WHEN I was in High School, growing up on the West side of Chicago in the late '60s, there were certain books assigned to read and analyze and report on. I have to admit one such book really had me hooked. It was a sci-fi book written by Robert Heinlein in 1961 called "Stranger in a strange land."
It is the story of a child born on earth sent to Mars at birth who is raised by Martians then returned to Earth as a young adult. So while from this Earth and a human, he sees it from the perspective of a foreign culture he grew up in. It was no great classic, so not sure how it got into the Chicago School system but at any rate, there it was.
Right out of high school, I entered the Army... serving just as my two older brothers before me had done. I had a plan to give the Army just a few years of my life then get out and with some funds from the GI Bill, start college. A simple goal in those days was to join the Chicago Police Force. Not to be a hard-charging cop but rather the analytical hostage team type. That was the plan.
In the military, I was trained as a medic and after trainings in Washington State and Texas, I was set off to Asia.
That is when my life took an interesting twist... as that two-year stint in the Army became a total six-year stint in the military, followed by another 40 years and counting living and working around Asia. There was something I felt even in my first week in Asia... a connection I couldn't explain. The sights and sounds, the flavors and textures of Asia felt very familiar...very comfortable right from the beginning. While my fellow young GI's were homesick... I was thriving. What was further strange is as the youngest of three sons, we all served in Asia but for my brothers, they just did their two years and restarted their lives back home in Chicago. What was it about me, about my background and interests that took me on such a different path?
Back to the book, when the young man came home to Earth, he saw things completely differently and never quite felt, he was where he was meant to be. But he always impacted others greatly with his view on his environment that should have been familiar but now through the view of "A stranger in a strange land."
So that is why my new bi-monthly column will run under this title. I will be sharing in future columns about the 7 countries I have lived and worked in over these years, the jobs I have done, the people famous, infamous and ordinary I have interacted with and what my interests and passions are that you might find of interest as well. I will share seeing Asia I lived in through the '70s, the '80s, the '90s and into the 2000s grow and develop.
As you might expect, I have had a unique front-row seat to the history and culture of Asia which I hope to make come alive to you as well through being a simple storyteller. And I will always do so through my eyes... which for 40 plus years have been those of a "Stranger in a Strange Land." Strange not in a bad sense but rather strange as in unique and special.
I will see you back here in a couple of weeks... hope you'll enjoy the journey.
(Jim Ward is a retired American who has lived in Asia 45 years and counting, 24 of those years here with us in the Philippines. He was a Medic in the Army, a Senior manager in logistics field around Asia for 24 years plus another 10 as a business owner and entrepreneur here in Baguio. Jim fully retired in 2016 but remains busy as coordinator of a Buddhist Sangha, co-founder and coordinator for a bicycle advocacy group, Warden for the US Embassy in Baguio and serves on the Board Of Trustees for the Balay Sofia Waldorf School here in Baguio)