Mandalay: An Evening Teaching English
I love Mandalay. I hate my hotel room. I wander and explore. I discover the Unity Hotel. At the reception desk, Thida is so lovely and gracious. With a kind smile she says, “We will be happy to welcome you.” I checked in the next day
After breakfast, before my climb of Mandalay Hill, I invite Thida for coffee. She smiles. She declines
Before my tour of Innwa, Amarapura, and Sagaing, I ask again. She smiles.
Finally, after I return from my river ride to Mingun where for good luck I pat the tail of the huge stone elephant, I try once more and Thida smiles. “You have asked me three times. Now I will say “yes.” Yes!
Public social relationships in Myanmar are conservative and discrete. A “date” in Myanmar means that the girl shows up with a chaperone or two. Thida introduces me to her cousin and her friend. During our dinner date I comment on their excellent English. They tell me they attend an evening class at the local Monastery School. I admit that many years ago, as a high school teacher in New York City, my specialty was teaching English to immigrant boys. (“Juanita is tall. Conchita is taller than Juanita. Carmelita is the tallest.”) Thida invites me to teach a class.
The next evening Thida and I ride to the school. The young Monk greets me warmly and escorts me to the classroom. Twenty-seven eager young adults await my lesson. They sit on long wooden benches, their notebooks and pens on tables of wooden planks. The side walls are open to the air; the roof is woven bamboo. Up front is a large modern whiteboard and markers.
For two hours, we progress from idioms (pay through the nose, cat got your tongue?) to grammar (ride, rode, ridden), to spelling (tough, thought, thorough), to homonyms (cite, sight, site), to geography (archipelago, volcano, caldera,) to religion (priest, cardinal, rabbi,) and back again to idioms (play it by ear). English ain’t easy.
Everyone is curious. They ask personal questions. (Married? Children? Age?) And if I use a word they do not understand, someone opens a dictionary and reads aloud.
I’m on fire. I can feel my energy rising and rising as I am pressed and prodded by my conscientious students; they are active and enthusiastic and motivated. They remind me of the young boys in New York who were determined to master a new language. (Mr. Jan, please explain, “Pepsi beats the others cold.” Right!)
I use all my skills to encourage everyone to participate but a few women are quiet and shy. Thida sits in the front row and is also quiet and shy. But she continues to smile. She is delightful, and may I say, loveable. Like her classmates she is happy and charming and beaming.
After class I share a simple soup and rice supper with the Monk. Please come again he asks. He is sincere. He does appreciate my work.
I will return to Mandalay. I love to teach. I hope I’m good. And dare I hope that Thida will be there to share another dinner and another class?