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.