Friday, June 25, 2010

In Memoriam - Mr Yong Yoke

Mr. Yong celebrating with a student in 2005

Last week, I received news that one of my long-serving centre managers of Erican Kepong, Mr. Yong, was suffering from cancer.

Mr. Yong was not just a good colleague, he was a good friend of mine. Upon hearing this news, I said to myself, "I must pay Mr. Yong a visit as soon as possible."

Earlier today, I had a meeting with another colleague of mine from Erican Kepong, Ms. Soo Ken. She told me about how Mr. Yong had found out that he had pancreatic cancer just a few weeks ago and how fast he had been deteriorating ever since.

I immediately detected a sense of urgency and I decided not to procrastinate any longer. As today was Friday, I said to Soo Ken, "Let's visit Mr Yong as soon as I return from traveling next Monday. We'll pray for him and give him our best wishes."

However, just moments ago... I received news from Soo Ken that Mr. Yong had passed away. I was very saddened. I was saddened because I had delayed my visit and so missed the opportunity to say farewell. I was saddened because Mr. Yong was simply such a good man and so, despite his old age, losing him is unbearably painful.

In 1994, I was starting a centre in Kepong. I looked up and down, high and low... here, there and everywhere, hoping to find someone who understood education and had a genuine interest for developing the younger generation.

One day, a man with the thickest eyebrows I had ever seen walked into my office. He was carrying a plastic bag with him which contained a clean yet simple resume. This down-to-earth looking man started speaking and he introduced himself as Yong Yoke, alias 'Mutton'. He told me he was a retired post master, and he had served at the Post Office all of his life.

Initially, I was not too impressed with his presentation.

"A retired post master..." I thought. "That's good but... what has that got to do with the education field?"

Then he talked about his passion for educating the younger generation. And as he talked about his desire to help people, his eyes glowed. He leaned forward, looked straight into my eyes and spoke with absolute conviction.

"Mr. Chong, I love people. I'm committed to people. I'm loyal to people. I want to see the students grow. I want to see our people grow. I want to see your business grow."

There was just so much passion, conviction and energy coming out of this simple looking man. I was stunned. I started to really pay attention. I took another good look at him. This man, in his mid fifties, sounded most amazingly convincing. I shook his hand and that was the start of a very long lasting relationship.

Mr. Yong did not let me down. He was kind-hearted and he dedicated his time to the development of his subordinates and the students of Erican. He was always committed to doing his best as a Centre Manager and was well loved by all his staff and students. He was an honest man who had an absolute sense of integrity and responsibility.

He was a grammarian too - the old-school type, if you may. He insisted on imparting grammar knowledge to students, regardless of the English courses they were taking. He would always say, "Without a solid grammar foundation, your English will get nowhere."

Because of the dedication and care that Mr. Yong was giving to each and every student, he had set a role-model for the other teachers to emulate. Soon, many people came to learn English with us. Erican Kepong started to grow steadily, and it became a reputable language centre in the Kepong area. Mr. Yong dedicated more than 10 years of his life, faithfully serving the Erican organization, tirelessly helping the students and staff. His commitment toward Erican as an organization was absolute.

Mr. Yong, I will forever miss you. Erican is what it is today because of great leaders like you. To the family of Mr. Yong, I give you my deepest condolences. I'm sure Mr. Yong is now looking down from above and his kindness and care will continue to shower upon us forever and ever. May he rest in eternal peace.

"Life is about constantly going beyond limits!"
- Erican Chong

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Many Faces of the Melta Conference @ Kuching

I had the fortunate opportunity to meet up with some very interesting people whilst I was attending the MELTA Conference 2010 in Kuching on 17th & 18th June, 2010. Some of them were veteran linguists, while others were educators who have played significant roles in their respective academic organisations.

Everyone I met at this conference clearly had a strong passion for English education and worked unceasingly to contribute one way or another to the development and betterment of ELT as a profession. Of all the incredible educators I met in the past two days, allow me to simply touch upon a few of the interesting individuals whom I would like to thank for having enlightened me and added value to my four day stay in Kuching. This list is naturally not exhaustive, as it would take me another three days if I were to count all the fine hard-working people that I met at the conference.

