Bye-bye China

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.

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