Don’t make the same mistakes as I did: Letter from a Chinese father – Part I of II

This letter was written by Cape Town-based Mr. Chen to his son C.S.Y., who came to South Africa in 2015 to study at a local high school. Mr. Chen sent his son the letter while C.S.Y. was back in China visiting his mom and grandparents in his hometown in Sichuan during the 2017-2018 school holidays. Mr. Chen stayed behind in South Africa for work.

Permission was given by Mr. Chen to translate and publish part of the letter on WhoKou.

C.S.Y., my son:

How are your holidays going at home? How do you feel about seeing your grandparents? People say that you cannot buy time with gold. Time flies, and here we are – you have become a grown man! When you first came to South Africa, I set a goal for you to master the English language. You have spent 15 months in South Africa, but how much English have you learnt? You seem to have spent far more time on computer games than learning the language.

Before you left for your holiday in China, I asked you to think about your year spent in South Africa, and to write a reflection. Where is the reflection that you are supposed to write? Have you forgotten how to write? A reflection is a mirror in which you can see yourself clearly, and summarize all the rewarding and regretful events that you’ve experienced in the past year. It’s also an evaluation of where you have spent your time and efforts. If you don’t regularly reflect on your own initiative, no external force will be able to lead you anywhere.

You are a Chinese citizen. To make a living in South Africa, you must first master the English language. I asked you to copy a paragraph of English text from the New Concept English textbook every day to learn the language – have you done it? The language you learn will be yours, and no one can take it away from you. I put you in a local homestay so that you could improve your language proficiency. Did you take advantage of the opportunity? You were playing on your phone the whole time, and didn’t talk to anyone at your homestay! I asked if you need after-school support and you said no. I have found tutors and even school teachers to help you. But I got phone calls from your school teachers telling me that you never did your homework! I would really like to see you gain a sense of success from your studies, but look at your disappointing exam results!

As a father, I only hope that you don’t get lost where I got lost, and that you don’t make the same mistakes where I did. Because of my limited language skills, I couldn’t understand a lot of issues in this English-speaking country and therefore ran into many problems and even cases of fraud. I want to go back to school too, but I don’t have the time because I need to make money and feed my family! I can only work at the lowest level of society because I don’t have a degree or good English. It was only because of my fearlessness that I gained myself a place in Cape Town, and earned some respect from people at the port.

Having spent ten years in South Africa, I haven’t been able to afford a property. We are still renting. This is what I am truly ashamed of and disappointed about. I blame myself. In the past few years, my friends borrowed RMB 1.7 million from me and were never able to return the money. I have products worth RMB 400,000 stuck at Chinese customs, and I can do nothing about it now. I only hope that everything will get better in the years to come. You have seen my situation here – with my hard work, things can only get better, and I should be able to provide for you and do my duty to my family and my parents.

You were born in 2000, into a different world. If you don’t work hard, you won’t be able to feed yourself. Have you seen on the news how advanced technology is today, and that some ports in China have become completely automated, and that one can even order food from a machine in a noodle restaurant in Xi’an. All one needs to do is to swipe a credit card and wait for one minute before one gets a bowl of hot noodles. Don’t they need professionals to design the programmes, and adjust the machines? Don’t they need people with knowledge to do the tech work? With the knowledge and skills that you have now, will anyone hire you? I don’t think so.

Part II of Mr Chen’s letter will follow in an upcoming post.

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