First day of elementary school in my hometown, Shenyang, China, my class started out with 51 students sitting in a classroom in a relatively well-reputed elementary school. Sitting at an one meter by half a meter wooden desk, a boy was paired up with a girl most of the time.
We were first taught basic classroom rules—where to put our backpacks, where to put our water bottles, where to put our pencil boxes, where to put our textbooks, and where to put our hands in different settings and times. Outside of the classroom, right after recesses, we were told to line up from the shortest to the tallest in double files, boys in one file and girls in the other. We extended our arms forward to aim at the person in front of us so we can meet the standard of lining up with the margin of error so small that one will only be able to see the two very tallest persons’ backs when looking from behind.
These rules made the elementary school seemed like a boot-camp discipline center. The obedience of such rules were strictly enforced; those kids that did not follow the rules were sharply scolded by the homeroom teacher.
My homeroom teacher was artful in the way she used to catch people talking and punished them severely. She would pretend to leave for another floor for taking care of some businesses, but then she turns around before far and stealthily staring into the classroom through the backdoor window, at which point she was able to pinpoint who was talking, who talked the loudest, whose voice had the highest pitch, and who talked about what. Shortly after, she would return and order the students who were on her blacklist to line up in the front of the classroom, facing the entire class, for humiliation and mortification. Time seemed to slow down so much as she scanned the room with her predatory eyes to pick out her preys. The room was so quiet that I could hear other kids breathing and dropping their pencils on the ground out of their clumsiness caused by their nervousness.
Though she did this several times without warning, most students were oblivious to the past and still would not learn the lesson and continued to initiate their talks as soon as the teacher left the classroom. My teacher ruled the classroom despotically with stern commands and shouting sessions, most of which lasted from twenty to forty minutes, instilling dictatorial fear, like that of Caesar’s, into us. In such ways, she taught and demanded obedience from us on the preconventional level of moral reasoning.
Inside the classroom, the subject of mathematics became more intellectually demanding. We were learning three place multiplications by hand and solving equations with x. Competition within the classroom was fierce and almost merciless. On each of our chapter tests, there was not only a percentage grade on the top right corner but a ranking within the class. The top ranking students were showered with accolade and praise from the teacher while the bottom ranking students were drenched with the obligation of making up the test during lunch, guilt and shame imposed by the stigmatism around them.
Adequately positioned, I was somewhere in the upper middle range, but I was not satisfied with where I was. Even if it was out of pure pride and lust for honor and recognition, I wanted to be among the highest ranked individuals within the class. For a long time, I thought about the possible factors that had contributed to their success, and I spotted a loophole in this testing system, which may easily be taken advantage of.
All the chapter tests were standardized throughout my school district, which meant that all the teachers within the school district administered the same tests. All these tests for the ongoing semester can be bought at local vendors and bookstores for relatively cheap prices. It was not clear whether piracy played a part in this or the test printing company was willing to release their tests verbatim to the vendors.
Therefore, I hypothesized that, the top scoring students must bought and studied these tests before our chapter tests so they would know exactly what questions the tests would hold.
Taking a ten minute walk from my home to school was as usual as having rice for dinner, but it wasn’t so for this rainy morning. Underneath an overcast sky and a misty drizzle, there were much fewer people traversing along the main street of my community. I walked at a brisk pace without an umbrella. Before I can reach the end of the second block on that street, a higher classman, whom I had never seen before, approached me. He looked older and was half a head, if not an entire head, taller than me. He didn’t have a backpack and had patches of his hair dyed yellowish brown, a prominent sign for being a dissenter to the district dress code, which stated that students were not suppose to dye their hair into any other color than the one they were born with. His traits reminded me of the forewarning speeches my teacher gave the class regarding to the presence of interscholastic juvenile robbers and bullies and the correct ways to deal with them.
He grabbed me close in a pretended friendly manner, “hey, man, where do you go to school?” There were only two elementary schools within walking distance from my home, one was Nu Jiang and the other is Zhu Wu, the one where I went to. However, I didn’t trust him to the least bit, “why, why are you asking me this? Where do you go?” He seemed to be annoyed with my defensive question and went on, “I go to Nu Jiang. Now tell me yours.” Still walking upon the segment, by which he could not determine which school I was going to yet, I lied, “Nu Jiang as well.” Half-doubting, he continued his cross-examination, “what grade are you in?” Guessing that he was a grade above me, I lied again, “5th grade.” Then very soon, I realized the obvious mendacity contained in my answer, but it was too late. To confirm what he was doubting as a fact, he inquired further, “do you know a person named…?” Stuck between a rock and a hard place, I struggled within myself and decided to go with the safer answer, “no, I do not.”
Immediately, he swooped down on the question that he had waited so long to ask, “do you have fifty cents that I can borrow.” Knowing that the word “borrow” was a euphemism for “steal from a complying subject,” I said, “no,” laconically.
Just as he was about to grab tighter on the strap of my backpack to pull me into a nearby apartment building, I suddenly turned around and exclaimed in a loud voice, “oh no! I left something in my home. If I don’t go get it, I will be in big trouble with my teacher. Big trouble!” Completely unexpected of my action, he was stunned for a moment, which I used to my advantage by running back toward my home as fast as possible, escaping by a hair’s width.
Have you ever seen a passport before?” I asked my best Chinese friend. “No, why are you asking me this?” He replied.
“I’m going to show you something if you will promise me to keep this as a secret for a while. You promise?”
“Go ahead, I promise.”
“Look! I have my own passport. Yes, my very own,” I said as I, knowing exactly where my parents had put my passport to their concern for its safety, was climbing up my bookshelf with excitement to retrieve my passport from the very top shelf.
“Cool, does that mean that you are going to go somewhere soon?”
“Where? For how long?”
To America…Go to school there for a while. I do not exactly how long though.”
Are you coming back?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“I’m sure that I will miss you.”
Yeah, me too. I will call you sometimes from there.”
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