Not Yet by Wayson Choy
Not Yet by Wayson Choy
Wayson Choy is a Canadian of Chinese heritage, born almost 70 years ago, and raised in Vancouver’s China town. He has been a resident of Toronto for many years, recently retired from teaching at Humber College. How I envy the students who had this man for their teacher. Wayson Choy is one of the most genuinely kind and generous people I have ever met. A man generous of spirit in a way that is hard to find.
I first met Wayson Choy in March 2006 when he came to Parry Sound to do a reading. He was the most inspiring speaker we have ever hosted, and we considered ourselves very lucky to have him here. Wayson had accepted my invitation to present a reading scheduled for November 2005 – and had to postpone because of ill health. He was very ill indeed, and not for the first time. At the age of 62 Wayson, who had suffered from allergies and asthma, had what he thought was just a severe asthma episode that would pass. His housemates, Karl and Marie, took him to the hospital, where he was admitted immediately, put on a ventilator, and into a drug induced coma. He could hear voices, he knew that people who loved him were there, and he knew he didn’t want to die.
He did not die, but his illness left him with a tremendous amount of rehabilitation to accomplish before he could return home. The perseverance and the effort involved in keeping himself focused and optimistic is beyond anything I have the slightest understanding of. But, he did it. He recovered from his illness and stepped out into life again.
Wayson is a man always ready for the next event - lunch with friends in the city, a visit to friends in the country, trips to his childhood city of Vancouver, literary readings or teaching opportunities across Canada or in foreign countries. He is a man on the go, curious and gregarious in his own gentle way. He was not about to let this very scary illness stop him – but ghosts almost did. On a visit to Vancouver it was discovered that he had two ghostly companions with him, terrifying his friends, until Wayson was convinced to allow them to be “exorcised” – not that he actually believed in them - but just in case.
After his recovery Wayson had the opportunity to travel to China for the first time, to narrate a film about Confucius. He was able to perform all of his duties in spite of the repressive climate that made his breathing difficult. He had gone to China expecting to find a spiritual connection with the country where his parents were born, where the stories he grew up with had originated. In spite of his best efforts, walking the streets among the market stalls where he could picture his family there a generation before, he did not feel any connection himself. Wayson has always called him self a banana – yellow on the outside and white on the inside. When he got off the return flight in Toronto, “I knew now, with certainty, where my bones belonged.”
After his return to Toronto, and three years after his illness, Wayson had slowly let his exercise program fall away; his diet returned to his pre-illness menu choices and he had gained back all of the weight he’d lost during his illness. He was definitely not fit. Combined with a full time teaching schedule and a busy social life, he knew he was not well once again. Accepting that it was time to retire, he did so. He hired a personal trainer to get his body back in shape. All of this did not prevent a future heart attack, but it did give him the stamina to survive a quadruple bypass.
All of this, and more, make up the lovely little book Not Yet published this spring. Wayson writes about his experience in the hospital with clarity and his own lovely way of expressing his innermost emotions.
I had the great pleasure of attending the launch party for this book a few weeks ago in Toronto, and congratulating the very lovely – and fit and healthy Wayson Choy. Not Yet is both an inspirational and invigorating book.