Mr. Huigen Chen taught me English in my high school. He was the best English teacher in the whole city of Hangzhou and perhaps beyond. People came from other districts of the city to enrol in my school so they could attend his classes. Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, was one of them and he was admitted afterwards to the English Faculty of Hangzhou Normal University.
Teacher Chen was energetic and passionate. He had a disability; his right arm and hand stopped growing when he was a child, and only his left arm was functional. What lacked from his right arm seemed to have gifted his left arm with double strength and ability. He wrote on the blackboard with such vigor that I can still hear the squeaking of his white chalks in my mind as I remember him today. His body, along with his left arm, moved with rhythm and impetus as English sentences poured out of his white chalk. He always came into the classroom in a fresh navy-blue Mao-style blazer and left with his left sleeve covered in white chalk powder. When he wanted to emphasize certain words in his talks, he would throw the chalk in his hand to the floor with a powerful punch, as if drawing a huge exclamation mark in front of us.
When he himself was in high school, my father was his home-room teacher. My Dad told me that he could type with one hand twice as fast as others with two hands. He excelled in everything he did, academics or sports, and became a student leader. He always believed that excellence should be acknowledged and rewarded. In 1998, he was awarded the honour of “Extraordinary Teacher” in the province.
To his students who excelled in his class, Teacher Chen publicly and generously gave recognition in his way. If you gave him the right answer to a difficult question or exceeded his expectation in a test, he would squint his eyes and stare at you with a proud smile, like a father witnessing the first step of his baby, for a long lapse of time, much longer than a usual pause, so that everybody in the class would be captured and held in suspense while he savoured and shared his moment of happiness. As the student receiving that expression of praise, you would beam or even melt away under such an intense gaze of fatherly love.
On some Sundays, he would invite a handful of his best students to his home to help him review the tests and exams of other students. He would ask his wife to make dumplings for everybody and, with great content, he would watch his favourite pupils eat and work. He fed himself on his students’ achievements.
Imagine the happiness that Jack Ma would have given to Teacher Chen with his accomplishments in creating the biggest digital commerce enterprise in the world! Unfortunately, Teacher Chen died of cancer before he could watch Alibaba grow with his fatherly proud smile.