June 23, 2021

Finding Time for Play in Retirement

They say retirement is one long vacation, and in some sense, it’s true. For the first time in a long time, new retirees find they finally have time to play. For Robert Wong, a retired teacher living in Edmonton, retirement has been his first real chance to relax since joining the workforce at the age of twelve. He’s taking full advantage of it, and reconnecting with the childhood he’s missed out on.

Robert first came to Canada from Hong Kong in 1975, and not long after arriving, got a job to help support his family. “I started working in a restaurant after school and on weekends,” he says. “You show up before the restaurant opens, and when the restaurant closes, that’s when you start cleaning. There were a lot of late nights.”

After joining the workforce at such a young age, and then transitioning straight into his career as a teacher, Robert hasn’t had much time to play or explore his own creativity. Even during summer vacation, he found himself spending most of his time anticipating the school year to come.

But after retirement, and especially with the pandemic locking things down, he suddenly found he had more free time than he had ever known before. After doing different things to keep busy, he discovered he wanted to build something, specifically, models of buildings that represented his heritage.

Lego sets can get pretty expensive, and there aren’t even many Chinese sets available, but after some initial experiments, Robert found he had a knack for building without kits or instructions. In fact, he found he could create a model building with nothing but polymer clay, styrofoam, recycled materials, and a little paint. Before long, he found himself creating not only traditional Chinese buildings, but places he remembered from his childhood in Hong Kong.

“When I started making these models, I started remembering details about my childhood,” he says. “Sights, sounds, and smells. They all started coming back to me. I realized I’ve missed Hong Kong, and I’ve missed the playtime I had as a child.”

The models he creates are all based on Hong Kong as he remembers it, in the 1970s, and they include restaurants, pharmacies, bakeries, residences, and more. At this point, Robert has created a significant portion of his old neighbourhood.

When travel restrictions lift, Robert plans to visit Hong Kong and inland China, though the world represented in his models is long gone. “Everything I build is how I remember it in the 1970s,” he says. “But that version of Hong Kong doesn’t exist anymore. The city is always changing.”

But of course, that just means there is a new version of the city to explore, and Robert plans to take his time exploring it. “The time for play and adventure is now,” he says. “It started the moment I retired.”