Maverick in a class of his own
2010-May-20 07:43:54

English educator goes against the grain for success

BEIJING - High-school dropout Luo Yonghao calls himself "China's second-most-famous English teacher".

Many Chinese people who know Luo will attest to his popularity.

Type "Lao Luo", the teacher's nickname, into major Chinese search engine Baidu, and it will generate nearly 2.5 million web pages and four thousand video clips.

"For sure, I'll never be able to match China's most famous - and crazy - English teacher, Li Yang. His students kneel down and kowtow to him," said Luo, referring to Li Yang, the man behind the country's popular Crazy English language learning brand.

"But you know what, I never bother too much about it," Luo said.

Luo, 37, is certainly proud of sharing his maverick life's experiences and philosophy.

He is publishing a memoir titled My Struggle - the same title as Adolf Hitler's notorious autobiography.

"I decided on the title because nobody dared to use it since the infamous man wrote his book," Luo said.

"It reminds me of a disturbing fact - that good people can possibly not be as industrious as bad people."

Luo said he wants to use the eye-catching title and subject to urge his readers to work as hard as "bad people".

A native of Jilin province, Luo himself is an example of the alternative form of struggle he advocates.

Since he chose to leave school at 18, a move he made against "the stupid educational institution", Luo has managed to establish a successful English training school and blog.

Luo rose to fame in 2003, when he was an English teacher at what is now the New Oriental Education and Technology Group (New Oriental), China's largest and first major overseas-listed provider of private educational services.

Students secretly recorded his classes and posted them online. His daring satire and acerbic humor soon spread among netizens and selections of his mottos like "a shrewd ambitious life needs no explanation" were dubbed "Quotations from Lao Luo".

According to cultural critic Wang Xiaofeng, the country's Internet sector is able to function without CEOs of major portals, but it cannot do without "English teacher Luo Yonghao, CCTV sports commentator Han Qiaosheng and radio sex education host Wan Feng".

Since the popularization of the Internet in China in 1996, quotations from Luo, along with Han and Wan, have become constant online catchphrases.

"The one point we have in common is that we all try to explain serious things in a funny way," Luo said.

Before 30, Luo confessed to being a good-for-nothing idler. He was once a street vendor, a kebab stall owner, a medicinal herbs dealer, a computer components salesperson and even a self-styled writer.

Pressed by the shame of "having achieved nothing", Luo said he was determined to make a name for himself when he was nearing 30.

He heard about the high wages at New Oriental and was bent on becoming a teacher there.

He did so - by locking himself in a shabby suburban home and learning English "like mad" for up to 15 hours a day for 18 months. From 2001 to 2006, Luo became the school's most popular teacher preparing students for the US Graduate Record Examination.

"I did make great efforts to learn English and overcome my innate fear of public speaking," he said.

In 2006, Luo quit the school and started his own website, in the hope of providing a platform for "thinking bloggers". The website won support, especially from intellectuals, because of its active participation in public affairs, such as the calling off of the construction of a controversial chemical plant in Xiamen, Fujian province in 2007, and fundraising for the Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan province in 2008.

In 2008, Luo opened his own English training school, vowing to live up to his mock-Marxist promise: "The school comes clean, with no blood or dirt in every pore, from head to toe."

Publisher Shen Haobo predicts Luo's memoir will be a life-changing read for the young.

"For one thing, he refuses to conform to the prevalent, hidden rules of success, yet he succeeds in his own non-mainstream way," Shen said.

"He also breaks the boundary between people at the grassroots and the elites. He himself is a perfect combination of the struggle of some at the grassroots, in the pursuit of being an elite."

China Daily

(China Daily 05/20/2010 page2)

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