Mr. Hansen (Part one)

I read a lot of books back in high school that were recommended by our Lit teacher Mr. Hansen who we had high respect for. He was the type of teacher that you’d look at… And see him as a mentor of some sort in your life. Part of our curriculum was to read Shakespeare, and since our Literature class was based on the International Baccalaureate, there were only certain books by Shakespeare that we were allowed to read including Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing, and Hamlet.

Our Lit classes, I must admit were boring, but Mr Hansen had to do what he had to do. Before reading a certain book (which wasn’t always by Shakespeare like John Steinbeck’s the Grapes of Wrath) and if the video was available, he’d take our lessons in the English staffroom, and then after watching the movie, we’d read the book, word for word. He’d let everyone in class read a paragraph or two and often he’d let me read the whole chapter, or even allow me to continue on reading till the end of the lesson because he liked the way I’d narrate the story. Sometimes I’d give him an all-Aussie accent when needed, or an English accent when speech marks came in as though I were reading a script for a play. If I didn’t feel like narrating much, I’d just give him my normal accent which is an American-mixed-Aussie accent.

Mr Hansen and I were in-sync with each other when it came to narrating. He had a slight English accent, slightly worn off over the years he’d been in living in Papua New Guinea. He stood in front of the class as we all sat on the carpet (yes high-school, Indian-seated students) as he narrated in a strong voice. There were times he’d just let us do our own personal reading around the school where you’d find most of us just bumming, doing our hair, lying on the cushions in the senior common room. He was the most laid-back teacher I knew in high school. Every day, students would swarm into the English staffroom just to greet him and to check out his sentimental possessions on his desk; may it be a card from an old student, a piece of artwork dedicated to him, or a small toy that you can’t help playing with. He marked his spot at the right corner of the English staffroom, blocked by a wooden pole that stood between the view from the English staffroom door to his seat. Sometimes you’d find him just sitting there staring out the window in front of his desk, thinking with the tip of his reading glasses in his huge hands pressed between his lips, or he’d be marking papers, now his glasses hanging off the tip of his large nose. He was a tall guy, and probably only had an inch or two of a gap from banging his head on the frame of the door, so he must’ve stood at 6’5″. He was slightly balding but he didn’t mind it, in a sense that he didn’t use what was left of his hair to cover up his bald spots. He had funny beady eyes that were so piercing, with the top of his mouth covered with a bunch of hair that made up his huge mustache.

Every year, students who have left the school or graduated find themselves heading back there just to visit Mr Hansen. As a graduated student, there was a certain comfort that I would feel every time I walked into that familiar room and find Mr Hansen sitting at his desk marking papers. I remember heading home in 2002, a year after I graduated, I walked into school and saw that most of the younger students looked so much older. The place was swarmed with students I barely recognized and had felt like a stranger walking into the school I’d spend so many years in. The only comfort I would find was walking into the English staffroom and seeing him there. Year 12 was spent with us seniors having meetings with Mr Hansen since he was our year co-ordinator, and he also guided us in organizing a few shows like the UN Concert, or he was there to guide us through the senior forum for the whole school. We learned to depend on Mr Hansen if it wasn’t the school counsellor.

I used to spend hours talking with this guy. He always knew the latest gossip, how well the students were, where people who have left were and what they were doing. He was a very thoughtful guy who always had something good to say about people and he was always honest. Honest in a way that even if you were really good friends with him, he would mark you according to how well you were doing in class rather than how good of a friendship you both had (just as how all teachers should be; I know of some that relied on people sucking up to them.)

During my visit, he asked me about my ex-boyfriend Derick, and told me how much we suited each other and how I shouldn’t have let him go. I also saw his tired eyes while he expressed how much he wanted to leave the school because management was changing and he didn’t like these changes. He told me he was ready to leave the country and go to Fiji where there was a better job offer. He looked sad and he told me he was scared to leave Port Moresby and the school itself.

A year after that visit, I had just gotten back from Baguio when I received two missed-calls from my sister. When I finally got around to answering it, she told me the tragic news of Mr Hansen’s passing from a heart attack the day before. I sat on our apartment steps crying knowing it would be a while until my next visit to PNG, and know that when I do go back, I’d walk into the staffroom to find that spot in the corner empty.

** I first wrote this entry in 2005 in an old blog and I decided to repost and re-write this as a memoir to Mr Hansen. 12 years ago, I was walking around PowerBooks trying to decide which book to buy when I suddenly thought of him.
Fast-forward to now, I hardly read books and thinking about it seemed as though it was just a thing of the past. I do wish I could relive my love for reading but with the bloom of Netflix and online streaming, I probably wouldn’t have the patience and time for it.




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