As everyone knows, the last row of a classroom is the leisure and entertainment area.
At that time, most junior high students living in a small county town didn’t have a cell phone.
Their parents probably didn’t have one either.
Therefore, playing cards was one of the most popular recreational activities in class.
According to his grades and height, Jiang Xiao was situated in the last row of the classroom.
He and Ye YingYing sat in the corner, not far from a pile of brooms and the garbage can.
Two other boys sitting next to them brazenly walked over.
One grabbed two decks of cards from his school bag, while the other took out more than ten packs of spicy sticks and shrimp snacks from inside a desk.
The four students gathered around like they were having a small party.
Since the beginning of the first year, Houlin No.
3 Middle School divided students according to their scores.
There were about ten classes per grade, commonly known as fast, medium, and slow, and there was a rotation once a semester.
Jiang Xiao had dropped all the way from the best class down to Class 15.
At first he wasn’t worried about the high school entrance exam, but when he actually reached it, he’d spent so much time in this environment that his brain was empty.
He couldn’t do any of the questions.
Most teachers had trouble controlling Class 15, made up of the most difficult group of troublemakers ranked at the very bottom.
Their female English teacher, a recent graduate, was young and soft-spoken.
She was doing well if she managed to cover all the lecture material while maintaining order.
But Houlin No.
3 Middle School as a whole was relatively strict.
The students in Class 15 had bad grades, but aside from that their behavior wasn’t terrible.
It was true that the front rows liked to sleep, the middle rows liked to read novels, and the back rows held small parties, but the students didn’t cause a ruckus or make trouble for the teachers.
Ye YingYing and the others were still scared of the ruthless teaching director.
At most they did their own thing and ignored the lectures.
They kept their voices down while playing, revealing a trace of respect amid rebellion.
The students were good at adjusting to their audience.
In the next class, the political science teacher was a bit more strict, so Ye YingYing and the others didn’t dare to continue playing cards.
Instead they switched to private snacking or novel sharing sessions.
Jiang Xiao followed Ye YingYing to his desk.
As soon as he sat down, memories of the past gradually returned to him.
Usually, all four boys joined up to play fight the landlord1, but now Ye YingYing stared like he saw a ghost while Jiang Xiao sat upright at his desk, opened his English book, and listened carefully to the teacher.
“Xiao Ge,” Ye YingYing asked, “Are you crazy?”
Jiang Xiao wasn’t crazy, but he was seriously evaluating his current level of learning, which was basically zero.
It was now the first semester of the third year, so there was still a year to go before the entrance exam.
Out of all nine courses, Jiang Xiao had basically forgotten everything.
After all, he’d been out of school for nearly twenty years.
His English might be a little better because he studied it for business, but that was mainly in application, not for tests.
That is, he could speak a few sentences in ordinary conversations.
For the time being, he didn’t have high requirements for himself.
All he needed to do was pass the high school entrance exam next year.
After that, he’d have three more years of studying in high school.
The most important thing was the college entrance exam.
Jiang Xiao had dropped out of school in his last life.
There was no alternative.
First of all, he didn’t have any money.
Secondly, he really couldn’t go on studying in that high school.
After he grew up, he started a business and opened a factory to make money, but he always worried about his lack of schooling.
Later on, when the factory deteriorated, Jiang Xiao had money in his hands, but his regret grew even stronger.
The so-called résumé padding of a diploma wasn’t the point.
The point that one should never give up learning and making progress throughout one’s life.
Jiang Xiao had many friends, some of whom dropped out of school to work at a similar age, but after they got rich, they enrolled in all kinds of business schools.
It was even more obvious when it came to the next generation.
They did everything possible to send their children to the best schools.
The constraints of his junior high school education became even more obvious when Jiang Xiao reached a certain level.
Even if he tried various things to make up for it later, the schooling he missed when he was younger really mattered.
Now that he was reborn, Jiang Xiao wasn’t going to run out at age sixteen and recklessly put himself through endless suffering again.
He’d earn money, and he’d try to make a better life for his family, but he was a student now and there were plenty of years ahead of him.
He wanted to live like an ordinary child, take the college entrance exam, and go to college.
If he had the chance maybe he could even go on to graduate school.
This time his life might be very different.
And everything in his plan began with serious reading.
In the classroom, the soft and gentle English teacher had been in the class for more than ten minutes.
As usual, none of the students were listening.
They were all doing their own things.
But suddenly today there was a student sitting straight at his desk.
As the teacher taught a new word, she pointed to the blackboard and recited: “Explore, tànxiǎn2.”
It used to be a one-man show.
But this time a not-too-loud voice came from the last row of the classroom, seriously repeating: “Explore, tànxiǎn.”
