A Chinese teacher in Myanmar
By Yang Yue
The campus of Yangon University of Foreign Languages (YUFL) is quite pleasant in December. People comfortably walk and chat across the campus as cool winter breezes gently ruffle their clothes including the longyi, a traditional Myanmar dress. Lazy winds caress layers of green leaves bathed in sunlight, splashing gold glitter on an empty wooden bench. Next to it, a woman in an indigo blue Myanmar dress emerges from the Department of Chinese building. It is immediately clear that she is a teacher because of the outfit designed for all female teachers at YUFL.
The woman is Kang Yong, a Chinese teacher invited by the Myanmar Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Education to teach Chinese at YUFL. The only foreign teacher in the department, Kang Yong has been working in Myanmar since 2017.
Care and Love
Kang is popular with students. Ingyinn Hmwe completed postgraduate studies under the supervision of Kang and was recommended to teach Chinese in a Chinese language school in Yangon. Ingyinn’s command of Chinese is so solid that she can now teach any Chinese lessons for a class. She considers Kang kind, caring, and approachable. A Myanmar native, Ingyinn adopted the Chinese name Yang Xiuhui, which means elegance and intelligence, with a surname chosen by Kang. Ingyinn revealed that she was never very interested in Chinese and just happened to join the Department of Chinese. But after meeting Kang, her interest in the language developed exponentially.
For many students, Kang is a mother figure. She is strict about homework and requires all students to speak Chinese only in class because she believes an immersive environment is more effective. After the class bell rings, she is like a parent who brings foods to students and organizes class visits to ill students.
After teaching them, Kang often refers her students to good jobs. Thanks to the Belt and Road Initiative and the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, more and more Chinese companies are looking to invest in Myanmar, which is bringing bilateral relations even closer. Along with the heavier flow of investment, demand for Myanmar locals who can speak Chinese has surged. With the help of Kang, many students secured good jobs, and one was even hired by Huawei for a salary higher than most white-collar workers and even some professors in Yangon. The student’s mother has been so grateful to Kang that she invites her to their home every time they meet.
Passion and Dedication
Kang teaches a number of related subjects such as writing, public speaking, thesis writing, and Chinese history and culture. However, the school’s textbooks were far out-of-date—the content about China ended in the 1980s when much about the country was still strange to modern eyes. The books covered things launched decades ago like supply and marketing cooperatives and the household contract responsibility system, and reported that the average monthly income for each Chinese household was only 100 yuan (US$14).
Kang went to the dean of the department with the problem. The dean shared her concern and offered support for any efforts to update the teaching materials. Kang began bringing carefully-selected Chinese textbooks back from China every time she went home.
The walls of buildings in YUFL do not block much sound, and the classrooms lack loudspeakers or any sound amplification devices. So, students in one classroom often have a hard time hearing the teacher when the students in the adjacent classroom read in unison, which greatly affects teaching efficiency. Teachers often had to shout to be heard. To solve the problem, Kang brought five portable loudspeakers from China and gave four to her colleagues.
Kang overcame every obstacle impeding teaching and became more and more devoted to the mission. In 2017, her teaching hours at the university added up to 504 hours, 324 hours more than required. In 2018 she amassed 486 hours, 306 hours more than the minimum requirement. Although Kang covered many classes because of the lack of Chinese teaching staff, she enjoyed being needed and won students’ love and respect. Her students always remember her, hug her when meeting her, and call her “Mother Kang.” “I feel so content to see my students living happy lives,” said Kang.
A senior Chinese scholar, Kang is often invited by the Chinese Embassy in Myanmar to participate in cultural activities. She has served as a judge for the Chinese Bridge (Hanyu Qiao) Chinese Proficiency Competition and other activities involving Chinese stage plays, characters, and songs. Kang’s friends joke that she is a celebrity in Myanmar because of how much coverage she received from Yangon media.
In November 2019, Kang caught Dengue fever in Myanmar. She still vividly recalls the suffering to this day. “It was painful—I felt like every part of my body was severely beaten.” She could not determine how she was infected because the symptoms took a while to develop, and her high fever emerged when she was in Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State in Myanmar.
Time flies, and eventually Kang had to return. “The three years in Myanmar represent a precious experience of my life. I spent my days teaching Chinese and sharing information about China with Myanmar people. I will never forget the good days, the bad days, my colleagues, my students, and all the friends I met there.”