Born to fly
Updated: 2011-04-08 12:25
By Mike Peters (China Daily European Weekly)
Hungarian flight instructor teaches Chinese pilots the way up
When Oliver Racz climbed aboard a commercial jet for the first time to come to China he was only 9 but his dream to fly was well-established. "According to my parents, the first thing I ever said before 'mama?and 'papa?was: 'There flies the helicopter??he says. "I was almost three and my parents were beginning to worry that I would not talk. I was definitely into airplanes at a very young age, but then many kids are, I guess."
That first flight for young Oliver was in 1991, and although the Beijing-based flight instructor from Hungary has been in many planes since, that day is still vivid 20 years later.
Oliver Racz always has his camera handy when he's flying high
"At that time, cockpit visits were quite normal and I did get in the flight deck of a Boeing 747-200, classic instrumentation with lots and lots of dials, and a three-man crew with a flight-engineer station," he says.
"From that time on if I was not drawing airplanes taking off or landing, I was drawing buildings and streets from a bird's-eye view."
That's no surprise to anyone who visits Racz's social-networking pages. While his friends might have pictures of themselves standing in front of the Eiffel Tower or alongside Mao's portrait at Tian'anmen Square, his profile photos are mostly aerial views from his travels: Looking through the clouds at a rainstorm over Fort Pierce in the US state of Florida; startling blue curves of the Crooked River, seen from 23,000 feet above the state of Oregon, and sun gleaming off tundra ice somewhere above Nunavut in the Canadian Arctic.
"My life revolves around flying," Racz says. "There are always a lot of new things to learn and one can never know enough about flying."
Racz could say the same about China. "The first time I came I was a little lad," he says. "It wasn't my idea, but I wasn't against it."
His father was the military attach at the Hungarian embassy and his parents decided that culture immersion would be good for their son, who promptly found himself enrolled in a Chinese primary school.
"Having to learn the language was not such a big problem for me," he says. "What was more difficult to get into was the different method of teaching."
Students were not taught creative thinking or correlation, he says. In drawing class, he remembers, "the students who could copy a picture best got the best grades. And when we read poetry, we would be taught the book's interpretation of the poem, but we were not encouraged to try to think about our own interpretations".
After two years in a system of learning by rote, the boy was moved to the Pakistan embassy school after two years for several reasons.
"My older sister was already there," he says. "And the Pakistani school was styled like a British curriculum, so as a European it was more familiar to me. Plus, my parents decided that I had acquired some basic Chinese and now it was time to learn English."
The family went back to Hungary in 1995, but Racz had not had his fill of China.
"I found it much more difficult to go home than I did to come to China in the first place," he says. "Back at home I found I didn't really fit in any more. I always wanted to talk about different cultures and travel, but that wasn't relevant or interesting to other kids."
So when his father was re-posted to China in 2001, just after Oliver had finished high school, he was eager to come back to Beijing with his parents.
"This time, the choice was mine," he says. "I had good memories of China, and I wanted to learn Chinese better anyway, so it made sense for me."
Racz was accepted at Beijing Language and Culture University.
"At university, the teaching method was better than what I remembered from the primary school," he says. "They are more used to foreign students there, too."
But all the while, his dreams of flying persisted.
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