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楼主: 老姚

[中学] A Journey to the West: from China to Cambridge and Stanford.

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 楼主| 发表于 2018-7-23 14:51:37 | 显示全部楼层
本帖最后由 老姚 于 2018-07-23 14:54 编辑

For latest update, please visit http://AJourneyToTheWest.co.uk/

Thursday, 6 July 2000, Middle School Year 3, Shijiazhuang, China

The proverb “Where there is a will, there is a way” was (and is) very applicable in China. For most things, there was a backdoor way which promised to be way more customer friendly than the official bureaucratic way. So I was only a little surprised when I was asked whether I wanted to know my result for the Middle School Graduation Exams before the official result release date.

The agent of course was very secretive about his source. Beside saying it was someone in the education department, he would not disclose anything. “it is highly confidential!” But he promised the results will be 100% accurate or otherwise, I could have my money back.

So one week ahead of the release date, I got his call. He said I got 466 out of total 600. It was a little disappointing as I had been getting around 500 in all the mocks, but maybe one was supposed to do worse in the real thing? Anyway, the practical difference between 466 and 500 was small as the two best high schools in the city, conveniently named No. 1 High School and No.2 High School, both need 540+ for a place. If not being able to go there, I was just going to stay at my current school which I quite enjoyed. As a current student, 466 would be sufficient.

Then came the official release date, I called the result hotline and after giving my Student ID, I was given the result: Total 466, Chinese Literature: 108, Maths: 115, English: 114, Natural Science: 114 and Social Science: 115. “En”, wait a second, even though the exam was over now, and my general knowledge level had probably halved already, I could still tell the total seemed wrong. “Don’t they add up to 566?” “Ah, you are right, it must be a typo, let me correct it for you, 566 then, well done, that is a very good result.”

Next time I bumped into the agent, before I could ask for the refund, he gave the money back to me desperately and then asked: “How did you pull that off? I have never seen the results get changed afterwards, not by 100 points anyway! That made you the top of your school and within top 10 in the city, that is aggressive. Who did you ask in the department to make that happen, let me guess, must be the head of department himself???”

"Can not say, sorry, it is highly confidential!”
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 楼主| 发表于 2018-7-28 05:24:23 | 显示全部楼层
I have created a website for the project, http://AJourneyToTheWest.co.uk/

Friday, 01 September 2000, High School Year 1, Shijiazhuang, China

I became a high school student today! Not only that, with my unbelievable score in the Middle School Graduation exam, I was accepted to the “Olympic Class” of the No.1 High School. If a student at No.1 has one of his leg in Tier 1 university already, then a student from the “Olympic Class” has one leg in the top four universities in China. Historically, it routinely produced students with the highest High School Graduation Exam score in our province.

The class roster was a who-is-who of the best students in my city, with everyone ranked within the first 0.2% of middle school graduates. The students mainly came from the four elite middle schools in the city, but some of their tales were so legendary their names were even well known in my school. After hearing her name constantly for the past 3 years, I could not help but go and shake hands of the girl who was famous for have finished a set of university level English textbooks already and had an English vocabulary level better than others’ Chinese.

It would have been a perfect beginning of my high school career shall our Maths teacher not reveal how the “Olympic Class” would operate in her first session. She explained that as most of us had participated in the Olympic Maths Challenge in middle school and would continue to do so in high school, she planned to finish all three years’ curriculum in a year and half so that we could have the knowledge asap. Even though all the first year’s syllabus was very straightforward, she had to start somewhere, and she decided to start with Chapter 4. The first half of the book, covering “Sets and Functions”, was simply too easy to worth any mentioning.

And she was right, when I checked with my classmates afterwards, it seemed most people found the Graduation exam very easy and managed to finish all the questions with a lot of spare time. This was in steep contrast to my school where teachers’ advice was to not bother with the last question as it was too hard and time consuming. She would be proud of us if we just got everything else right instead. Skipping through even a page of syllabus was unheard of, never to mention 3 full chapters. And what were “Sets” anyway?

