On January 3, 2002, I made a decision that would change my life completely, and I think, for the better. Five years earlier, I had retired from my teaching career in Waterloo County and had become a cab driver and eventually a part owner of a cab in Waterloo. That was a big change, and one I enjoyed beyond imagining, but something bigger loomed on the horizon, and it showed itself because my cab broke down on that January the third.
Since I could not drive, I decided to tag along with a friend who was a cab driver but was also a part time social worker. On this particular day, it turned out that he had a meeting with someone, so I borrowed his car and dropped in on a friend who had just returned to his job after an eight-month sabbatical. We had a nice chat during which I discovered that he had spent four of those months working at a private English school in a place I had never heard of – Harbin, China. Moreover, he had returned to Canada having promised to try to recruit teachers for the school. It did not take him long to recruit me for a few reasons. First, I was primed for an adventure. Second, I did not have to do anything but go; he arranged my Visa. Third, they offered me a decent wage of 6000 Ren Min Bi (Chinese dollars, sort of) per month and a free apartment. It did not bother me that I would be making about $1200 CAD per month because I was ready to go and I trusted him. As an aside, it turned out that I could not spend all of that money each month and was even able to have savings.
Eight months later, near the end of August, I was off with more baggage than was necessary (I could still get away with it in 2002) and fifty pocketbooks to slake my reading thirst. Those silly books taught me an important lesson over the next eighteen months. I read them in this order – which one appealed the most on the day I had finished the last one. I found ultimately that they were all appealing and all great reads. I suppose this proves one of two things. Either, that if you are desperate for reading material in your language, anything seems wonderful, or that I had impeccable taste in books. I know that the second is unlikely since I have often chosen unreadable books over the past several years, and I do not read them; they go back to the library immediately. Oh! and the lesson. Everything has it’s time and need not be rushed.
My China journey lasted, with intervals back in Canada, until 2010 when we returned to stay. You’ll note that I said we because I was accompanied by my wife Anny and her son Alex. Those are their chosen English names, a practice that is quite common in China for anyone who studies English in school.
During my stay I had many, many adventures most of which appear in my book Finding Myself in Northern China. It is available from Amazon in Kindle form at a very reasonable price. Below is a review of the book. I will probably share some excerpts over the coming weeks.
” I stumbled upon Roger Clark’s fascinating memoir of his years teaching in Harbin, China, a city of several million people that few westerners are likely to have ever heard about. In my case, however, my wife was born and raised there, so his story immediately intrigued me. I read it in about a day, as it was an engaging chronicle, mostly of journal entries and newsletters he sent to friends and family during his stay.
One might think that such writings could be tedious and stuffed with self-indulgence, but Clark keeps things moving along swiftly with a wry sense of humor and a healthy dose of humility. These traits served him well as he made his way through the maze of differences between his native Canada and China. It is the challenge of this endeavor that provided his inspiration. Mr. Clark was in his late fifties and retired when he decided to test his ability to take on this soul-searching sojourn alone, hence the clever title.
I found Clark’s writing smart, economic, and thoughtful, and his observations and moments of clarity moving, creating an ideal primer for those who enjoy such books. For those thinking of teaching abroad or perhaps even visiting China, this book is an easily read yet powerful meditation on the age-old west v. east clash of culture.
The world overflows with personal takes on life-changing experiences and the transformative power of living in a strange land and I’ve certainly read my share. However, Roger Clark’s addition is one of the best I’ve ever read and highly recommended to the curious nature in all of us.” Steve
I am the author of The Summer of the Ennead and I want to use this blog to engage readers in a dialogue about what this book means to me and what I think it has to say to others.