The Story of Wednesday Night Dialogue: Roy and Mira
The Wednesday Night Dialogue is a monthly special event series organized by the East and West Learning Club. Guest speakers of different cultural backgrounds volunteer a couple of hours of their time, and come to the club to have a dialogue with our members. They share their experiences, observations, insights and suggestions regarding cultural differences, social norms, and communication skills.
Our guest speakers in October 2017 were:
Mr. Roy Hu Retired Principal of Agincourt Collegiate Institute &
Ms. Mira Nam-Wong Principal of Agincourt Collegiate Institute
If you did not get the chance to come face-to- face with them, here’s an account of their fabulous stories…
Roy came to Canada from Taiwan at the end of 1960’s. Back then, there were only a handful of Chinese stores in Chinatown. His family did not have any relative or friend in Toronto. He was eight, not even knowing ABCs, and he and his sister were the only Chinese kids in the school in downtown area. After a few years they moved to Scarborough where, at that time, was even whiter and less diverse. He had to learn language quickly. It took him a half year to be able to communicate in English. Still, it had been a difficult time for him throughout the school years. A lot of racist comments, jokes, and bullying floated around. He was very much an introvert, keeping all the frustrations, angers and fears in himself, and never telling his parents or anybody else. But he fought back with his fists. Sometimes he lost. Even though, the bullies would think twice before they picked on him again. On the other side, His sister, who was a pretty girl two years older than him, seemed to have no problem making friends at all. He himself had a few friends at school, too, some of them being girls. He never asked one to go out, though. He was too shy. He loved building models, but did not know what to talk to girls. It was not until he joined the work force after university did he really begin to feel comfortable and good about himself socially. Looking back, Roy urged students to talk to parents and/or teachers whenever they felt bullied. As a 27 years of educator, he had had abundant frontier experience dealing with bullying. “The bullies look powerful, unbeatable,” he said, “but believe me, once parents, teachers, the principal, or sometimes the police get involved, things would be different right away.” And advice on impressing girls? “Don’t do silly things,” Roy suggested. “If you don’t know what to do, why not just try to be kind?”
Before becoming a teacher, Roy worked in a couple of banks. He decided not to take Joe jobs since he was a school boy. In Grade 12 he began to work for a bank through a co-op program. Moving card boards, copying, filing…, gradually he gained more and more important tasks to do. When he was in university, he was a part-time supervisor in the bank already. With that experience and credit, he had no problem getting employed by the bank after graduation, being placed in management training program directly. Meanwhile, he went to a teacher’s college, and obtained a certificate. “You don’t know what’s gonna happen in job market so it’s good to have something in your pocket for a back-up.” Too cautious? No, at least in Roy’s case.
He had done very well in the bank. He moved to another bank for a better position as an account manager and a lender. He enjoyed helping people doing business with financial assistance that was to his power. He made a good money. Then one day, everything collapsed behind a closed door.
He went to his manager’s office that day, trying to persuade him to approve a loan to his client. The conversation ended dramatically. The manager threw the case file to him, shouting at him and calling “you Cxxxman!”
That was in 1991. It was hard for me, who came to Canada in 2010, to think that racist attitude and words were still in the workplace culture of the then biggest bank in Canada less than three decades ago. Since I came here, Multiculturalism , diversity and equality had seemed to me mainstream concepts, a natural part of Canadian culture, which I felt happy about and proud of. So they actually did not come easily, and did not happen until recent couple of decades, probably with the rise of immigrant
population and globalization movement. Could we lose them again? What can we do to contribute to them?
Roy picked up the file from the floor, threw it back at the manager , and replied with a F-word. Then he turned back, walked out of the office, and slammed the door close behind him.