As our Maths teacher apologized to those who still found Chapter 4 too easy and promised to get through the first-year stuff as quickly as possible, I discovered the true meaning of the phrase “one leg in a great university already”, it was an average between the two legs of those who would surely go to great universities and zero legs of those who would never get into one. And it really sucked to be the latter.
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 楼主| 发表于 2018-8-2 17:34:05 | 显示全部楼层
本帖最后由 老姚 于 2018-08-02 17:34 编辑

I have created a website for the project, http://AJourneyToTheWest.co.uk/

Monday, 15 Jan 2001, High School Year 1, Shijiazhuang, China

Today was the end-of-term examination. And when the exam supervisor stepped into the room, it happened to be our class Tutor, Mr. Liu, who is universally loved.

As Mr. Liu handed out the exam paper, he also went through the exam regulations. He warned everyone not to cheat, or otherwise be expelled immediately from the room and have his paper zero-marked. He paused and looked at the few of us in the room from his class and said: of course, I will give those from my class a favour. If any of you cheat, I will still let you continue finishing your exam.”

Just as everyone’s jaw dropped, he smiled and added: “I will only expel you and zero-mark your paper at the end.”
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 楼主| 发表于 2018-8-2 17:37:41 | 显示全部楼层
For latest update, please visit http://AJourneyToTheWest.co.uk/

Wednesday 4 April 2001, High School Year 1, Shijiazhuang, China

Even though the first year of high school was supposed to be a relaxed one compared to the final year of the middle school, I never felt any different. If anything, it was a lot worse. Despite my effort, I never made any progress but only lost more and more ground as our teachers covered or skipped the syllabus at Blitz speed.

The way the National High School Graduation Exam worked also left heavy strain on the class’ atmosphere. Despite the name, that exam was in fact a competition in the provincial level only. For example, PKU, the best university in China, may allocate 2 spaces per department to my province. And those who got highest marks in the graduation exam out of the nearly 500,000 candidates in the province would get them. When you were in an average school, you had plenty of competition elsewhere and co-operation with your classmates was a good idea. But once you were in the best class within the best school in the province, the incentive was a lot different.

Even though game theory was not taught in our high school, the intuition was well understood. When I got stuck on one question that day and went asking another classmate for help, she blatantly told me I was too dumb to be helped and why should she waste her time helping me anyway. The only upside of the conversation was that it provided some much-needed entertainment to the class as everyone around LOL.

Till I found out what I was interested in doing in my late 20s, the anger and embarrassment from those few moments kept me going for a decade and half. When Justice John Roberts gave his commencement speech at Cardigan Mountain School in which he wished everyone “bad luck”, “betrayal” and “failure”, he must have similar idea in mind. Passion is the ideal source of drive, but anger often works quite well too. I am sure I would never be able to thank this classmate enough, especially I never figured out an appropriate way to express it. But here you go now, thank you!
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 楼主| 发表于 2018-8-5 16:44:36 | 显示全部楼层
Sunday 8 April 2001, High School Year 1, Shijiazhuang, China

I confessed to my parents that I no longer had the will to fight.

I wished I never pointed out the mistake in the Middle School Graduation Exam result and had stayed at my old school instead. If it was just the demanding schedule of the “Olympic Class”, I might still be able to cope, but my classmates’ comments and the laughter earlier this week was the final straw on the camel’s back. As beneficial as they are when I look back at them now, they were unbearable at the time. Every morning, on my way to the school, each step would feel heavier than the last till I could hardly move at all by the time I was near the classroom door.

My parents listened and then simply said, they understood and they would see what they could do. And that was the first step in my journey to the west. I always wondered where I would be today shall my parents not have the willingness to let me make that decision or the decisiveness to put all their past saving and future earnings behind it. My best guess is I would have gone to a 3rd Tier university in China, played a ton of computer games throughout my time there and immediately became unemployed upon graduation. For this and everything else they did for me, I owe everything to my parents.

