South Africa is a country with a rich and diverse heritage. Its history steeped in struggles, as South Africans pursued their dream of finding a place where they belonged.
James Chang, a former Newcastillian, and his family are among these people. Moving to South Africa in September 1982 from Taiwan, they dreamed of beginning a new life and a fresh start.
However, upon arriving in South Africa, they were met with a daunting obstacle. One which would mould James and his family in more ways than one. The obstacle of Apartheid.
James Chang is known among Newcastle residents as a feisty and caring individual.
A man who always strives to put the needs of his family, his friends and the community ahead of his own. However, very few know of the overwhelming challenges he faced in life.
Challenges which did not always involve his career at the Department of Justice or his business. Now, years later, living in Johannesburg, James is baring his soul for all to see.
This follows the publication of his first book, My Journey as a “coloured person” to the Apartheid South Africa.
What led James to write his book? What led him to share his life with scores of strangers?
“When my grandmother passed away, I decided to write a book ending her era in time on what has transpired between the grandparents. At that stage, I already collected quite a bit of photos from going to courts with quite some stories which were untold. However, a minor heart attack in 2011, of which I managed to recover from using Chinese “herbal” medicine, made me see that I needed to do something urgently. Something which I have wanted to do for so long, as I believe I have not accomplished two things in life. I have a saying that sometimes death smiles at us if we are not careful and that every day is a loan from above, so spend it wisely,” he explains.
Furthermore, the book was a way to help him overcome the depression he faced due to his sister’s tragic death when they were still children. An incident which left an overwhelming mark on his life.
Through sharing his experiences and his journey through life, James feels he has grown as a person. But, just exactly has he grown?
“Work wise, I believe that all experiences, comfortable or not, are key to personality change for ourselves to adapt. We seldom realize that when we are in a comfort zone, we take things for granted. So yes, our attitude in chief determines the altitude you fly.”
However, James emphasises that by simply maintaining one’s altitude, one should not stop flying and stop trying.
“Because gliding will mean that you will lose altitude. That is why we always perform for a short while until we get a sjambok to our bums to tell you wake up. Well, I realized that I don’t need a sjambok, as I was constantly thinking and on the move.”
However, on the other hand, in personal experiences, James believes it is pivitol that a person learns to accept themselves.
“By accepting yourself you are curing yourself of self-neglect or reject. People often see in themselves, low esteem, or negativity. They don’t see the reason causing that. No matter what right or wrong you did, find the root to the cause of your problems. Dig into it to investigate the cause and defuse it. So, be agile, willing and humble in all learning turns and ways. That is what made me grow as a person.”
Exposing his soul and life to the world to see, his book sees the reader on the verge of tears at one moment, while laughing at the next. His journey in South Africa both tragic and humorous. However, what does James hope to achieve with his book?
“I hope to motivate people around us, in order for them to see the positivity in life. We all have difficulties, but we are not alone. The world may be cruel and cold, but experience is what makes you grow. Comfort zones means no challenges, but with crisis we find open doors. Obviously if we sit and do nothing, there will be no doors.”
James adds that people who are currently suffering negativity and hardship are also strong people.
“For them to endure the pressure of negativity in life, makes them all special and the day that they succeed in changing the circumstance means light at the end of the tunnel. I call it “a lesson from God for you to learn and graduate.” If I say motivate earlier, I should rather say let us hold hands, acknowledge many of us are there with you and bring out the best in us.”
Striving to make an impact in people’s lives through his book, what experiences in life made him choose to become the person he is today?
“The experience in denial of who I am and the guilty feeling that subconsciously has been feathering my mind was my biggest problem. I was depressed inside, even when I looked happy. Nobody knew, but I kept on my quest to find what was wrong with me, what made me depressed or haunted me. I later accepted such existence in me. By accepting, I found ways to part from it. For example, I wasn’t in control of the situation or incidents that made me feel depressed. And I broke it down into phases, to investigate each feeling in association to many factors. I believe life coaching yourself is possible. I think I did it in my terms and managed it. So, going through all this made me understand myself better and helped me choose to have my own character. Some people ask, what person would you like to become in the future? I would rather say find yourself first. And from there you will then decide wisely.”
Through writing his autobiography, James experienced a lot of emotions. Emotions from his life that he had pushed aside for so long.
“There are a lot mixed emotions. I had emotions of depression, anxiety, fear, happiness, hatred, bitterness, and some spiced up moments. There were times where I would ask myself, shall I disclose of this or that? Or what will people think of my content in context? But I have come to realize that we all judge and the aftermath of judging others is a reflection on yourself. So, dropping fear and my mask, I carried on with the book. Honestly speaking a friend of mine once said wow…is this your life? I said yes, and she said it takes guts to disclose what you have been through because I wouldn’t write about myself and disclose of it fully. It feels like that you are then naked. That is why I salute writers that have written past books where they reflect their journey.”
Following the conclusion of his autobiography and with two sons, what lessons would he like to leave with his children? Especially after he has experienced in life.
“We teach our children through actions, where they imprint learning curves in stages of growing up. But sometimes, we all do wrong and they take that as a lesson. These few years in Johannesburg, I understood one basic principle which is that people don’t see.”
James elaborates further by explaining how children are in fact our teachers.
“So as much as I am teaching them by action, they are giving me the opportunity to learn in how to be a parent. Like I always say, I was not born a father or parent and neither was my wife Mandy. I have always told my children to be themselves, be proud and compassionate and think outside the box to which I always say, take that step back to see inside the ring better in order to make decisions that suits best for their lives.”
Looking at the youth, James reminds youngsters that no one can judge you for any decisions you made, whether right or wrong, criminal intentions aside though. He believes all choices are a lesson from the All Mighty, which will give you the chance to grow.
“Fame and glory are important, but a healthy mind is more important than any materialistic needs. Yes, it is difficult to be yourself, because we all want to please others in order to be accepted. But I would like to ask you this question, have you pleased yourself? And do you accept yourself for who you are?”
Furthermore, he encourages the youth to try and identify people who make them laugh and smile.
“The reason this is important, because with laughter, the depression, denial and anxiety you are experiencing will disappear and it will give you a moment of happiness and hope, bringing warmth and sunshine to you. Build those moments to defray negativity with positive friends. I have done just that, and it worked perfectly. Hence, I wrote in my book at the back, To all of you, family and friends by my side, with thanks and love.”
With scores of life lessons and experiences shared in his book, when will James’ autobiography be released?
“The book is already registered and should be available in a week or so, with hard copies printed first in two editions,” James says.
The limited edition is available on request and also for the Newcastle community. “It is where I grew up and where I met Mandy, and with this said I also want to tease my friends in Newcastle with the question, do you really know me?”
Hard Copies can be ordered from the website www.cmtbs.co.za or through email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Well done to James Chang for sharing his experiences and for always being a true Newcastillian. No matter where he now lives.