I am beyond excited to feature this guest post by Rachel Cartland, author of the new memoir, Paper Tigress: A Life in the Hong Kong Government (Blacksmith Books, 2013). In 1972, Rachel Cartland was just one of two female expatriates to join the elite Administrative Grade of the Hong Kong Government. She retired in 2006 and therefore has amazing stories to share in her book. In this post, she describes her transition from civil servant to author! Here’s Rachel:
Work is important to most of us. My new book, Paper Tigress, is principally concerned with the enjoyment and meaning I derived from my career as a civil servant in Hong Kong. All the same, the point in our lives at which we are released from the need to spend most of our days in a workplace offers possibilities for new directions and re-invention.
So what did I do when I was presented with just this chance a few years ago? Travel to the Gobi Desert? Start ranching llamas? Re-create the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the living room? Nah, I had been a bureaucrat after all. I went on a computer course. This was actually a rather urgent requirement. I belong to the generation of “digital migrants” and, worse still, those who had secretaries whose presence relieved us of the need to master for ourselves much more than the sending of the simplest of e-mails. Raymond, our teacher, was young, handsome and charming. He was also a genius. His genius lay not so much in an ability to write complex algorithms as in his readiness to accept that his students really didn’t understand the simplest things and his willingness to explain them slowly and patiently. I determined to find a way to exploit him.
I went to the YWCA to discuss the running of some computer courses with Raymond as instructor. The British lady with whom I was dealing asked me the standard Hong Kong questions of any expatriate as to how long ago I had arrived and what had brought me here. She was taken aback by my answers of “almost forty years” and “to be one of the only two expatriate women in Hong Kong’s Administrative Grade.” She was sure that members of the “Y” would be fascinated by my life story and asked if I could put together a talk for them. I said that I could.
As it turned out, I was right but she was wrong. I attracted an audience of just three, one of these being a staff member drafted in to help me not to feel so bad. A third of the audience, though, was composed of the peerless Ildiko and that more than compensated. Ildiko was a newly arrived “trailing spouse”, an unfortunate name for a group of people who are often highly intelligent and talented but whose reason for being in Hong Kong is because of a partner’s employment. Ildiko’s questions were so perceptive and her comments so positive that I was infected with her enthusiasm. Accordingly, that very evening I Googled “Publishers in Hong Kong” and sent to the first name on the list the text that I had used and which, thanks to Raymond, was set out in a nice Word document. Since this is Hong Kong where magical things happen, even to retired civil servants, a process thereby began which culminated a few weeks ago in my seeing my book on display in the shops.
What next? Well, frankly, the living room ceiling does look a little dull. Hand me those paintbrushes, Michelangelo!!
To learn more about Rachel and to hear her interview with Stuart Beaton, click here.