I have no doubt if my parents decide to share their experience, it would have much wider applicability. After all, they started with absolutely nothing while my journey from this point on would become increasingly expensive. I will keep persuading them on the matter. In the meantime, if you find the route of studying abroad available to you, congratulations, you have done well in the birth lottery. Although it still won’t be easy and nothing is guaranteed, at least you have a better chance statistically. Otherwise, still work hard in whatever you do so that you can let your children have the chance and they can assign all the credit to you some time down the road.
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五品翰林

Rank: 3Rank: 3Rank: 3

发表于 2018-8-7 06:20:03 | 显示全部楼层
写中文吧
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 楼主| 发表于 2018-8-9 17:58:29 | 显示全部楼层
Sunday 3 Jun 2001, High School Year 1, Shijiazhuang, China

The international education agent sat down opposite to me and handed me a large envelope. Inside, there was the entrance examination from a UK high school. As UK high schools, called A levels, were only two years and I had two years to go before university in China as well, it seemed a good fit. So my parents found an agency to guide us through the process and today one of its agent came to supervise me take the entrance exam. Before I started, I noticed he had another similar envelope with him, “Is that part II of the exam?”

“No, that is the entrance exam from another school, just in case you finish this one very quickly, then we can get that done today as well. Now, ready, set, go!”

I flipped over the cover page and the first question read: “小明现在有1块糖,小红又给了他1块糖,他现在一共有几块糖?”  

What the hell was it asking? I could see there were two 1s in there, but what did it want me to do with them? Shall I add them, subtract them, time them, divide them or do something more complex given all those words there? I looked up at the agent and asked, “Is there a copy in Chinese by any chance or can I use a dictionary?”

“No, it is only available in English and you can not use a dictionary neither. It is fine if you don’t understand the question, just skip it and do as much as you can. The school will understand.”
With that instruction, it became a lot easier. The whole Maths section took me less than 10 minutes. There were only two questions whose expressions were self-explanatory enough that I gave them a try. For the others, why couldn’t they be like the other two instead of having so much words in them? The English paper was even more straight forward as the only place I might get some point was in the essay session. I followed the instruction, “please write no more than 400 words.” so well that I only about wrote 40 words and surely that deserved some extra points, right?

Overall, I set a new record in the time it took to finish that school’s entrance exam, and probably by a mile. And the agent was right, before he finished his cup of tea, I got through the other school’s exam as well and we called that a day.

Score: Me: 1, English: 1

PS: the question was just asking what was 1+1.
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 楼主| 发表于 2018-8-9 17:58:51 | 显示全部楼层
sngnr 发表于 2018-08-07 06:20
写中文吧

好,有机会我拿中文再写一遍
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 楼主| 发表于 2018-8-13 02:24:56 | 显示全部楼层
本帖最后由 老姚 于 2018-08-13 02:25 编辑

Tuesday 4 September 2001, High School Year 1, Shijiazhuang, China

It was the starting of a new school year again but for me also an end. I was just waiting for the last few paperwork before I would leave for England. Out of years of routine, I still came to school. Somehow, once the pressure was off, it was a lot easier to get up early in the morning and I was even on time and smiling every day.

