It all started on the tennis courts in fall 2008. I had recently moved to Victoria, BC for work and hardly knew anybody. Since I’ve always loved playing tennis, I signed up for lessons at a local recreation centre, hoping to meet new people besides getting some exercise. It turned out that every middle-aged player already had a life and -aside from the weekly classes- only a young Chinese student and I were left to hit a few balls on the weekend. I had no idea that this encounter should change my life profoundly and send me off onto a journey through Asia.
His English name is William. Although he very quickly outplayed me in every aspect of the game, we still continued to play. Slowly our unusual friendship grew and so did our little tennis group. With Dominic, Mark, Sam, and Woong as “regulars” we covered an age range from the early twenties to the early fifties with Canadian, Chinese, Filipino, German, Mexican, and South Korean origin.
William and I also enjoyed each others company when eating out once in a while. A year later -William had just come back from China- he said, next time I should come with him… Me? Going to China? Now, that would be something! Woong thought that’s a great idea and promptly invited William and me to visit him in Seoul. I knew the invitations were genuine and I loved the idea. It worried me that I might be a burden to my young friends. Their time with family and friends in their home countries was so limited. How can I take away their parents’ time when we can always meet in Canada?
Eventually I agreed, determined to be as independent as possible and not rely too much on my friends. Naively I thought, maybe learning a little bit of the language would help. With half of the time planned in China and half in South Korea, which language should I pick? Conveniently, UVIC offered Mandarin for Beginners in their continuing education program in fall. It didn’t take long to realize that I had bitten off far more than I could swallow and that my few words wouldn’t help me at all on my first journey to Asia.
Regardless, I had a fantastic time in both countries. My friends’ families welcomed me with open arms, something I will never forget. I knew that I wanted to come back.
I kept picking along on my Chinese studies, hoping that one day it might become useful. In fall 2018 I set off for my eighth trip to China and I’m thinking already about the next one…
My travels through Asia -mostly China- aren’t limited to my time abroad. I also connected with many immigrants in Canada, and some of them have become very close friends.
This blog is the story about my journey, the amazing people I met, and the spectacular places I went to as well as my struggle learning the language and its huge rewards. It is about how it has changed and enriched my life immensely. It’s never too late for dreams and new beginnings – go for it, don’t wait.