So it was time to leave the bank. He found job ads in Global Mail recruiting business, finance, science and math teachers for TDSB. That was where his strengths were. The back-up in his pocket, a teacher’s certificate, enabled him to apply for the job immediately. At that time, there rarely were Chinese teachers in public schools. In the interview, Roy was relaxed and confident. The hiring department head of the school, who was from Jamaica, wanted to test him. He asked, “What would you say if someone run into you in the hall way, and say ‘Get out of here, Chxxx’?” Roy looked into his eyes, and said, “I don’t know…what you would say if someone run into you and say, ‘Get out of here, Nixxxr’?” He decided he would not work for this school. But the principal called him shortly after the interview, offering him the job. He explained to Roy that the department head was just testing him. Roy and the head actually became friends later and till this date.
That was the start of his role as an educator. However an introvert was he, his role helped him, or forced him to become more proactively outreaching, engaging his students; and later as an administrator, motivating his teachers. “You need to do it consciously,” Roy said to the boys at the meeting, “just like when your parents’ guests come to visit your house, you get to overcome your unwillingness or shyness, and come out of your room to greet them politely because that’s the right thing to do.” Roy said he never let race be a barrier to himself. He did not consider race at all when doing his job. But English was a key piece. “Don’t lose your Chinese, but use English outside your home,” Roy said, “Work hard on writing, grammar and spelling. Double check every piece of your writing. If you could not write correct English, people would think you were illiterate.” Paired with the strength inside him, he had that genuineness and warmth towards people, young or old. That was why his words were so powerful and penetrating. I did not remember how many times I ever told my 10th-grade son to work harder on English. He did not seemed mind it very much. That night when we came home, he told me he had to improve his English. “It’s so really important!” he claimed.
Mira was born in Soul, Korea. She came to Canada in the mid 1970’s when she was four. Her family landed in London, Ontario first, and moved ten times throughout her youth years until finally settling down in Scarborough. Because her parents struggled to make a living, and had to move around with jobs. As poor as they were, Mira had grown up quite happily, experiencing no big difficulties at school. She remembered at one time she swapped her lunch with her friend everyday, because her friend loved the peanut butter sandwich that Mira’s mom made, and Mira found her friend’s expensive sandwiches juicy and delicious! Their family’s condition changed overnight – her father won a lottery. With that
fortune they bought their first house, and settled down in Scarborough. She started her teaching life in Scarborough, too. “I think of myself as a Scarboroughian,” she announced proudly.
She loved sports. In their spare time, Mira and her husband ran a non-profit club, organizing and coaching people to play volleyball in Markham, Richmond Hill and Toronto. Their daughter had graduated from a highly competitive high school, just like ACI, and was a first-year university student now. Their son was in Grade 11. “They happen to have parents who cherish outdoor activities and sports a lot,” Mira said. They occupied the kids with plenty of music and sports programs, leaving them little time or interest playing computer games. And they had never put them in a private school. Their daughter once asked her, “Should I go to a private school to improve my marks? Everybody is doing that!” Mira answered no: What she need was working really hard at school on the subjects. An easy high mark obtained from a private school was not going to prepare her for university.
Their son somehow picked up his momentum, and started to study harder at the end of Grade 10. He asked his sister, “Are my marks in Grade 11 really important?” “Do you want early admission to universities?” “Yes…” “Then yes, they are!” Mira mimicked the siblings’ conversation, smiling: “He has a good role model. He listens to her more than to us!”
Talking about getting parents’ help when in trouble, Mira quoted an example of her son’s. He once worked very hard, like never before, on a presentation. He practiced at home, and the whole family thought it was terrific. When the time came for him to present it in class, the teacher cut him off so he did not get to finish his presentation. The boy was hurt deeply. He said he would never work hard on the subject any more. Mira suggested he talk to the teacher about it; or, she could talk to her instead.
Her son refused, saying it would be useless. “It’s not gonna change anything,” he said. Mira still called the teacher, telling her how the boy had felt. The teacher apologized immediately, explaining that she knew he had done an excellent job from the beginning so no need for him to finish the rest. Mira said that he had put a lot of effort in it, and he felt hurt not being able to present it. The teacher apologized again – she should.
“I have experienced all the stresses and problems of today’s kids through my own children,” Mira said, “when I see our students in school, I see my daughter and son.”
