Tuesday 12 October 1999, Middle School Year 3, Shijiazhuang, China

Our class tutor came into the classroom with a piece of paper in her hand and the room immediately fell silent. The paper contained the results from the latest mock exams. The practice of having mock exams started with the city which was going to conduct three city-wide mock exams in the two months before the final middle school graduation exam at the end of the year.

To stay one step ahead of the curve, my school implemented its own monthly mocks as soon as our third and final year of the school began. However, the rumour was that in the desirable school, such monthly examination had been going on since the begging of the second year already. No wonder they did so much better last year in the city-wide exam! Cheaters.

The most significant aspect of the result was that it also determined everyone’s seating for the coming month till the next mock. Our teacher would announce the grades in front of the whole class, starting from the first all the way till the last. Whoever heard her result need to step outside the class room and form a line in that order. Once the whole class was outside, the first in the line, i.e. who came top in the exam, could come back in and pick her seat for the coming month. And the next, etc.

As the choice would be final and could not be changed, once people got in the line, information gathering and seats trading started immediately. On top of trying to fulfil one’s preference to sit either very close to or far away from the blackboard as possible, there were also these important considerations:

  • The few seats by the front door where you cannot see half of the blackboard but the teachers would see you immediately after coming into the room were to be avoided at all cost;
  • At this time of the year (winter), the seats next to the radiators should be avoided as it was inevitably too hot sitting there. In the summer though, they would become great seats as they were next to the windows;
  • Half of the classroom were exposed to the apartment building where our class tutor lived. She sometimes checked on us from home during our evening studying session.
  • The naughty boy somehow did very well in the exam this time and probably would get his favourite seat in the middle of the second row, so better to avoid the area altogether.

Is it a coincidence that several people from the class ended up in the real estate business? As they say, it is all about location, location and location.