Myself with Dato Leela
Myself with Dato Leela Mohd Ali

1. Dato Leela Mohd Ali - Dato Leela is a woman whom I have always respected and admired. Her track record is second to none - it is a lifetime of public service as an educationist. The fact that after 20 years of retirement, she is still going strong in her pursuit of charitable causes only shows the great strength of this lady. She is a role model citizen for all Malaysians.

2. Aslam Khan - Aslam is a man with immense passion for teaching. He is currently the Vice President of MELTA and a Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Teacher Education, Malaysia. He is always seen with a large smile across his face and his presence always makes one feel right at home. He is simply the most ideal host you could ever wish for!

3. Dr Mario Saraceni, Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics, University of Portsmouth - Dr. Mario is a compassionate soul who is deeply concerned about the plight of Malaysian English educators not being given an equal amount of respect in comparison to their 'native speaking' peers within their own homeland. His genuine compassion touched everyone's heart who heard him.

4. Professor Dr Malachi Edwin Vethamani, Wawasan Open University - My colleague, Audrey Boudville, did her first degree in Education at UPM some years ago. She often talked about her professor, one Dr. Malachi Edwin, who was very serious and strict with students. However, when I finally did meet Dr Edwin, I was completely taken off guard. "Wait? This friendly and funny man IS the tough professor I heard so much about?" It was only after I was afforded the opportunity to hear him present a paper as a plenary speaker, that I finally conceeded. "Yeah, he really IS that strict professor."

5. Dr Teh Chee Seng, Dean of Faculty of Arts & Social Science, Utar - Dr Teh Chee Seng is a rather quiet gentleman, perhaps even rather shy looking. However, I heard he had written a book which sold more than ten thousand copies. Dr Teh surely has achieved something that makes all local academics proud - a best-selling author in today's very competitive publishing industry.

6. Dr Singhanat Nomnian (Kenny), Head & Lecturer of Division of Foreign Languages, Mahidol University, Thailand - This young, dashing and stylish professor with a "movie star" quality persona hails from the neighbouring country of Thailand. We spent hours talking; our conversations drifted from English education in South East Asia, to education entrepreneurship and even on to childhood dreams. I wish Kenny all the best in all his undertakings!

7. Assoc Prof Dr Stefanie Pillai, Director, Centre for Industrial Training & Relations (CITRA), University of Malaya - Dr Stefanie chose to attend the Kuching stop in particular, as she had wanted to take her two lovely children on a vacation over their school holidays. I sat in the same car as she did on the way to the airport and we managed to discuss issues concerning English pronunciation. Dr Pillai's expertise encompasses sounds and phonetics, I can honestly say - I feel there is no one more suitable to consult in this area than her.

8. Assoc Prof Dr Mardziah Hayati Abdullah, Universiti Putra Malaysia - Dr Mardziah moderated the panel session "To go or Not to go Native" which 'sparked' the most discussion of all the topics at the conference. Given the critical importance and sensitive nature of this topic, I really must applaud Dr Mardziah for her courage and a job well done. She surely is a world class moderator!

Meeting with the enigmatic Dr. Basil

9. Dr Basil Wijasuriya - This man laid the foundation for MELTA as its first president. Dr Basil is a highly respected veteran academic; I had heard so much about him, that when I finally had the opportunity to meet him, I was greatly overwhelmed. He impressed me as someone who was humble, down-to-earth and highly supportive of the younger generation of academics.

10. Dr Ganakumaran, President of MELTA - The qualities of this great man go without saying. He is the mover of the association, one who has provided the type of leadership that an NGO like MELTA needs. He currently heads a team of 15 amazing educators who have formed the MELTA committee. Together, they undertake the endeavour of organising a mammoth annual project, the MELTA Conference, year after year after year. Dr Gana, I salute you. You are truly a champion of the English teaching movement in Malaysia.

11. Dr Shien Sakai, Professor of Chiba University of Commerce. - A very funny man indeed. In his uniquely Japanese-accented English, Dr Sakai presented his paper in a hall packed with enthusiastic educators. His sense of humour captivated everybody's heart. The frequent outbursts of laughter testified soundly to the immense popularity of this man.

12. Datin Dr Siti Zaleha, Director, Educational Technology Division, Ministry of Education - I did not have much chance to talk with her. However, it was very kind of her to come all the way to Kuching to lend MELTA the tremendous support that she did. While I was not the organiser; as a participant, I feel the strong desire to thank her for her efforts nonetheless.

