My father-in-law

Filed in Life

The other day, I drove my wife out to the New Territories to see our favourite 'super doctor' (神醫). My wife has a serious case of hives and since western medicine has failed to help her in any way, we're consulting our Chinese doctor instead. While there are many 不外如是 super doctors, this one's the real thing. He's quite amazing. He's also our friend, having visited him many times over the years; at first with my mother-in-law and now with my wife. We smile and joke every time we see each other. I never thought it would be fun to visit the doctor.

After seeing the doctor, we drove back to Tai Po to visit my father-in-law. Being an old person, he refuses to move house to be closer to any of his nine children. Change is always harder when you're older, and a change of environment is the hardest.

My father-in-law (張寶榮先生) is an amazing man in his own right. With his wife, they raised nine children, often with little to no money to do it with. It was during the poorest of times that he began learning and teaching English to students. This is many many years ago, possibly around the time of the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong. Because they were poverty stricken, he couldn't afford to buy his own dictionaries, but he had to answer his students' questions, so he would visit multiple book stores, looking up and memorising a few words in dictionaries in each book store until he had memorised all of them and was able to serve the needs of his students.

Cheung Po Wing 張寶榮, immersed in English grammar Over the years, he never gave up studying English. Without help of any kind, he studied English by observation, deduction and pure reasoning. Consequently, he developed his own theories, rules and guidelines regarding English grammar.

In many professions, people think that "re-inventing the wheel" is a waste of time. I don't think so. If you have to develop or invent something without prior knowledge of other methods, you might just come up with a better method. An English saying that comes to mind is "there is more than one way to bake a cake". This adage also applies to invention and development. So while my father-in-law's theories may differ slightly to the theories and so-called standard rules of grammar found in almost every English grammar book in the library, that doesn't make them wrong. On the contrary, because he's a Chinese person who has studied and scrutinised every aspect of English and English grammar from his own perspective, his theories and rules may in fact be better suited to many Asians than those found in most text books today.

One of the things that happens whenever someone works on a single project over an extended period of time is that they become immersed in that project and nothing else counts. For the weeks that I began customising and improving this blog site, I could only talk about two things; the Perfume play, and this blog. My wife was pretty much bored to tears because every time I opened my mouth, something about the blog came out, and usually something technical in nature which she had no chance of understanding. My father-in-law is the same. Apart from talking about horse racing occasionally, his only topic of conversation is English grammar. Having lunch or dinner with him can therefore be difficult at times. None of the family shares his love for English grammar but we have to listen to his lectures out of respect; and we do very much respect him. Of course, apart from needing someone to talk to, my father-in-law also has his family's best interests in mind, hoping that their English standards will improve and enable them to become more successful in the world.

My father-in-law's theories are pretty much spot on. His conversation is not fluid because he doesn't practise much; even when I'm around because I almost never speak English; but his examples and the sentences he does speak are very much correct, and his reasoning makes sense almost all of the time. If no one learns from him, it would be a waste. He has much to offer.

Part of his dream came true last year when we was able to publish his first book, "Reliable Grammar for Teachers and Senior Students". It's available in book stores now and I heartily recommend it to anyone who needs to improve their English grammar. You may have difficulty understanding parts of it in which case you'll need to find one of his students to talk to or attend one of his classes. Two or three times a year, he teaches English grammar to teachers at the Causeway Bay centre of the Hong Kong Professional Teacher's Union 香港教育專業人員協會.

Unfortunately, today's society is all too quick to ignore and give up on the elderly (these days, mid-50s is already considered old), even those with expertise in their fields such as my father-in-law. Much of today's society is based on technology and older people quickly lose track and end up living as strangers in a fast developing world. Just ten years ago, Apple Computer was proudly demonstrating small jerky QuickTime videos being played and edited on a personal computer. Now we can bittorrent full screen high definition dvd-quality videos and not even give a second thought to the technology involved. It's even possible to view these videos while working with other software and the videos hardly stutter. It's amazing. It's also scary. In twenty years time, I myself may have a hard time keeping up with technology. By then, I'll be the ignored technological caveman in a world that moves too fast for its own good.

In the meantime, don't ignore the older people so quickly. If you take the time to chat with them, you might surprise yourself and actually learn something of value.

Daddy Cheung, Happy father's day!