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!