13. Cheah Swi Yee - Swi Yee is a lovely person; she is always energetic and passionate about whatever she does. I attended her workshop on 'Go Green', a project which she has designed for her students in Universiti Kuala Lumpur. I felt the idea was fantastic - not only do students get to use real English in real life situations, but they also learn important concepts of environmental protection.

With the full support of so many fantastic people, I am certain that MELTA Conference will be even more successful in the many years to come.

"Life is about constantly going beyond limits!"
- Erican Chong

Monday, June 7, 2010

MELTA Conference 2010 - Kuala Lumpur

Greetings one and all!

I was privileged to be invited to speak at the MELTA ( Malaysian English Language Teaching Association ) Conference, which was held in Kuala Lumpur today at the Royale Chulan. The topic I was asked to present was "Entrepreneurship and Social Contribution in Language Education", something that as you can imagine is quite close to my heart. While I might share some of the contents of my reading at some point in the near future, today I’d rather discuss some of the other presentations that impressed me during these last two days.

To start the conference off, the Royal Patron of MELTA, HRH Raja Zarith Sofiah binti Almarhum Sultan Idris Shah gave us all a good sound royal lecture. Her Royal Highness spoke candidly about her concerns over the decline of English standards within Malaysia. HRH's speech was most enlightening and it gave this great event an intellectually stimulating kick off. Just think - if the voices from the top are even calling for ‘improvements’, how can anyone pretend not to hear the call for change?

The other interesting speech I heard came from Dato' ( Dr. ) Asuriah Mior Shararuddin, the Deputy Director General of Education (Teacher Education & Professional Development), who gave the keynote address for this conference. I think what got me the most was when she spoke about how and why teachers in the public system must think outside of the box and do 'something' special for their students. I applaud her for these thoughts - this is something that I myself am constantly trying to get across. A wise person once said, "A person's boundaries are limited only by their own perceptions!" If all teachers can grasp this concept and learn to teach in newer and more creative ways, then our future generations cannot help but be enriched by the new styles of learning.

After all that I have seen and heard over the last two days, I feel the biggest round of applause should go to Dr Ganakumaran, MELTA president, as well as his entire committee, for doing a fabulous job in organising this event. Certainly, there is nothing that cannot be accomplished when like-minded individuals put their heads together in one concentrated and focused effort to improve the world around them.

Perhaps this one thought is the one thing I'd like you to take away from today's post. Whatever it is out there you are doing, no matter how big or small you may feel that to be, share your mind and hearts with those around you - a greater reward will be had by all if we work together for a common goal.

Malaysia boleh!

"Life is about constantly going beyond limits!"
- Erican Chong

Wait! Isn't your name Eric Chong???

Some of the newer visitors to my blog (which at this point of writing, means all of you), may wonder why I am using "Erican Chong "as my name in blogspot, rather than my more commonly known name, Eric Chong.

The answer lies on the great World Wide Web. You see, I recently - on a whim - googled 'Eric Chong' just to see how many Eric Chong's there are out there on the internet. Well, let me tell you - there are thousands!!!

After browsing through the various search results for over an hour, I came to the conclusion. There are so many Eric Chong's out there that I believe any type of search for any one 'Eric Chong" would become very time consuming indeed.

In business, we like to talk about product differentiation. "Don't sell the same thing in the same way as everybody else does," many business gurus often say. Taking this advice to heart, I have decided to avoid being confused with all the other 'Eric Chongs' in the world and simply call myself "Erican Chong" on the greater blogger sphere.

Naturally, this is only for the purposes of the blog. If you're a student of Erican, please don't ask for an appointment with Erican Chong. 'Eric Chong', I believe in most non-web circumstances will still be more than suitable.

Best of luck and keep going beyond limits!

"Life is about constantly going beyond limits!"

- Erican Chong

Friday, June 4, 2010

My First Post

Greetings Friends, far and near...

This entry represents the first of what will become many blog articles.

They say the first time of anything is always most exciting. It is absolutely true in my case. Although blogging has been around for quite some time, as a first-time blogger I find myself having a bit of self doubt... maybe lacking in some confidence.

However, I am - above all - curious and adventurous. I can assure you that mere traces of self-doubt will not stop me from communicating with you all across the world, to share my thoughts with you, and to hear your thoughts too!

With that said, I shall close this starting prose and bid you all a very good least 'til next I post!

Keep Going Beyond Limits!

"Life is about constantly going beyond limits!"
- Erican Chong