Cut Loose at Fifty: Chapter Twenty Four – Some names on a rock
By Chris Clancy
May 2010. We got the new high speed train from Wuhan to Xianfan. Absolutely beautiful. Fast, spacious, clean and comfortable. The journey only took about two hours. A far cry the six hours or more it took on a bus.
From Xianfan a car was waiting to take us to DJK.
Robert, who was still the FAO at YYTC, met us outside the teacher's block. Thiti and I were given my old apartment for two nights – Mary got the one above us.
It had been nearly five years since my last visit. I have to say very little had changed. As for staying in my old apartment, the familiar bits and pieces and smells brought all sorts of feelings and memories flooding back.
In particular I thought of my first night in China, in that horrible room in Wuhan. I remembered lying awake - wondering what on earth I had done – and then morning came and my first and worst night in China was over.
And thereafter all the newness. Hardly time to think. Just trying to soak it all up.
By the time we settled in it was early evening. Robert and his deputy invited us for dinner. Afterwards Mary decided to to have an early night. Thiti and I went for a stroll around the campus. As we walked and talked I pointed out places and things.
The next morning was spent shopping. We then headed for the mountain I had climbed on my last day in DJK - before I set off for ZUEL.
There were two ways of getting to the top. Both were quite steep but one was a bit more treacherous – especially the last twenty meters or so. This was the one we ended up taking – I couldn't find the starting point for the easier route.
All told the climb would take about forty five minutes.
When we eventually got to the tricky part it was more difficult than I remembered. It was just rock – nothing to grab hold of – the safest method was to proceed on all fours. Unfortunately Thiti's legs were too short to negotiate the steepest bits so she said she'd wait there for us.
Mary and I pressed on for the top.
Once there it is flat and anvil-shaped – about half the size of a football field. We wandered around for a while - just taking the views in – and then I showed her my "happy moments" spot. It was an easy place to remember. Near to a pylon of some kind. I said when it came to it this was where I wanted my ashes scattered.
There or thereabouts.
She didn't say anything. Just nodded. No hugging. No dramatics.
One way or another it would be done.
We dallied for a while longer. I found the beginning of the easier route down and we began our descent. When we got about half way I looked across and saw that Thiti had started back down as well. She had stopped in front of a very large rock. It was roughly the same size and shape as a Volkswagen Beetle.
We made our way over to her.
She was scratching my name and hers onto the rock. She then added the date. Mary picked up a rock and followed suit.
We carried on down the mountain.
I wonder how many groups of walkers have trooped past that rock? I wonder if any noticed the names? Maybe they decided to add theirs?
I doubt if I'll ever go to that spot again – not this side of heaven – if there is such a thing.
Back in Wuhan Mary saw out the rest of her holiday and returned to the UK. A year later I became a granddad for the second time – she had a great little chap called Wyn.
Another semester slipped past. Once again I was offered a contract and signed it. I mentioned to someone this would be my seventh year in China. I was told that in Chinese the seventh year was known as the, "Walking away year". This meant if you stayed for more than seven years you'd never leave.
I thought nothing of it at the time. Thiti and I had already decided to just stick it out at ZUEL for three more years; then I'd retire and we'd move to Thailand.
She was more determined than ever to get working.
For her next attempt at self-employment, she started teaching English at home. She turned the spare room into a classroom. By the time she finished it was very nice. It could comfortably seat about four to six children.
Getting the kids was fairly easy but getting the money on time, if ever, was not. Thiti wanted to teach using Chinese and English. Some parents objected and withdrew their kids. They said it had to be English only. Then there was the problem of kids missing sessions which parents insisted had to be made up later.
It did make money, but at times was more hassle than it was worth.
My penultimate semester at ZUEL turned out to be far busier than I had anticipated. I was asked to put together a thirty two hour course for the foreign master's degree students. My lead time was two weeks. The main thrust of the thing was called, "Frontier Issues in Financial Accounting". Believe it or not this was actually quite interesting. Also, it brought me right up to date with what was going on.
Christmas 2010. The students turned up again and did their usual marvelous job. They were all senior students now. It was the last time we would be together like this.
A year later they would be dispersed all over China and around the world.
Thiti said something special had come to an end.
I came close to completing my seven years in China.
But not quite.
The call I had been expecting never came as such. In May 2011 the washing machine broke down. I called the FAO to report it. She said she'd have it seen to and then sorted of blurted out that my contract would not be renewed.
I can't say I was shocked. But I was surprised I was given so little notice.
I clearly remember saying, "Do you realize there's only five weeks left to the end of the semester?"
She didn't reply directly. She said a policy decision had been made. Foreign teachers would not be employed in the accounting department in future.
In other words, don't ask me any more questions, I'm just the messenger.
So there it was. The boom had finally been lowered. If anything it was a relief. We then had a choice to make. Stay in China or head for Thailand.
More or less on the spot we chose Thailand.
The next five weeks were like a blur; between packing, making travelling arrangements, booking tickets, wrapping up my teaching and selling what we could.
One of our possessions was an electric motor bike. The first time I saw it I thought of a line from Under Milk Wood:
"Call me Dolores, like they do in the stories".
If you can, think of an electric bike trying to pass itself off as a Harley-Davidson and you've got it. It was so ridiculous I fell in love with it straight away.
Of course, we called her, "Dolores"
The buyer was a very happy man – I wasn't - it hurt to sell her off so quickly and so cheaply.
Shortly before we left the department held a small informal leaving dinner. It was very nice, very friendly – no bad things going on.
Professor Tang was in charge; he had always been very fair and a friend. There were two people missing who I would have especially liked to have said goodbye to. Professor Zhang who had always shown me great kindness and Heather, who was always there for me if I needed help – particularly in the early years.
There are so many others I could mention but won't – it would turn into a litany.
The next day a very generous golden handshake appeared in my bank account. Where it came from, who authorized it, how they arrived at that amount, I'll never know – this was China – but it was most welcome.
July 31st, we flew from Wuhan to Guangzhou. Michelle was waiting there to see us off. This seemed very appropriate in many ways. Six years earlier, her act of kindness – unasked for and freely given – had saved my bacon. We had stayed in touch over the years. Followed each other's up's and down's and shared the good and the bad.
We had time to chat for an hour or so.
Then it was time to say goodbye.
She walked with us to security. I turned to say something to Thiti. When I turned back to Michelle she had started to cry.
Not crocodile tears. The real thing. Something very few foreigners will ever see; the great emotion and feeling which is locked deep inside so many Chinese people - rarely given vent.
I counted my blessings for my time in China.
By no means had it all been a joy ride – but I had no complaints – life cut me loose at fifty and sent me off on an adventure. In many different ways and on many different levels the experience had changed me greatly.
Had I made a difference in China? I very much doubt it. I left behind some people who may or may not think of me in years to come. I also left behind some names on a rock. Beyond that I'm not so sure.
But I wouldn't have swapped it. Not for anything.
As we boarded the airplane for Bangkok I remember thinking if I dropped there and then I wouldn't have cared too much. China had given me seven good years out of fifty-seven.
Given what had gone before, if I'd had to, I would've settled for that.
Was a new adventure beginning? I didn't have a clue. The move to Thailand was not quite the open-ended jump which China had been. But it was still a jump.
However, this time around there was one big difference.
I wasn't going it alone.
Chris Clancy lived in China for seven years. Most of this time was spent as associate professor of financial accounting at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law in Wuhan City, Hubei Province. He now lives in Thailand where he spends his time reading, writing, lecturing and, whenever he gets the chance, doing his level best to spread Austrian economics.