Monday, November 24, 2003

My Friend Derek

When I first arrived in Guangzhou, I was hot, exhausted, confused and suffering from that bewildered feeling that 16 hour flights have a tendency to produce. I retrieved my baggage from the baggage claim and then tried to find my way out of the airport.

I had to go through four people who spoke no English before I finally found someone to direct me to the exit. Discouraged, I headed through yet another check point amid all the stares, as mine was the only foreign face in that airport at that time.

Finally, approaching the exit, I saw a widely smiling face bearing a sign that said, “Welcome Jim Anderson!”

I can’t tell you what joy that brought me. China can be very intimidating and unfriendly at times and this was a welcome sight. This young man, whose English name is Derek, was to become my colleague, my friend, my confidant and at times, my royal pain in my ass.

This blog is dedicated to him.

Derek is 23 years old and speaks the best English in this school. He’s bright, pleasant, always has a smile to offer and his work ethic is phenomenal. Over the course of three months, Derek has been more than a friend. By all means and purposes, Derek was assigned to me. A virtual watchdog, to make sure I didn’t end up in jail or worse.

Sure, at times he’s had to endure my stubbornness, my anger, my frustrations and my nasty attitude in response to the Chinese methods and culture, but he has always stood firm in his friendship with me and has always helped me to see the brighter side of things.

Derek is leaving this school. He, like so many others, is tired and just plain worn out due to the demands this school puts on their Chinese teachers. Working until 12:00 midnight or 2:00 in the morning and then getting up early to ensure the kids get on and off the busses okay and line up to get to breakfast.

I’ve watched Derek slide downhill, like so many others here, his pleasant smile fading away week by week, until I was informed two days ago that he has put in his notice of resignation. I don’t believe this school realizes the loss they are about to endure.

The kids love him and refer to him by, “Mista Joe,” in regards to his Chinese name which I could not begin to pronounce. He is wonderful with the kids, a natural at teaching young children. He has been very helpful to me in all aspects of my job here but more so, he has been a good friend to me during my more difficult times here.

Derek might be 23, a mere child in comparison to my 48 years, but his philosophy in life and his helpful words when I was down and depressed after receiving some very hurtful news from home, has helped me to endure.

We’ve fought like an old married couple at times. His inability to make decisions versus my bull and thrash attitude, has collided many times but we always end up laughing about it later. I have learned much from this young man and I wish him well in his pursuits in life.

I will sincerely miss him.



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