When I looked around the room, however, I found a few people were no longer there so I was not the only one with the thought of having a change:
•        One girl had moved to Beijing, the capital. As the universities allocate a lot more spaces to the provinces or cities they are located than elsewhere and the best universities were all in Beijing and Shanghai, if one can go to school there, the competition was much easier. Peking University and Tsinghua University took twice the amounts of students from Beijing than from my province, despite my province had eight times the population of the capital. Of course, the hard part was to get the permit to live in Beijing. With everyone understood such permit, it was a very tall order for the parents indeed. But after such a move, without no doubt, both of her legs were in a top tier university now.
•        One girl had moved out of the “Olympic Class” to a normal class within the school. Like me, she was from a never-heard-of-school beforehand and from her exam results, it seemed she struggled as much as I did. Being surrounded by people who were better was always a good learning opportunity and both of us were very excited on our first day in the most elite class of the most elite school in the city. But maybe it was too much of a  good thing when one’s peers were not merely better in some area but significantly better in not one but every imaginable way. Anyway, I wished her all the best in a slower learning environment. Being in the fast lane is just not for everyone, otherwise, try replacing the drinking fountain with a fire hose. Just an idea.
•        We also had a guy joining from a normal class. He was from an elite middle school but got unlucky in the Graduation Exam a year ago. Once entering the No.1 High School, he quickly recovered and always ranked first in the whole year outside of the “Olympic Class”. More importantly, he used his spare time to self-study so he was on the same schedule as the “Olympic Class”. I didn’t know how he managed to have any spare time, let alone taking on a challenge like that. I quickly went and shook his hands, a true warrior. Sorry I had taken your place in the past year, now here you go, you deserve it.
•        There was also a guy from my middle school who had gone to study in Singapore. That was a very attractive option to most people given not only the tuition and any living expense would be paid for by Singapore government, the student would also be given a regular pocket money. It almost sounded too good to be true, being paid to study! No wonder I only heard about it after he had settled in Singapore, he was probably trying to protect everyone else in case it was a fraud.

Over the years, the one question I always wondered was that if as a drop-out, I managed to do ok by having the chance of going abroad, what would all my classmates have done shall they have the same chance? It was the first time I realized how lucky I was.
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 楼主| 发表于 2018-8-16 04:12:23 | 显示全部楼层
Friday 14 September 2001, Language School Year, Heathrow, England

My flight landed in London Heathrow in the afternoon. I must be the last one out of the plane as I completely lost myself watching out of the plane window: The sky was blue, could you believe that? And there was white cloud as well decorating the sky. They seemed so low that I might even touch them if I could jump high enough. I felt like being in a movie. How incredible!

In my memory, the sky was always kind of blue/grey on a good day, yellow on a bad day or just completely disappeared on a really bad day. And I was partially to blame for it. Till I was 15, I lived in the outer part of the city and my schools were never far from the farms. During each Autumn, We watched the farmers burning the straws in the fields with excitement. They yellow smoke they created would rise to the sky, spread out and cover the whole area include the school campus. You wondered whether you were still on earth or on another planet, or whether some monsters would step out of the cloud the next moment as in the TV Classic: A journey to the West. But after school, a few of us would run over to join the farmers. We competed in setting the largest fire and creating the thickest smoke. Some even went as far as throwing in their school books and papers into the fire.

Later on, when my family moved to somewhere more urban, we became neighbour to a cigarette factory. Initially I thought it was weird to have such a factory in the middle of the city till I realized that the place used to be the outer part of the city not too long ago. The speed of urbanization was too just fast. While we lost the chance of playing with fire in the fields, we got to keep the yellow smoke thanks to the factory. In contrasts to the farmers, the factory produced its smoke, a light yellow kind, with remarkable consistency throughout the year. Irrespective of the time of the year or even the time of the day, I knew I was nearly home once I entered the area and smelt the smoke’s unique favour. How welcoming.

Despite moving away from the farmers, we didn’t escape from the seasonal variances. The sand storm in the spring and autumn seemed to get stronger every year. The news reported they were coming from inland area going towards the sea. They were not holding a beach party, were they? In the winter, smog started to develop as well supposedly as people burned fuel and woods to stay warm. I imagined such need was always there, but why was the problem getting worse? Was it due to the increasing population in the city? I never figured out. But it was quite an inconvenience when the whole city was covered in the black fog and you could not see the next building out of your window. When the monster actually stepped out of it, one would not have enough time to escape.

When my high school made a poster about itself, there was no surprise really that it had to Photoshop in the blue sky, white cloud and the cute pigeons. It would otherwise look too similar to the Necropolis buildings in the game Heroes of Might and Magic III. I had always thought it was just done out of pure imagination. Now, sitting in a plane at Heathrow, I was glad to see such places actually existed on this planet. Well, at least I got to play with fire.
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