Co-incidences and my Journey to China
It was May
1st 1976 — I was at university. To kick the May Day festivities
off the student union organized a three-legged pub crawl. A map
was provided detailing ten pubs — the last being a student bar in
one of the Halls of Residence. The rules were that every male must
drink one pint of beer at each pit-stop. Females must consume a
half-pint of beer. Everything had to be verified by student union
officials. For those who made it to the Hall of Residence their
reward would be a free beer. After the third or fourth pub the maps
were no longer necessary — you just had to follow the trail of vomit.
My three-legged partner and I decided to call a halt to proceedings
at the fourth or fifth pub. We then headed off to find a party somewhere.
This was an easy job as there were so many going on that night.
So it was I
stumbled, much the worse for wear, into some party, at some time,
some where, that evening. There I met the girl who I would marry
two years later. From this meeting would follow four children and
a marriage which would end twenty-seven years later. I've often
wondered if the sequence of events on that evening, thirty-three
years ago, was just coincidence? If so then how meaningless and
random life really is. I have no religion but I find it difficult
to accept this one. There must be some reason or purpose to it all
even if the reason or purpose is beyond our comprehension. I suppose
that makes me agnostic; if so, then so be it.
I can see that there were many more such seemingly innocuous events
which led down unplanned and unimagined paths – most recently, there's
the string of circumstances which led me to China. But this one
was different — it proved to be seismic – life-changing.
in September 2003 — the beginning of yet another semester. We were
all busy enrolling new students. I received a message, out of the
blue, telling me to see one of the senior managers immediately.
I did so and was told that my services were no longer required —
I was to be made redundant. I was forty-nine years old.
I could have
"played the system" and strung the thing out for a year,
but I just couldn't be bothered. The redundancy package was good
and I accepted it; even if it was bad I would still have accepted
it. The truth is I'd had enough and was happy to go.
I decided to
take some time out. My wife and I had separated some seven years
before. I was working a long way from home so I could only travel
home at the end of each month to see the kids. I returned and rented
a place not too far away. I thought that maybe we could try and
make a go of things — get back to where we once had been. For the
first time in many years we would have time to talk. Unfortunately,
when it came down to it, we had nothing to say to each other. To
say we had become u2018strangers' sounds a bit too well-worn — but it's
the only word that really fits. The cracks in our relationship had
become canyons. Our lack of communication could no longer be blamed
on the pressure of work, children, money etc. We'd reached the end – we'd never ever get back to where we once had been. What a pity
so many years were wasted pretending that we could.
A few months
later — in January 2004 — my eldest son told me that he was going
to China to teach for a year. I don't know where he got the idea
from but off he went — to a city called Maoming in the southern
province of Guangdong. Time passed. By March I started to think
about returning to the world of work. I dreaded the thought of returning
to the sterile, politically correct world, which Education, and
everything else it seemed, had become.
In one of my
son's emails he suggested that I go over there to teach English
— after all I was just kicking my heels in England? I dismissed
it at the time – but a seed had been sown. By June I was beginning
to panic. My redundancy was running out. The seed started to grow.
I now had a choice. The easy one was to return to teaching in September
and put my time in until retirement. The unknowable one, the difficult
one, was to go to China. I think it's safe to say that for the first
time in my life I didn't take the easy way out — I chose China.
Even at that point, when the decision was made, I knew that if things
turned out just half right, I'd never return.
with a Chinese government agency called China TESOL Teachers Register
(CTTR). Their job is to find placements for foreign teachers. My
only stipulation was that I wanted to teach in a college or university.
Within a few days they put me in touch with a college called YunYang
Teachers College (YYTC). It was in a city called Dan Jiang Kou (DJK)
situated in the north-west of Hubei Province. I went to their website
and was very impressed with what I saw — beautiful gardens, lovely
teacher accommodation, nice teaching rooms and so on.
The job would
be to teach Oral English to English majors. I had never taught English,
never mind Oral English, so I spent some time reading up on it and
felt I could cope with it. I filled in all the necessary documentation,
of which there was surprisingly little, sent it off and that was
that – YYTC offered me a one-year contract and I accepted. I used
what was left of my redundancy to buy an airplane ticket. There
was no going back now — the die was cast.
The next two
months were a mixture of sorting things out, tying up loose ends
and all the time wondering just what in the hell I had done. The
truth is I had no idea. Had someone told me at the outset, just
how much I would have to learn, just how much I would have to change,
I doubt if I would have had the courage to come here in the first
journey to China began at the end of August 2004. My wife drove
me to a coach station. We didn't speak on the way. Our parting words
were as loveless as our marriage had become.
coming back?" she asked.
know" I replied
And that was
it. What a sad end. We exchanged divorce papers, by post, about
a year and a half later.
I flew from
London to Dubai. There I had a few hours to kill waiting for a connecting
flight to Shanghai. I wandered around the concourse and to my surprise
found an Irish pub. I treated my self to a pint of Guinness.
part of the journey began. Slightly mesmerised, I arrived in Shanghai
not knowing whether I was coming or going. I was met by someone
from YYTC — I would like to say it was a warm and friendly meeting
but it wasn't. Little was said. I was hustled off to buy a ticket
to take me to a city called Wuhan. As I waited I looked around the
concourse — not much different from any airport in the West. Most
of the shops were Western. Not that different from home really?
How much I
had to learn.
My surly companion
marched me to a check-in point and then on to security and departure.
As far as I remember she didn't even say goodbye. I'd read about
"Chinese hospitality" before beginning my journey — I
felt I must have got my wires a bit messed up here.
met me in Wuhan. She was younger. If the greeting in Shanghai was
a bit on the cool side then this one was ice cold. She just asked
my name and then I was driven to a run-down building. I was put
in a room and left there for the night. YYTC had said I would be
treated to a u2018banquet' in a luxury hotel on my first night — yeah
Time to reflect
— no longer about what in the hell I was doing – but about what
in the hell had I done?
I was starting
again at fifty, on the other side of the world, with one suitcase
and $400 in my pocket.
I didn't sleep
that first night. Just lay on my bed wondering if I hadn't just
made the worst mistake of my life.
Clancy [send him mail]
is Associate Professor of Financial Accounting at Zhongnan University
of Economics and Law in Wuhan, Hubei Province, People’s Republic