by William S. Boswell, Jr.
If someone had told me ten years ago, or even three years ago, that one day I would be living and working in “red” China, I would have told him or her that they were “as crazy as a loon!” But life takes many twists and turns and few of us live out the life we anticipate. After an involuntary retirement at age sixty-two I found myself totally bored and feeling pretty worthless. I realized that I had to find something to do that would bring in some revenue and, even more important, something that would make me feel useful. I made some contacts locally and, even though no one ever said “you’re too old,” I finally realized that there were few jobs for people at sixty-two. Travel has always been a passion of mine so I determined to find something that would allow me to work and travel.
I turned to the Internet and quickly discovered that teaching English overseas was a huge industry and getting bigger each year. I ended up in Seoul, South Korea teaching for a year. Korea was quite a culture shock for a country boy from a Mississippi town of about 7,000 population. But I adjusted and had a good year there. There were a lot of “westerners,” and I lived in an area adjacent to the large U.S. Army base. There were many western ethnic restaurants along with the expected Korean, Chinese and Japanese eateries.
China – The Trip
Then in January, 2003, I found myself enroute to the People’s Republic of China to teach in a brand new school in Shiyan, Hubei Province. The trip over was a horror.
I left Memphis about 6 in the morning and flew to Chicago. I once said I would never make another flight from O’Hare Airport, but you know – twists and turns. After a long layover in Chicago I flew to Tokyo and from there to Hong Kong. The plane from Chicago to Tokyo was crowded and I was packed into the window seat with two people between me and relief. I arrived in Hong Kong about 11:30 in the evening. The school had reserved a hotel room for me there, so I got a good, but short, night’s sleep. The next morning I took a taxi to the Macau ferry pier, and by 8:30 I was headed across the strait to the mainland.
Macau, like Hong Kong, has special status and, although a part of China, can be entered with only a U.S. passport. At the border I obtained a visa, went through immigration and customs and was on a bus for Guangzhou. I looked out at the farms and villages and realized I was truly in Communist China.
Guangdong Province is where SARS started and has been in the news daily lately. Since it lies just across the strait from Hong Kong it reflects probably more western influence than any other part of China. Even so, I could tell that many of the people lived a very low economic life. Many of the buildings were dingy and appeared to be in need of repair or, at the very least, a coat of paint.
I was met in Guangzhou by the wife of the co-director of my school. Believe me, I was ready to have someone to rely on. “Grace” took me to the airport and bought me a ticket for Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province. I was met there by Mr. Nei who I discovered later was the husband of the other co-director of the school. Mr. Nei and two of his friends took me to supper and then put me on the train for an overnight trip to Shiyan.
I was on a sleeper. I was in a compartment with an upper and lower bunk on either side and a small table on the outside wall under the window. I had three companions who, of course, were complete strangers. Fortunately, we left Wuhan at 10:20 in the evening so we all quickly settled down to sleep, or try to.
I had been instructed to stay on the train when it got to Shiyan. Shiyan was the final stop so it was safe to remain there until someone arrived to pick me up. As it turned out, I was just getting my shoes on when Wendy Tan and Joe Chi, the co-directors, arrived at the door of my compartment. The China adventure had begun.
Bill Boswell is a retired CPA. He’s a graduate of Delta State University and lives (when he’s not traveling) in Amory, Mississippi. He and his wife Nancy are the parents of 4 and the grandparents of 2. He’s been active in the Rotary Club for many years, and has hosted exchange students from all over the world.
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