The classmates sleeping on their desks were a little surprised.
They roused to see which student was acting crazy on the first day of the semester.
When they turned around they saw it was Jiang Xiao.
Oh, that’s okay.
Jiang Xiao was known as a first-rate troublemaker in Class 15.
Not many people dared to mess with him.
Anyway, he could do what he wanted.
Ye YingYing found a new buddy to join the card game, but he was so shocked by Jiang Xiao that he dropped all his cards.
Crazy, crazy—the world wasn’t logical anymore.
No matter what his fellow students felt, when class was over Jiang Xiao thought he still had an advantage.
His comprehension was better than a normal junior high school student.
And because his body was young, his memory was superior to when he was in his thirties.
In English class with a newly taught text, he read through it three or four times and was able to remember almost all of it.
Jiang Xiao knew he wasn’t especially brilliant.
His IQ was average.
People who commented on him said he won through sheer persistence, whether in achievements or in love, because he never gave up.
Even if he was reborn eight hundred times, that characteristic wouldn’t change.
The English teacher was a little flattered to see a student in Class 15 responding to her lecture.
She realized this student wasn’t fooling around, but seriously following along.
Moreover, Jiang Xiao asked her for worksheets after class.
There really were no shortcuts to studying in junior and senior high.
It all came down to reading books and doing exercises.
When Jiang Xiao looked through his schoolbag, he had all the textbooks, but there were no worksheets or study materials.
He had no idea where the previous ones had gone.
He didn’t find many problem sets, just one or two scattered handouts.
So after class, Jiang Xiao went to the teacher to ask for worksheets.
Generally speaking, the teacher would print a few extra copies in case there weren’t enough, and if no one needed them the teacher would put them away.
Jiang Xiao wanted the previous papers, and preferably the ones for first and second year as well, because he could make them up in time.
This teacher was very dedicated.
She even gazed at him with a touch of emotion in her face.
At noon Jiang Xiao received a stack of papers.
Although they weren’t stacked up neatly, there were study materials for pretty much every big exam.
He used the same method between classes to ask his teachers for more worksheets.
Some teachers were a little mean and looked at him sideways, wondering why he hadn’t learned these things already, but in the end they really gave him the papers, a thick pile of them.
Jiang Xiao sorted through the worksheets.
He had four classes in the morning, and some of them were mind-numbing.
After all, some classes relied on the foundation built in the first and second year.
All he could do was make up for what he was missing as soon as possible.
Ye YingYing ate three or four packets of snacks in the morning, played seven or eight rounds of cards, and finished half a novel.
For him it was another fulfilling and enjoyable morning, but Jiang Xiao was quiet and left the classroom during breaks.
Then, before the eyes of the horrified crowd, this person arranged big piles of worksheets and put them in his desk.
“Xiao Ge, what’s wrong with you?”
It wasn’t the first time Ye YingYing had asked this today, but Jiang Xiao was really busy and didn’t answer with any detail.
He asked again at noon on the way home.
“It’s like I said, I want to study seriously,” Jiang Xiao said.
Don’t play so much.
You’ll regret it later if you spend all your time at this age fooling around.”
“Why do you sound like my dad?” Ye YingYing dug in his ears.
“I told you before, I’m not the same as you.
I’m not cut out for studying.”
In the first year of middle school, Jiang Xiao got good grades.
He was ranked in the top three of his year.
Now that he’d begun to study seriously again, it was a little sudden, but not completely out of line.
But for Class 15 people like Ye YingYing who’d always had bad grades, they didn’t see a reason to do more than necessary
“I’m not just talking about studying.
It never hurts to learn more at this age.”
Jiang Xiao sighed.
He didn’t want to say more.
Ye YingYing’s family and school teachers had tried to persuade him countless times to learn.
He was a stubborn teenager, just like himself back then.
A few words weren’t going to change him.
“But you’re really good at drawing.” Jiang Xiao looked at the big demon on his school uniform and added, “If you don’t want to read, learning to draw would be better than playing all day.”
“Isn’t drawing the same as playing?” Ye YingYing grinned from ear to ear.
“That reminds me, I promised the guy in Class 14 I’d draw his school uniform this afternoon.”
Jiang Xiao wanted to say something else, but just then Ye YingYing caught sight of someone he knew.
He excitedly pulled Jiang Xiao’s sleeve and changed the subject.
“Look, Xiao Ge, it’s Lin QingYu!”
After so many years, there were a lot of things Jiang Xiao didn’t remember about junior high.
He was pulled along by Ye YingYing and saw a girl who’d just walked out of the school gate.
She was tall and thin with long straight hair, and she had an innocent first love kind of face.
