I was reminded of the Healing Power of Toastmasters this week with Darren Tay Wen Jie’s winning presentation in Washington DC at Toastmasters International’s 2016 World Champion of Public Speaking event.
I got to China in 2008 with the prayer, "If, money was no object, I’d be on a jet plane to Kathmandu.” Zhengzhou, Henan Province, was not Nepal but it had a Toastmasters club, Middle Kingdom TMC, founded in 2007 by a California expat named Garcia. Evidently Garcia was the messenger and Toastmasters was the message. I was not an unseasoned traveler having lived three years in Brazil, and one year in Egypt. Sao Paulo had an overly robust 45,000 English speaking foreign community. In 13 million Cairo I worked for USAID where American English was the lingua franca of the realm. I had visited Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan in the 70’s and 80’s, however, Zhengzhou, former home to 22 dynasties and 200 emperors had 300 Americans scattered over the city of 12 million. Not able to read, speak or understand a single character of the 30,000-word language save ¥ yuan (money), it was no wonder I maintained perfect attendance at Middle Kingdom TMC.
Networking in Toastmasters works great at home and abroad. Maybe two years to the day after I uttered my prayer, "to be on a jet plane," Frank Wu, past club president and Toastmasters friend in Zhengzhou, got me a speech competition judge assignment with China Southern Airlines. I got a round trip plane ticket to Lhasa in lieu of cash. I was only a bus ride over the border from realizing my dream of breakfast, lunch and dinner at an, as many stars as they had hotel, in Kathmandu.
The networking benefits of a local Toastmasters club served me well but the healing power of Toastmasters International was made apparent at the 2010 Shanghai Conference. This was the year of the Shanghai World EXPO and the bringing together of Toastmasters Hong Kong and Mainland China under the unified leadership of Chinese Nationals. On, Saturday May 9th, in Shanghai, I felt like a delegate to the signing of the Magna Carta or the Declaration of Independence, as both Hong Kong and Macao joined the Mainland as one big happy Toastmasters’ governed family.
Sean Lin, the Hong Kong representative candidate for executive office in the new entity said, "essentially I can bring Hong Kong to China because unlike China’s one country, two systems, Toastmasters is one world of 140 countries, one system, one language and one culture.” In addition, we had seven visitors from Japan and three from Singapore, plus the 500 members, 97% Chinese, from all over China.
Then just three weekends later, on the 29th of May, I had a Fall of the Berlin Wall type experience in Beijing. I had taken the 9-hour overnight train to the capital to help host a visiting group of 20 Toastmasters from Taipei, 7 of them DTM’s (Toastmasters’, highest level of achievement). We packed 90 people in a Motorola conference room for 70 and a good time was had by all. It was – okay I’ll say it – heart warming to see, the all Chinese audience celebrating their common ancestry after 60 years of political separation. It was a bit like watching, East Germans meeting their brethren from the West for the first time since WWII. The Taiwanese stories about their grandparents’ departure from the Motherland and how grateful they were to Beijing Toastmasters for hosting the reunion. Okay, I’ll say it again, it was a heartwarming expression of the Healing Power of Toastmasters.
Singapore has over 200 Toastmasters clubs English, Mandarin, Malay, Hindi, Bi-Lingual, Gavel (youth) clubs.
Darren Tay Wen Jie, the recently crowned World Champion of Public Speaking from Singapore gave a humorous speech about encountering his former childhood bully in a Toastmasters meeting. The ex-bully, now an anti-bulling counselor, gave Darren advice about conquering the bully within which Tay used as the theme for his award winning 5-7 minute talk. Toastmasters' international presence with 15,000 clubs in 140 countries produced last year’s champion, Mohammed Abdullah Qahtani from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. In 2014 Dananjaya Hettiarachchi of Nawala Rajagiriya, Sri Lanka took the prize.
As a foreigner in China, I identified with Presiyan Vasilev, the 2013 World Champion, who immigrated to the United States from Sofia, Bulgaria, in search of "multicultural variety" and self-improvement. He found his voice in Toastmasters, where he joined six clubs in Chicago. Vasilev, proved my point that the HEALING POWER OF TOASTMASTERS works equally well in the home country or starting a new life in a foreign country.