Saturday 26 June 2004, A level Year 2, Surrey, England

Today, our boarding house, Leith Hill Place, held the farewell dinner for the leaving students in a local pub. How time flew. It was not that long ago that I arrived at Hurtwood for the first time, wondering whether I was being kidnapped. Now, we were on the way out already.

Before Hurtwood, it was hard for me to imagine how a school, where everyone could freely pick subjects, would work. Wouldn’t everyone have to run around the school for different classes all the tiem? Then without a fixed group of people to be associated with, who shall I play with between and after class? It turned out the house system provided the answer. Living in the same house throughout the two years allowed people to bond. That was how I met Dennis—we not only both lived in Leith Hill but we were also roommates.

Leith Hill Place

Leith Hill was a small boarding house and boys only. Our strength was in academics where student numbers didn’t count as much. One student, Tom, managed to win all the Maths and science related competitions in the school by himself alone. He was the cleverest person I had ever met by far.

For other things, our small size often put us in a disadvantage. We were the lucky draw in almost all inter-house sports competitions—lucky draw from other houses’ perspectives. Even that was assuming we had enough people to form a team in the first place. Our closest to the glory this year was in netball, a game normally played by girls. After our basketball team lost their game to B Webb House, we switched gears and played netball instead. Our shooting ability carried us all the way to the final. Or we thought. When all the netball rules started to get enforced in the final, we lost by an enormous margin. But that was fun.

Occasionally, we might have had too much fun. One of Leith Hill’s tradition was the head boy, once elected, would be rolled down the slope at the back of the house. It didn’t work out too well in our year when the head boy hit a tree halfway and started to bleed. Oops.

Before today’s dinner, our housemaster, Roy asked me to deliver a speech on the behalf of all the leavers. Roy was a very relaxed guy. He treated all the boys as his equals rather than subordinates. We got to enjoy a lot of freedom as long as we behaved within reasons. And it was no different in this occasion. When I asked him what I should say, he simply replied, “Whatever you want to say, Yao. Something humorous will be great. But otherwise, it is also ok.”

So I ended up talking about Tom’s victories and our netball glory. I also suggested the first years find a milder way of celebration for the new head boy next year. I concluded by listing where all the leavers were going to do next. Our head boy, for some reason, wanted to become a farmer after attending an expensive private school. Everyone was as stunned hearing the news, just as I was when he told me. Then it all burst into laughter when he stood up and replied: “Studying pharmacy is not to become a farmer! For Christ’s sake, how did you get into Cambridge!”

Well, at least, Roy might think I followed his instruction well.

Score: Me: 10, English: 33,186