Friday 19 November 1999, Middle School Year 3, Shijiazhuang, China

It was the widely anticipated music class! We have only two of them per week in contrast of four or five for the core subjects. But the excitement was not because my class had any particular talents or even interests in music itself. In fact, just one or two out of the whole class could play an instrument at amateur level. But as a subject that is not in the graduation exam and therefore in none of the mocks neither, it is a class both the teacher and us could enjoy in a relaxed way, without either homework or pressure for grades. It was exactly what we needed on a Friday, especially given Saturday had been turned into a school day since the beginning of Year 3.

Therefore when our Chinese Literature teacher stepped into the classroom a few minutes before the bell instead of the music teacher, the energy level in the room visibly dropped. And the hope for the last-minute appearance of the music teacher was finally broken when the Chinese teacher announced that she had borrowed this session from the music teacher to go through the last monthly mock exam we did.

This was a common practice amongst the core subject teachers so that more testable knowledge could be squeezed into us during the limited hours of school days, the only surprise that day was a response from a brave soul at the back of the classroom: “when are you planning to return it, Miss?”