Shengliver’s Note: This entry features a Chinese teen called Li Lei. The entry was written last year when he was in his second year of high school. This summer Li Lei will sit the Chinese National University Entrance Exam. This autumn he will step into university. Good luck, lad.


Normally I have one student assistant for one class, but in one of the classes I teach I have got two student assistants.


Sometime last semester I found my student assistant, Mr Yang, was overwhelmed by all the chores he had to do. He had to collect the daily homework, play the audio tape on the tape-recorder every other evening, carry the journals to my office on Friday afternoon and gather and hand out test papers. An idea occurred to me. Why not have two student assistants sharing the jobs? I asked the class if anyone was interested in being a second assistant.


Mr Li Lei put his hand up, and he has been my assistant since then, responsible and ready to help. Every Friday afternoon he collects the journals from the classmates and carries them all the way from the classroom to my office. Should some students procrastinate, he will urge them to hand in the work.


Li Lei is a studious boy. I had a hunch for a long time that something weighs upon his mind, for he is melancholy and reticent in the classroom.


In one journal entry, he shared with me his dreams.


I wish I had my own bedroom so that on holiday I could study in my own room undisturbed. We live in only two rented rooms. There are three people in my family—father, mother and me. One room is used for cooking and the other room for living and sleeping. In the future when I am rich, I will have my own house. I will make sure that my parents live a better life.


Li Lei and his parents are not natives of the city. They migrated from Tianmen (part of Hubei) to the city here. I asked Li Lei if he was familiar with his hometown Tianmen. He said he could remember very little of it because the family did not go back to Tianmen very often.


The other week, Li Lei got infected with the flu. He was down with a fever. The parents took him to hospital and the doctor put him on a drip. The parents kept him company while he was being treated. He wrote:


My mother stayed with me all the while. My father was so tired that he was lying on a bed next to mine sleeping. My parents work too hard every day.


I was curious about Li Lei’s parents’ jobs. I asked him to tell me more about what his parents do for a living in the city. This is what he writes in the journal.


My parents work very hard. They cook and sell cakes on the street every day. My father gets up around 4 in the morning; my mother gets up a bit later. They work until midday. Then they have a break. They start working again at 2 in the afternoon and they do not stop until 8 pm. Every day they work for over 14 hours. They do not have a big income and they save up every fen just for my education. I am grateful to my parents for what I am blessed with—a warm home, nice clothes and an opportunity to learn. There is no reason why I should laze my schooldays away.


My own family live somewhere around the city centre. Li Lei’s parents work in another district of the town. In my neighbourhood on my shopping trips I come across vendors at some food stalls, selling cakes, noodles or some other Chinese fast foods. Guys doing the job work long hours whatever the weather might be like. At times they have to move here and there if the police on the beat chase them. Most of them are migrant workers who have come to the city for a better income.


The road before Mr Li Lei will be long and hard. I wish the boy well. Never give up. Life may be hard now, but you can shape your destiny by your own efforts. Your parents must be proud of you and be proud of them, Li Lei. They are honest hardworking people.


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