Prequels and Sequels
Magic Mark Breaks Biking Barriers
Sometimes you can tell a sportsman just by looking. They have straight posture and a physique that gives it away the first time you meet them. Mark B would be a perfect case for this observation. He’s not tall – maybe 5’10, but he stands rock solid. When he stretches out his arm to shake my hand, I see a mass of bulging veins protruding from his arms. A sign of a high metabolism so I hear. Right now he’s wearing shorts. That and the shape of his calf muscles suggest that this man is into bike riding of some sort.
Like most of us, Mark rode his first bike when he was eight years old. However, for him, mountain biking has grown into a huge part of his life. He spends, on average, two hours a day weekdays and about twice that on weekends riding all over the city. He decided he wanted to take mountain biking seriously at the age of thirteen. “Cross country running was getting very repetitive and I discovered mountain biking was what I really wanted to do,” he declares. Endless hours of training and a determined commitment to the sport have turned him from just ‘a kid with a bike’ into one of the top junior riders in the country. His skill and commitment have been recognised by various mountain biking companies and he now receives sponsorship deals from X Cycles and Y Wheels. Of course he is happy with that. As he says, “everyone likes to get stuff for free I guess.”
Mark doesn’t make any fuss of the fact that he is one of the busiest sportsmen in the school. He ran in the inter-school 3000 metre event, and was in the team that won the regional Secondary Schools Triathlon. “I figure that if I was doing so much training for fitness, I might as well use it for things other than mountain biking,” he says with quiet confidence.
You could be forgiven for thinking Mark must have plenty of success stories to share with his mates, but in fact he is one of the most unassuming characters at this school. Even when he came back to school after a weekend in which he competed successfully in the Secondary Schools National Mountain Biking championship, he didn’t even mention it. When it was announced in assembly, he responded to the questions from his friends with a sly “yeah, that was quite cool eh.”
Mountain biking has been a huge part of this guy’s life since he was eight and for Mark, making a career out of his hobby would be the ultimate goal. “I guess that’s the dream of most kids isn’t it?” But he realises that this is unlikely. “It’s kind of hard to know that you’ll only ever be doing your favourite thing as a hobby, but I know I can have fun with it for ages and take it as far as it’ll go for me.” Wise words.
In Mark, our school has one of its most talented, and humble sportsmen, someone who never goes out looking for the credit that is his due. Instead he focuses on the benefits his achievements may bring to his chosen sport. “I hope that the exposure I’m giving mountain biking in this school is going to encourage other people to take it up. People seem to miss the fact that it’s now an Olympic event!”
Mark finishes our chat with a statement that typifies him. “You’d better not publish this in the school magazine!” he says firmly.
Told you he was humble.
A young Chinese man stands at a phone booth in Wellington Airport. He is alone with his baggage, and holds in his hand a piece of paper. On this piece of paper is a phone number, the young man’s sole link to New Zealand. He rings the number. No answer. His only connection to New Zealand is the person who would be on the other end of the phone, an old university friend. Conveniently this person is away on holiday. This young man is alone in a new country, with nowhere to go. Mr. Chan, welcome to New Zealand.
Unlike many people, Steven Chan was not overly concerned by this situation. “Oh I just went to a hotel,” he says, as if it were nothing but a trifle to be marooned in a foreign country where your knowledge of the language is limited at best. What had brought him to New Zealand? He had the choice of New Zealand, Canada, Australia and the United States, but “Basically, it was just the easiest to get into.”
Steven Chan is 5’9”. He wears big glasses, which cover his boyish face. This face seems to be eternally plastered with a cheesy grin. “When I came to New Zealand, my accent was very, very bad, people could not understand me.” Apart from that, getting to know New Zealanders and becoming a New Zealander was difficult. Especially when you want to stay Chinese as well.
Some would say Steven Chan is a slightly unusual teacher, at least by our standards. “In China the teachers were a lot more like friends…here I was told to make sure my relationship with students doesn’t get to close.” Despite this he has a friendly relationship with his students.
Steven Chan is not the only person at our school who has travelled from Mainland China or other parts of Asia to New Zealand. Many students have come here as fee-paying international students or because their families have moved here, and to these students he acts as a role model, or at least tries to. “ I think I am a bit of a role model for those students, because they are new to New Zealand, and are going through something very similar to what I had to.”
All this almost goes without saying. Steven Chan is already associated with these students, and with the Asian culture within our school. But what of his relationships with non-Asian students? “I reckon he’s a real good guy,” says Susie, a Year 12 student, ”He gets on really well with the students”. “I think he’s a good guy. He is a bit weird, but I enjoy being in his class more than the other classes” says another student.
When he’s not smiling, he has a mocking face; mockingly serious, mockingly sad, mocking whichever student he talks to. He talks to a lot of students. Pupils who have never been taught by him will often call out “Hey Chan!” as he walks past. Steven Chan thinks this is great, and has a right to, because he has earned this attention. He is not like other teachers at the College. Not like them at all.
Steven Chan has a certain cheerful keen quality, but the main thing about him is his complete lack of a sense of superiority over his students. Many teachers attempt a chumminess with students, but never lose that feeling of supremacy over them. Mr. Chan is entirely on the same level as his students. When you talk to him, you do not feel like he is on a pedestal above you.
Then again, Mr. Chan may have a little problem with authority himself. “One of the reasons I left China was to get away from my parents. I already lived in a different city to them, but it is not enough!. Every time I saw them, they would ask ‘Have you got a girlfriend?’, ‘When are you getting married?’. I had to get away.”
Get away he did, to the bottom of the planet in a completely different culture. After all he’s been through, the man at Wellington Airport with a new country ahead of him hasn’t changed much. He may be a little older and a little wiser, but no worse for wear.