Jing Lei grew up in southern China in Guang Zhou, a very developed city of twenty million people, and lived there through completing her undergraduate degree. Although her husband, Shannon Doak, HPA’s K-8 educational technologist, is from Kauai, they met in China and came to Hawai‘i together in 2002. Lei worked at Punahou School for four years while Doak completed his teaching degree. When Doak graduated, the couple returned to China to teach their Baha’i faith. In 2009, Lei was ready for a new challenge and enrolled in the global graduate program of the College of New Jersey, where she trained to teach Mandarin. After eleven years of teaching in China, Lei and her husband decided it was time to come back to Hawai‘i. When two positions opened up at HPA, the perfect timing seemed like destiny.
Do you have a favorite work of literature in Mandarin, and if so what do you admire about it?
A Dream of Red Mansions, by Cao Xueqin, one of the most classic novels in China, from the eighteenth century. It’s a love story, but it also focuses on the social, cultural and spiritual life of the time—very powerful reading.
Do you consider yourself a traveler? What other countries have you visited? Where would you like to go next?
Yes, definitely! In college I worked as a tour guide, so I love planning trips. I’ve been to every major city in China, as well as all the major cities on the East Coast of the US. I’ve also been to Israel, as well as most countries in Asia: Japan, Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and Taiwan. For my next trip, I want to go to Europe.
So, that’s a lot of traveling! How many languages do you speak? Do you dream in all of them, or just one?
English, Cantonese, and, of course, Mandarin. I do dream in different languages—it depends who’s in my dream or what my dream is about.
Do you encourage your students to travel?
Yes! Last spring, I took sixteen HPA students to China through the OurWorld program. It was fantastic! I’d worked with Rustic Pathways to customize the trip, but some of the best moments were the unscripted ones. For example, the day we arrived, we went to the People’s Park, which was filled with retirees playing games, dancing, exercising. When some of them saw our students, they invited them to learn to dance—it was just so lovely, such a warm, welcoming experience. My students benefited so much from this trip; of course, they had a chance to use the language they’re studying, but also they got to see for real what they’d only experienced on the page or screen. I really believe traveling throughout the world is so important in reducing prejudice.
If you weren’t a teacher, what would you want to be instead?
A chef! I make the best dumplings on the island–I should open a food truck. Seriously, since moving to Hawai’i, cooking has become such an important creative outlet for me. I love finding recipes and planning meals.
What influences have contributed most to your teaching?
My Baha’i faith has been so important to me, especially in terms of understanding education. Traditional education in China is one way, input only. But my faith says we have within us all we need; we aren’t an empty cup, to be filled up. Education helps us discover the best of who we are. I’ve really been inspired by these words of Bahá’u’lláh: “Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.”