A Dinner with the Principal

Original 陈浩琛 琛思浅语

(翻译:王子, Translated by Wang Zi)

Yesterday was a special day. I was invited to a dinner party with the school principal! Dinner was at 6pm and I left home one whole hour beforehand, giving myself ample time to drop off my luggage at the boarding school before I headed to the venue. Unfortunately, I still didn’t make it there on time as there was too much traffic on the roads even on a Sunday evening. I hoped Dr. Chan would forgive me for being late; surely he knows that this city has become a ‘traffic jam’ town. Now that I think about it, we are creating way more pollution than necessary; people should take public transport more often. That’s what Qiang did, he took the subway and then used a rideshare bicycle to get there on time, smart guy.

The dinner venue was very ‘posh’, a long western-style dinner table had been set up with trendy decorations. My first thought was are we eating with a fork and knife? I was so going to make a fool of myself; I should have practised! I was relieved to see chopsticks on the table as I approached the seat furthest from the principal. As I was about to take my place, the class teacher stopped me and made me sit in an empty chair closer to Dr. Chan. Just like that, she ruined my plan to sit as far from the principal as possible in case he asks difficult questions that I couldn’t answer. I hoped the lucky classmates who arrived later than I did, would appreciate the far seats.

After I had sat down, my worst nightmare came true before I even warmed up the seat. Dr. Chan started asking questions while the guests were arriving. He asked if I knew the purpose of the dinner party and how I felt about being invited. Wasn’t the purpose already written on the invitation!? Of course, I was very enthusiastic about being invited, but not as excited as my parents; they even wanted to come along. Excuse me, what have they done other than paying for my tuition fees? I am the one who worked hard to achieve good grades and displayed good behaviour at school so that I was selected to receive an invitation. Only the students who excelled at both getting good grades and having good practices were selected; you can’t just be good at one thing! I heard there was even a selection panel of teachers; they all had to reach a consensus on the candidates. Some students who had received better grades than me didn’t make it. It was a very competitive process; I’d better continue to work hard if I want to be invited again next time.

But, first, food!

There were so many delicious dishes, appetisers, mains, and desserts! I was hungry enough to eat a horse, so I was ready to put food in my mouth before everyone else’s dishes arrived. “Hang on,” Dr. Chan warned me, “have manners, do not start until everyone else is ready”. It’s not easy to behave like a gentleman. But, if I had taken the seat that was further away, he wouldn’t have seen me trying to eat before everyone else.

While Dr. Chan was demonstrating good table manners by focusing on his dish, I noticed heate very quickly, almost in a hurry. I vaguely remember that some teachers mentioned Dr. Chan has to attend many professional social events, other than talking about businesses and networking with people in those events, he sometimes has to play the interpreter’s role as well. So he has learnt the skill to eat quickly while multitasking. It’s not easy being him either, I guess.

“So, what are your dream careers?” Asked Dr. Chan.

Great, another question, just when I was deep in my thoughts.

Most of my schoolmates’ answers were related to being professionals. Being a writer; expert in a particular area; university professor; media; interior designer; or someone like Dr. Chan who has heaps of knowledge and is highly respected, and wealthy, of course! Some are ambitious and said they wanted to do something that will make our country better and stronger. As for me, I think I’m quite artistic and I want to become a fashion designer. Unexpectedly, my answer invited Dr. Chan’s request to comment on his dressing style. As a future professional fashion designer, I must say that Dr. Chan has good taste in fashion. He seldom wears popular brands, but he dresses in a style which matches his character and personality. I am sure other students and teachers will support my comment.

Dr. Chan seemed happy with our responses. He emphasised: no matter what we plan to do or what goals we want to achieve, the only way that allows the pursuit of our dreams is to equip ourselves with knowledge and the right skills. Problem-solving, being analytical, good communications, and having good morals and ethics are all fundamental qualities which serve as foundations for any future attainments.

Dr. Chan has always been kind and approachable (except for that time when he was angry in front of the class, but he went back apologised and explained why he lost his temper). As dinner went on, I felt that we’re getting to know more about him, and he seemed even nicer than we thought! Dr. Chan shared stories of his younger days. I’m sure those things happened only five years ago because he’s forever twenty-six! So five years ago, Dr. Chan secured a scholarship to complete his PhD from the University of Melbourne, when he returned to Hong Kong with his degree, he struggled to find a job. But with his hard work and persistence, he survived all the challenges and became the successful person sitting in front of us. In all seriousness, Dr. Chan warned us that we would experience difficulties in life, setbacks are common; the important thing is to keep going and not giving up.

Dr. Chan wasn’t the only one asking questions. We were also encouraged to ask him questions. I liked how the dinner provided us with opportunities to have two-way conversations with the principal. I dared not to ask about his love story though I know everyone would be keen to hear that. Come on Dr. Chan, can you read my mind?!

Qian asked for techniques to not get distracted from her studies. I was surprised, Qian has always been a top student, are there still things that can distract her? I was even more surprised to hear Dr. Chan said he has the same problem. He often gets distracted by watching videos online and playing computer games. So, no one is perfect; everyone has weaknesses, no matter how successful they are. Dr. Chan shared his method to overcome this weakness: he developed a schedule for his daily routines, and he religiously adheres to this schedule. Does that mean he reserved time for his computer game too?

Blackie wanted to know, throughout Dr. Chan’s life adventures he experienced constant changes, what were the things that remained the same. Good question! I also wanted to know the answer. Dr. Chan explained: he never stops learning new things from reading books and keeping an eye on worldly events because it’s important to know what’s going on outside of our immediate environment. Dr. Chan said that it is called “life-long learning”. These habits have remained the same over the years, even though his vision and hearing have started deteriorating due to old age, which makes reading a bit challenging. Oh my gosh, he admitted he’s not forever twenty-six!

Time flies when you’re having fun. Dessert had been served; we were almost at the end of the dinner party. Before we finished, Dr. Chan gave everyone a book as a present. Each book has his personalised messages, in English! We were asked to read our messages out; everyone stuttered through; there were so many words we didn’t understand. Was this a nudge for us to study harder? Well, message received, I must work harder…

At the end of the dinner, Dr. Chan gave everyone a piece of homework, which is to write down our experience and thoughts about the dinner party. Ha! I happen to have a good habit of writing diaries every day. I’ve already been collecting my thoughts during the evening. My piece will be the most detailed and most well-written one, I’m sure. I’m ready to impress Dr. Chan with my work again and be invited to the next dinner party!