lesson the father brought me downstairs to their swank lobby; lots of luxurious furniture in muted browns, tans, off-white, beige, rock gardens and a pool with a waterfall.  And he wanted to know about how I was settling into Hong Kong.  

He'd found it disconcerting that I wasn't jumping off the walls to be here.  (As did I--Hong Kong when I first arrived fascinated me and felt like a land teeming with the unknown, adventure, and discovery; but the overwhelm of having to go into a dozen or so homes for the previous several weeks and “teach” with zero previous experience and precious little guidance or encouragement from my company, combined with the recent discovery that my boss was a seedy dick and a liar had left me more subdued).  And gave me instructions on how I could settle into the community and find my tribe--it was about finding your tribe, he explained.  

A good place to start would be church.  From there, maybe hiking.  I nodded, and smiled.  It was the most overtly assertive welcoming attention I'd received from a local since arriving in Hong Kong a few weeks earlier.  My boss hadn't smiled when he picked me up, and until then my human contact with the business had been clinical WhatsAp messages about tutorial sessions that'd been set up for me.  

The girls in the place I was staying were friendly and fun, but we were all on the same page; newbies to this enormous and foreign city.

This father's attention felt self-motivated, and I could see that he wanted me to belong because his extremely methodical way of raising his son entailed developing a perfect understanding of English, without any trace of an accent.

He and his wife didn't speak anything but Mandarin at home, he explained, even though he spoke English proficiently as a 2nd language.  He didn't want his son's English sentence structures to be messed up or for him to have an accent. 

His son, he told me, was vibrant and alive when speaking Mandarin, a leader amongst his peers, but in his English school, his son could be withdrawn and untalkative.  My role was to create comfort with him speaking English, and to increase his vocabulary and fluidity.  So that this personality, teeming with ideas, could be expressed in English as well.

The boy was a delight; pageboy haircut, hid behind the couch first few times I arrived, had all of this Oxford Reading Tree books lined up in anticipation of my arrival.  He was eager to learn, could focus on an activity for 5-10 minutes; a skill rare in other four-year-olds.  Today I'd prepared reading activities, books, and games to facilitate discussion.  He stayed on course with me and impressed me as well with his geography knowledge.

I left thinking that maybe I exaggerated the situation and could hardly justify my dread.  What was the source of it?  Maybe it had to do with the arduous process of getting to the apartment; showing my ID at the entrance, taking the elevator to the 6th floor, walking through the extravagant lobby to the 7th Tower, then having an employee scan me up to the 46th floor.  

And knowing that a camera was on me at. all. times.  Including during the lesson.  

And the numerous Philipino nannies and helpers that I passed along the way, reminding me that this was an overtly classist world I was entering into and that my role was to enable this young boy to maintain his place at the upper crest.  

Combined with that groping-in-the-dark feeling while giving the lesson; having no clue what I was doing, if it was effective, feeling like I might be found out as a comical fake in the face of such high expectation.  Was making conversation really a lesson?  It seemed too easy.  And too difficult to gage progress.  

And on a larger scale, my dread probably had to do with the overwhelm of this new job in a new city and my lack of certainty of whether I could make it.

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