Farewell speech – Zhengzhou, China – December 2010 – Thor May
Forty years ago I was working in a large government office in Sydney. There were many desks in the room, and my desk was the least important. At the desk in front of me sat a girl called Barbara Smith, who had very pretty legs and a very short skirt. I liked that. Then each desk towards the front of the room had a slightly older person. At the last desk was an old gentleman, ready to drop dead. He was the boss. In that room I could see my future for the next forty years, being promoted from desk to desk. I hated the idea and promised myself never to let it happen. From that time I knew exactly what I DIDN’T want to do. I didn’t want to know the future.
So you see, my presence here today is accidental by design. My career has been a happy accident. Until I came, I had no idea I would be teaching English language to Chinese students in Zhengzhou. If I were still in that Sydney government office, today I would be the old man at the front of the room, the boss. There would be a little ceremony to give me a retirement present, traditionally a gold watch. The next day everyone would forget me, and I would go away to a quiet place to die. As it happens, that’s what the old men in government offices in Beijing think I am going to do. Well, I have news for them.
Today is the end of one chapter in the book of life. My life book is the story of a wandering scholar. The wandering scholar was here at China’s beginning. It is an ancient tradition. Confucius himself was one of them. The old men in government offices have always been nervous of living wandering scholars. The office men like predictable people who can be controlled. But we are free spirits. My journey is not over yet. There are new paths to follow at every corner. I do not know where they will lead, and that is the way it should be.
Thank you friends for giving me comfort and shelter these past three years. I hope my teaching has been a small gift in return. I do not know when we will meet again, but our memories will be with us.