I just received an email from a dear old friend that my old English teacher in Hong Kong, Mr. Francis Kong, had passed away on December 12. I feel an immense sadness because Mr. Kong had dedicated his life in teaching for over 45 years. His influence was tremendous and he had taken so many young minds under his wings and opened our eyes to the beauty of the English language and the world. Mr. Kong was (and still is, after his passing) very well loved among his peers and his students. Many "old boys" would return to our alma mater just to have lunch with him. Great teachers are so hard to come by, and Mr. Kong was definitely the best of the best.
On a personal note, Mr. Kong had a great influence on me. Of all the students in my class, he took notice of me and helped turn me into a writer. I remember one time during class, he singled me out and praised me for a performance I did at a school concert, and I was so embarrassed by the sudden attention. Later, he and another teacher recommended me to the English debate team. That made me feel privileged and confident -- before then I didn't think my command of English was any good. Mr. Kong represented the elite group of scholars at Wah Yan College, past and present, and I felt validated when he personally recommended me. There was certainly hero worshipping going on, for Mr. Kong was very much revered. So to hear my name coming out of his mouth (and in a good way) meant a world to me.
My friend King-Wai just reminded me of another incident. One time, Mr. Kong related to us a story about the small exercise book with a blue cover we used to use to prepare of our exams. Then he digressed as another student requested some extra "blue sheets" to supplement the book. I bursted out laughing, loud. His "blue sheet" sounded like "bullshit" to me.
Mr. Kong had taught me a lot: to appreciate English and to speak and write with confidence. But there were also his zest for life, his sense of humor, his passion for teaching, and his compassion for others.
A few years ago when I returned to Hong Kong, I visited my alma mater, and Mr. Kong was waiting for an "old boy" to take him to lunch. We chatted for a bit and he remembered me. He remembered exactly where I sat in class and he remembered my performance at the concert. What a great memory.
I would safely say that without him, I might not have had the confidence and skills to pass my immigration interview and come to the US. I would certainly say that his influence and teaching planted a seed in my being a writer. I would certainly say that without him, there might not have been a book called The Pacific Between, after all. In fact, a part of my story was dedicated to him (you would have no problem finding it in the book). I am glad I did that, but I am sorry that he would never get to read it.
Last year I had the opportunity to return to Hong Kong and attend the 80th anniversary of my alma mater. That would be the last time I saw Mr. Kong, dashing in his blue (yes, blue) suit. Mr. Kong had always been very debonaire, very gentlemanly, very distinguished-looking with his unique flair. My dear friend King-Wai and I pondered whether we should bother Mr. Kong for a chat and a photo, and at the last minute we chickened out. Now I regret that I never got to take a picture with him on that joyous occasion. It made me realize that sometimes we just need to do something when we feel like it, because it might very well be our last chance.
Mr. Kong was a great teacher, and even a greater human being. We should all be so lucky to have a teacher like him. I was lucky. And with affection I bid farewell to Mr. Kong. To Sir, with love.
May you rest in peace.
(Here's the obituary)
(Please say a prayer and observe a moment of silence in his honor)