She was such an enthusiastic, easy-going, and kind-hearted person, that you felt no difficulty relating to her quickly. When asked how to have good social conversations, she emphasized that being genuine was critical: “How’s your weekend” was always a good small talk topic, but you don’t just toss it out and go away, showing no genuine interest in the other person. Instead, be an active listener.
Roy added to the same question that people liked to talk about their families. It took time. But if you remembered their family members’ names and what they had been doing, you could ask “How did George do on his field trip?” Then people knew you truly listened. He always put all the family members’ names in the greeting line when sending Christmas cards to his staff.
Another question from our absent book club member was about how to say no to co-workers who kept asking for help.
Roy ‘s suggestions:
• We need to help each other, but we need have our own job done, too.
• For the first time, you can say something like “I’d love to help you with this point so next time you can do it yourself.”
• “(Ok I’ll help again this time.)But I have my own work to do.”
• “I’d love to help, but I really have a lot of work to do. I respect you and your work, and I hope you respect me the same way.”
• If you treat people with kindness and respect in the first place, they should understand you when you are unable to help. Just tell the truth.
• It is the same strategy when your classmate want to copy your homework: “I’d love to help you with this point so you can do the homework yourself.” “We can’t copy homework. The teacher will
notice it, and we both will get into trouble.” What if the classmate promised he’d copy it a different way? – The Same. “Turnitin can still detect it. I don’t want you to get suspended. And I don’t want myself to get suspended.”
Time flew so quickly. An hour and a half seemed too short for such real, heart-felt, inspirational dialogues. We were especially short of Mira’s stories due to time limit. As the first female principal in ACI’s history, what had inspired her to pursue her her goals and dreams? What were most important things for a successful career? Had she encountered internal or external barriers due to her cultural background? What would she respond to co-workers who kept asking for help?…
Yet it was truly an enjoyable and meaningful night. everybody walked home with some excitement and inspiration. I’m quoting some of our members ‘ words here:
• “the two principals spoke a lot of their stories and their thoughts on education. I really learned a lot from them. Mr. Hu said that you should always prepare early and have options after university. He worked at the bank since high school and after university he is already a supervisor in the bank, and he also graduated from teacher’s college so he can teach. I learned that it is also important to have very good English writing and speaking skills because in the future it’s all about how you write. Ms.Nam-Wong talked about her son and her daughter, how they succeed in high school. I also learned that I should not hesitate to ask the teacher when I have a problem with that teacher. It was a great experience and I truly appreciate the principals coming to our learning club to share their stories.”
• “After I attended the East and West learning club meeting on Wednesday, I learnt a lot from my principal and ex-principal. Firstly, they reminded me the importance of learning English with correct grammar and tenses. Next, they also emphasized that we have to let teachers and parents know someone are being bullied. Finally, they also shared valuable experiences that helped us to face problems that we will meet in the process of immigration. In conclusion, I really enjoyed the sharing of
my 2 principal. I recommend more people to listen to their sharing. I also hope that the club will have this kind of sharing again. Thank you for the very helpful sharing and useful tips you gave us, Mr Hu and Ms Nam Wong.”
• “I like best the two principals’ real life stories about how they grew up, and their suggestions on kid’s education. In addition, when kids try to choose their career and direction towards it, they could benefit a lot from Mr. Hu’s sharing about his career path.” (Translated from Chinese)
• “They are genuine persons. How Mr. Hu got his job after university is eye-opening. He fought back hard against racist comments. I might take a softer approach if I were in the same situation. Ms. Nam-Wong must be a very humble person. Her family moved 10 times in their early years in Canada. That must be hard to a young child. But she made no complains, and works very hard doing volleyball coaching in addition to a principal’s duties. Because of her experience both as a poor girl growing up
in Canada and as a mother of two kids of similar age to our children, she has the empathy for us. I feel my child is in a good hand. The time was not enough. It would be great if we could invite them here again! but one person at a time might be better as we could learn more from each one of them.” (Translated from Chinese)
Thank you, Roy. Thank you, Mira. We thank you so much for your fabulous stories, and for all the inspirations you have aroused! We wish we could have you here again!