A former Prince George resident has turned a childhood interest into an unexpected career path.
Philip Calvert left the country Sunday en route to Thailand, where he begins a four-year term as Canadian ambassador to the southeast Asian country.
It may have been a 26-hour voyage from his Ottawa departure point, but Calvert's journey truly began in the mid-1970s as a student in Keith Gordon's Grade 12 class at Prince George secondary school.
"We had a section on China's history, which was kind of unusual in the History 12 curriculum," Calvert remembered. Coupled with the Eastern philosophies he picked up as a student of the Korean martial art hapkido, Calvert was inspired to declare a major in Chinese history as a student at the University of British Columbia.
"People thought I was a little bit crazy then, but it worked out for me," he said.
Despite not predicting any job prospects, Calvert continued with his studies, earning a Masters in Chinese history from Toronto's York University. He spent his summers back in B.C. piling lumber at sawmills and eventually working for the B.C. Forest Service.
"For three summers I was a forestry lookout on Pilot Mountain. I never really anticipated doing Chinese and Chinese history leading to a job," he said.
But an application to the federal government yielded a post-exam job offer in 1982, just as Calvert was planning to pick up more work with the Ministry of Forests.
"I got this call saying 'we're going to hire you to be in Foreign Affairs' and 'come to Ottawa.' So I did," he recalled.
From 1984 to 1987, Calvert was stationed in Beijing as second secretary and responsible for promoting commercial interests and helping Canadian private sector companies increase their presence in the Asian market.
Through the years, he has also served as deputy chief negotiator for Canada for China's accession to the World Trade Organization and as both counsellor and deputy head of mission in Beijing. For the past four years, Calvert worked from Ottawa as director general of the North Asia Bureau.
Now the father of three is responsible for raising Canada's profile in Thailand as well as Laos and Cambodia.
The relationship with the country is a good and multi-faceted one, according to Calvert.
And while Thailand is still recovering economically from the impact of the 2011 floods, their major import from Canada is wood pulp.
"Thailand's a big economic player in the region. We have about $3.5 billion in bilateral trade with them," he said, adding the two countries have also begun exploratory discussions for a free trade agreement.
As much as Calvert enjoys living in Asia and is looking forward to the Thai experience he has a soft spot for the city and region he called home from the age of four.
"I'm representing Canada abroad but I always remember where I'm from," Calvert said. "I think there's lots of opportunities we can pursue in my region [of Asia] that are of interest to Prince George and northern BC... I'll be thinking about northern BC when I'm there."