Wednesday 15 March 2000, Middle School Year 3, Shijiazhuang, China

All five hundred students of the the graduating year was called into the school auditorium for a meeting with the headmaster. The headmaster started by asking whether any of us knew the significance of today. After it was met with silence from the audience, she gave a hint, how many days were there till the graduation exam? I quickly raised my hand and answered one hundred.

The headmaster was very impressed and asked the whole year to learn from my attention to details. She then went on and gave a speech on why we should double our effort in these remaining 100 days: our fate literally would hang on it. In China’s system where grades were everything, one had to do very well in it to get into a good high school. Otherwise, the chance of going to a good university would be lost already. There was just no other way.

When we went back to our classroom, our class tutor praised me again and insisted that I should share with the class how I managed to keep account of the days and whether I had a detailed study plan for these 100 days already etc.

After a few attempts to dodge the question failed, I finally had to give in to her and said apologetically: I knew the dates well because the graduation exam happened to fall on my birthday, so it was hard not to know the numbers.