Lao Ye Ye


I’ve used the word on our title before. In Chinese, it refers to “grandpa,” an endearing name one of my grandkids call me after he learned it in pre-school. It literally means, “old, old man.” So, the yin-yang dynamic is operational; an appealing term as well as an objective word!

I might have gotten in the last six months my share of being addressed “Sir” and “Po” to last me 10 years but at 70-71 of age, it comes with the territory. It does not help that I teach first graders at an elementary school, which seems to elicit incredible admiration for patience and endurance, guiding the start of the formal 16-year journey these students take to finish college in the U.S. system. I write regular opinion pieces for the dailies, and my light gray hair now outnumbers the dark grays, and that is a lot of grays.

I am revisiting the process of aging since it is very personal. Every little physiological faux pax I make is a glaring reminder that I’ve crossed the seventh decade. I have become a clutch at the house, dropping things in the bathroom and the kitchen; now I have come to shy away from glass bottles and stick to plastic so as not to step on wayward shards on the floor.

Parents and guardians wait with their first graders until I open the class door at 8am for the students to come in. Previous teachers had trained them to line up but I tend to skew the barking “Sarge” routing so I let them decide to voluntarily get into a classroom mode after chasing their breath on the playground. They had never been given that much “freedom” before, to decide and choose.

One parent whispered to her daughter that her teacher “looked like a grandpa.” My student replied, “He is.” That, I am!

It is a bit of a disadvantage, however, not to be conversant on the language of the young, in this case, the too young. The supplementary workbook I prepared for my 40-day students compliments the PSS core curriculum, the latter by itself a bit too formal for my taste, and my understanding on how humans learn. But it is the prescribed PSS core components so I have to directly work it into my “lesson plan.”

Noticing how the class quickly got into the mood of singing their “Universe” and “Freedom” songs, I asked what other songs they sang. They immediately started singing the young Canadian Bieber’s (I lived in Canada before he was born) song “Sorry” that my students hear their older siblings listen to and sing frequently, but would not have yet any idea what the song was about, but they could mimic Justin Bieber’s apologies. I was quickly chastened when corrected that Justin’s last name is pronounced “Bee-ber” rather than my “Bye-ber”, and I really felt ancient.

Then there was the song on what I though was Galloway, which I suspected must be someone famous until I connected to the Internet and learned of being “a call away.” The idiom is, of course, related to one being easily within easy contact by phone; the children had not the slightest idea about the emotive type of accessibility it entailed, but they could belt out both songs.

One student behaviorally challenged with a penchant for lounging his head on the table if not stretching his body on the chair, is named John.  I chanced on a country-western song over the radio titled “Big Bad John,” a quiet big guy who inconspicuously worked in the mines, held on to a sagging timber and shoved it up to save 20 cohorts who scrambled up to safety while big John got caught on the ensuing billows of smoke that caught him at the end of his line. The song ended with a sealing of the pit and a marker for “Big, big man, big John.”

I play the music once in a while, which seems to affect favorably our lackadaisical John for the new attention he gets, something not too unfamiliar to 23 different creatures.  They were told of the 200 million odds that attended their conception, decidedly winners; they may be just “nobodies” in the universal scheme (one out of 7.4 billion folks at the moment, they can chose to be “somebodies” in the historical plain of their finite existence. To be unmistakably the “big, big somebody in history” is a choice they can make for themselves.

“Big, big” is, of course, a European bias clearing the path of excellence and pushing for accomplishment. I am about the plain “is-ness” of life of being “somebody” instead of being bedecked with medals in order to amount to anything. Ah, but to be afforded the chance to ontologically straighten the young from the start. That’s a real head start I cannot fritter away.

But I was just musing down the alley of aging. After living off this side of NAP, life has not been comfortable, but to let a 6-8 year old understand that he is just beginning a 16-year journey of learning and impart some methods on how s/he can grasp the mental processes so that ze can take part fully in ze own learning, is a priceless pleasure. This aging one will not shy from the challenge, that is, if we do not forget that Fridays is Library day…

Jaime R. Vergara | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Jaime Vergara previously taught at SVES in the CNMI. A peripatetic pedagogue, he last taught in China but makes Honolulu, Shenyang, and Saipan home. He can be reached at

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