I am neither a calligrapher nor a teacher but, wishing to share my culture with Australians, I volunteered to give a beginners course in Chinese Calligraphy, first for the University of the Third Age then MOSAIC, a multi-cultural centre in Sydney.
Calligraphy is the ‘art of beautiful writing’ but since most of my students were illiterate in Chinese, I was essentially teaching Chinese writing, albeit with a brush and Chinese ink. The students had to learn one stroke at a time.
In my class I encouraged my students to learn the basic strokes and at the same time using those strokes in a particular sequence to create characters (words), thus a fluency in writing and a vocabulary is built.
Unlike English words which are ‘spelt’ with alphabets, Chinese characters are ‘built’, a modular system that’s been developed over centuries. To become literate in Chinese takes years of study; it’s a challenge my Australian students met with laudable results. I was humbled by the efforts they made. Largely illiterate in Chinese, their efforts culminated in an exhibition of poetry and creative art work. Their experience ranged from three sessions of one and a half hour each, to 20 sessions with me. I was very proud of them.
Volunteering has been a constant in my life. I feel that everyone has something to give and in giving, one receives. Many miracles in my life happened as a direct result of volunteering but the greatest gift of volunteering is the knowledge that someone else’s life is enriched by your efforts and you are elevated in their esteem.
I have had to cut back my volunteer work due to poor health but even as I lean back on my sofa, my hands are busy knitting scarves for the homeless. It takes little energy but what a boost it is to know that one is making a contribution to society.