Friday, August 19, 2011

...Hunan Wok?!

“Thank you for teach my son read.”

Those words resonate through my head often.  They are words that I cannot ever forget.  Not because they are put together incorrectly (I am a big-time grammar and spelling critic), but because they validated everything that I had done over the course of a school year.

They are words from the father of a student who did not speak English until he entered school.

I cannot take full credit for teaching “Bob” (we’ll just call him that, for simplicity’s sake) how to speak English or read.  He was in first grade last year, the critical year for learning the basic skills needed to learn how to read and comprehend the written word well  - but I was not the only one teaching him how to read.  His classroom teacher, the Title I teachers and aides, and even his own classmates all contributed to this goal - not to mention his past teachers in kindergarten as well.  It was important to Bob’s parents that he learn how to read in English, and we all made sure that this was accomplished – ALL of us.

These same teachers even helped me to understand HOW to teach how to read.  Yes, my primary goal was to teach Bob English, but reading is one of the key elements in learning a language.  I had no idea how to teach someone how to read, because every student that I had previously already had those skills by the time I had them in 3rd through 12th grade.

To those teachers, I say, “Thank you for teaching me how to teach [Bob’s] son to read.”

So you probably read the title of this thread and thought, “Whoa…hold on…isn’t that…a Chinese restaurant?!”

Yes, it is.  But I am writing about Hunan Wok NOT because it is part of the extra credit.  I have a bigger point to make.

And a lesson to teach.

Hunan Wok is about a two-minute drive from the high school.  I remember when it opened, back when I was in high school – it was like Christmas!  FINALLY!  A Chinese restaurant in The ‘Miff!  Often times, I paged (yes, PAGED – beepers were all the rage) my friends, and they called me on my HOME number (since cell phones were only for the elite back then), and we made plans to go on a Friday night or sometimes after a school function. 

Many years later, I was maid-of-honor in a wedding, and the bridal shower was themed “Chinese New Year”.  The bride’s mother, sisters, and I spoke with the owners – Bob’s parents – and arranged for mass quantities of Chinese food to be served at the shower.  This proved to be a huge challenge because Bob’s parents’ English was limited, at best.  It was difficult explaining to them not only that we wanted to order a large amount of food for a function, but also that it was for a bridal shower, something that is not a custom in their culture.  I will admit, it was very frustrating trying to communicate with Bob’s parents, but we got it done.  And we served the food.

And it was well worth the effort.  Yum!

Never in a million years did I ever think that I would have to interact with Bob’s parents again  like I did for that bridal shower – but five years later, after seeing Bob in his playpen in the back of the restaurant while we ordered trays upon trays of Chinese food, - there he was, in my classroom.

During the school year, I was called on all of the time to communicate with Bob’s parents.  I don’t speak Mandarin Chinese, but having taught a language before, not to mention learning a new language at one point myself, I understand what it is like to communicate with people in another language.  It takes patience and simplicity…and at little more time than usual. 

It was also obvious that Bob’s parents wanted to be involved in his school life.  I ensured that anything that went home in written form was translated into Mandarin.  Every time progress reports or report cards went home, I made it a point to stop in to Hunan Wok to make sure that they understood what those letters meant on the paper.  Extra effort, yes.  Worth it?

“Thank you for teach my son read.”

Bob’s dad said that to me one day, as he handed over a bag of food.  I always order the same thing – shrimp with Chinese vegetable, steamed, with brown sauce.  I insist on paying every time, and they refuse – every time.  They thank me profusely for teaching their son English, and refuse to take my money.  In the Chinese culture, offering gifts is a way of showing gratitude (this is also true in Latin American cultures), and to refuse is considered rude. 

I will never forget those 7 words that Bob’s dad said to me, because they mean more to me than any carton of rice or plate of steamed vegetables.

To some, it may seem that I go there for free food – absolutely not.  I’ve been dieting for 2 years, and Chinese food is not the most diet-friendly cuisine (hence the steamed food that I order from the “diet” menu).  On one occasion, all I wanted was egg drop soup – that’s all, just egg drop soup - and I walked out with that, hot and sour soup, sweet and sour chicken, and cheese wontons.  Egg drop soup was not enough, according to them.  I had to call in my brother that day for assistance.  I couldn’t eat all of that fried food!

So I say to you – if you need a break from the project, and want to try an ethnic food that is NOT Latino or Hispanic, and is located close to home – visit Hunan Wok.  The food is wonderful, and made-to-order.  Over the years, I’ve had many different menu items – General Tso’s chicken, shrimp with lobster sauce, egg rolls, spring rolls, fried rice, and more – and honestly, they have all been fabulously delicious. 

It may be difficult to communicate when giving your order, but keep in mind – you are learning a new language, too, and a native Spanish speaker may be frustrated with your limited abilities someday. 

Passing on my own positive opinion about Hunan Wok is the least that I can do for Bob’s family.  I can’t thank them enough for those 7 little words that have had such a big impact on me.

Hunan Wok
Duquesne Village Shopping Center
1822 Homeville Rd.
West Mifflin, PA 15122

Hunan Wok Chinese on Urbanspoon


  1. The lack of clear English at Hunan Wok got me fired from Kennywood for 15 minutes at one point.

    Love that place though, and when they make sweet tea it is phenomenal.