When Jiang Xiao saw her, he kind of remembered.
Lin QingYu was the school flower3 of Houlin No.
3 Junior High, now in her second year.
She was a very beautiful girl.
Even the shapeless, untailored school uniform couldn’t hide her looks.
There seemed to be a reason why Ye YingYing was so excited.
Jiang Xiao was pursuing her.
He was young back then, and he hadn’t really thought about his sexual orientation yet.
It was just that Lin QingYu was pretty, and with his rebellious adolescent attitude, Jiang Xiao decided he was in love.
He just wanted to pursue the school flower, thinking she was different from the rest.
In the end, he didn’t succeed.
Lin QingYu didn’t like him.
She had excellent grades and a strict upbringing.
There was no way she’d fall in love with someone like Jiang Xiao.
After junior high, the two people never met again.
The relationship between them didn’t even count as first love.
Thinking about this, Jiang Xiao decided that his brain back then was befuddled.
He didn’t even remember this girl.
He probably really annoyed her back then, trying to get her attention every day.
Jiang Xiao was still a little embarrassed when he thought of it.
He touched his nose and tried to pull Ye YingYing farther away.
He’d had more than enough emotional suffering.
He didn’t intend to subject himself to it again.
But even if he planned to let others go, that didn’t mean they planned the same for him.
Lin QingYu wasn’t alone.
Beside her was a boy who looked three points4 like her.
Jiang Xiao knew Lin HeYuan.
He was in Class 1 of the third year, and he was Lin QingYu’s brother.
When the schoolgirl saw Jiang Xiao, her pretty eyebrows frowned, then she lowered her head and said something to her brother.
Lin HeYuan walked up and blocked Jiang Xiao’s way.
Jiang Xiao: “… What are you doing?”
“Don’t send my sister weird things like this again.
You’re upsetting her.” Lin HeYuan threw an unopened box into Jiang Xiao’s arms, warning him in passing, “If it happens again, I’ll make sure you’re sorry.”
Jiang Xiao looked down.
This must be a present he’d given to the girl.
The box showed a picture of a heart-shaped cup.
When you poured hot water into the cup, a small lamp embedded in it would emit rainbow-colored light, like a poor quality KTV decoration.
So tacky, so ugly, it was painful to look at.
Jiang Xiao was embarrassed to find out he had such terrible straight male aesthetics in his third year of junior high.
Lin HeYuan was a good student of the standard style.
No matter how cold his face was, he was just a junior high school student.
Jiang Xiao used to be classmates with him back when he had good grades.
They weren’t exactly familiar, but they knew each other.
Naturally he wouldn’t get angry with him because of a few harsh words.
Besides, he really did send an ugly present to his sister.
At that moment, Lin HeYuan was watching the person in front of him carefully.
Jiang Xiao was notorious for being a prickly-headed jerk.
He was pretty tall and everyone in that hive of chaos, Class 15, was afraid of him.
Lin HeYuan had even bumped into him fighting other people.
He was fierce, like a wolf cub, so Lin HeYuan was wary about making this person angry.
He was ready to fight back at any time.
Unexpectedly, Jiang Xiao, who had an aggressive personality as far as he knew, only scratched his head, stuffed the box into his school bag, and smiled at him.
His small tiger teeth weren’t fierce at all, but a little cute.
“Sorry, little classmate,” Jiang Xiao said.
“I won’t do it in the future.”
Lin HeYuan’s warlike footing suddenly collapsed.
For a moment he even felt bewildered.
… Did Jiang Xiao just call him a little classmate?
“they were having a small party” / “liked to throw small parties” – The word “party” was in English
“adjusting to the audience” – from 看人下菜 – make up to some people and look down on others, treat a person according to their social status, not treat everyone equally
“troublemaker”, “prickly-headed jerk” – from 刺头 – thorn head, prickly head, a person who is difficult to deal with when things go wrong, a person at odds with others in organizations, is arrogant and causes trouble
“worksheets” – 卷子 – exam paper, test paper, practice sheets
“terrible straight male aesthetics” – 傻直男审美 – silly straight man aesthetics
Transliterated names, titles, and places—new in this chapter:
Lin QingYu – 林晴玉
Lin HeYuan – 林鹤元
fight the landlord – One of the most popular card games in China tànxiǎn – The teacher said the word “explore” in English, then said it in Chinese (探险 – tànxiǎn) school flower – a school beauty (female), school beauty queen, campus belle.
The male equivalent is “school grass”. “three points” – In Chinese it’s common to say something is “three points” or “six or seven parts” similar to something else, which means it’s 30% similar or 60-70% similar.
It’s a rough estimate.
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