Looking back, I think I learnt the bulk of my Chinese in the period that I was in Ms. Wang’s Mandarin evening class at NUS Extension. Ms. Wang is the best Chinese teacher I have ever had, probably the best teacher I have ever had. During two evenings a week we would spend a tota l of 5 hours in class – with a varied group. What made for our ‘team spirit’ more than anything else was the set-up of the room, which was ‘boardroom style’ so with a large oval table where we were all facing one another.
And Wang Laoshi (teacher). She was demanding and would let us do 听写 (dictation). Each lesson there were characters to learn and if you couldn’t write them the next class, she would genuinely not be happy about it. So she was demanding, but at the same time we had fun! At a certain point she asked us to write a story and tell it in front of the class.
We weren’t at such high level, but she kept insisting on it, and one by one we all sat down, took a dictionary, and wrote up a story. Each lesson one or two students would tell the story that they had written up, which could be anything. She would then ask fellow students to recount the story, to see if we understood and solidify the vocab.
Sharing the stories built our team spirit, and we had such a fun sharing the life experiences and jokes among ourselves that it became a catalyst to put more time and effort into the class. We may have found Ms. Wang demanding at times, but speaking for myself, I could never have made such progress if not for the spirit of those class. While we were made to work hard, we were at the same time looking out to the next class because of all the fun we had during the sessions.
Here’s one of the stories I wrote at the time:
我的家乡(jiā xiāng = home town)在荷兰的一个小村庄(cūn zhuāng = village)。那个村庄离比利时(bǐ lì shí = Belgium)只有五公里。附近的村庄便是边界 (biān jiè)了.因为比利时和荷兰都是欧洲联盟(lián méng = union) 的国家，现在在荷兰，比利时的边界 (biān jiè = border)已经没有海关 (hǎi guān = customs)检查站。 过边界的时候，什么都可以带。
可是很久以前，边界的情形不一样。那个时候，荷兰和比利时真的是不同的国家。东西的价格(jià gé = price) 都不一样。比方说，因为荷兰有很多牛，所以荷兰的黄油 (huáng yóu = butter) 比比利时的便宜。还有很多别的东西在荷兰的价格跟比利时的差别(chā bié = difference) 很大。而且不可以随便带着东西过边界。
那时候，有一个农夫(nóng fū = farmer) 推着手推车 (shǒu tuīchē = wheelbarrow) 到了海关检查站 (customs checkpoint)。 手推车里有东西，可是农夫用一张被子(bèi zi = cover) 覆盖 (fù gài = cover) 手推车里的东西。海关官员觉得有一点怀疑 (huái yí = suspicious)，就问农夫：“手推车里有什么东西？”农夫回答：“沙。”(shā=sand)。海关官员不相信便请农夫打开被子给他看看。海关官 员看见手推车里面真的只是沙，虽然觉得有一点奇怪，可是带着沙过边界是不受限制 (xiàn zhì = restriction)的， 所以他让农夫过边界到比利时去。
几天以后，有一个晚上，农夫再推着手推车要过边界。海关官员这次比以前更怀疑他了，不但请农夫举起被子，还检查沙里面跟手推车下面，检查得很仔细。可是什 么非法 (fēi fǎ = illegal) 的东西也没找到，因此又让农夫过边界到比利时去。
第二天晚上，农夫又要过边界。海关官员想可能他用的手推车只是掩饰(yǎn shì=conceal)， 所以他检查农夫的衣服、鞋子、头发等，检查得都很仔细。可是什么非法的东西海关官员都找不到。他没法子，就让农过边界到比利时去。
很多年以后，每逢 (měi féng= every now and then)海关官员看见农夫过边界，他都觉得没有办法检查那个人。有时候海关官员还是检查农夫的手推车里面，可是什么非法的东西也找不到。
1995 年，荷兰和比利时的边界已经开放了很久了。在边界没有海关检查点。 海关官员和农夫已经退休(tuì xiū= retire) 了。有一天，海关官员在酒吧看见农夫，便请他一块儿喝几杯酒。喝了两杯啤酒以后，海关官员问农夫：“到底你从荷兰到比利时走私 (zǒu sī = smuggle) 的是什么？”农夫回答：“很简单，我走私的就是……”