Fifty years ago tonight I was riding my bicycle through the darkened streets of Bournemouth from my boarding school proper, to the dormitory where I slept. It was damp as it always was in January in coastal towns in England. I sometimes detoured down Durley Chine and over to Alum Chine to delay arriving at the dorm where only bedtime awaited me, and to experience the rush of careening through the shadows between street lights exhilarated by the speed and the fear of crashing into someone walking his dog or slipping on damp leaves and falling into the chasm that ran down the centre of what was really a drainage ditch down which storm waters raged occasionally to the sea. It was the cold, damp sea air blowing up those darkened pathways that came rushing back to me. Those were vivid memories, brought back suddenly to me tonight at 63 years of age halfway around the world from England, yet it seemed like I had been transported across time and space to that earlier time in another place.
It was damp this evening in Longtan Township, Taiwan, forty kilometres south of Taipei, 74% humidity in fact, according to the weathernetwork.com. I was riding my bicycle through the darkened streets, keeping a lookout for stray dogs that lurked along this road just as I had as a schoolboy long ago in England. I felt the chill from the damp air as I passed the itinerant gardens of locals that filled the green spaces between blocks of apartments spaced at half kilometre intervals along Meilong Road, on the way to my residence. I lived in teacher’s rooms at the dormitory of one of Taiwan’s best boarding schools, where I was a schoolmaster. The eerie similarity struck me with some force as I unzipped my jacket and felt the cool, moist air hit my chest and neck. Was I stuck in some half century long rut of life in a boarding school environment, forever living in rooms, eating at the cafeteria, as if never growing up or adopting a regular life like other folks?
The resemblances were striking, it was not just a metaphor, the bike riding – I have been doing that all my life, then as a commuting vehicle to school, now because triathlon is my hobby, my passion, the dormitory then because I was a boarder, now because I am here alone and the dorm room is free, which saves a lot of money, when you add in meals, the damp air, the night ride, it was uncanny how history, my story, repeats itself.
Then, I was learning, never suspecting I might become a schoolteacher myself. Now, I was enjoying the interaction with the students, a great bunch of kids 15 to 17 years of age from well-off families in Taiwan, feeling that maybe I was making a positive contribution to their lives. I certainly never hoped that any of them would end up as a teacher, perhaps living in a boarding school in England. That would be too ironic.