After lecturing to a group of seniors at the local high school, we’ve learned some pretty interesting facts about their lives and how it compares to Americas high school students. It’s quite the eye opener to hear what they have to say and see how they live.
James, the top in the class and very proficient at speaking english, had us over for lunch last week. He lives in a two story, concrete row house with zero insulation and single pane, breezy windows. There is no bathroom, not much furniture, nor is there any heat. The best way to describe it would be to say that it looked like an abandoned building on the outskirts of town.
This is actually quite the norm for the places that we get invited to. There is absolutely nothing wrong with how he lives. He and his family are very happy, and extremely giving. As the saying goes, “those who have the least to give often give the most”. The lunch they prepared was gigantic and delicious. Several meats, lots of vegetables, beer, tea and fruit. A service usually reserved for close family.
His father, like many other parents in his class, make around 2000 RMB per month, which is $320 USD. His mother, who is as sweet as ever, sells the vegetables they grow in their community back yard to earn extra money. James doesn’t have the time to help contribute to his families earnings due to his schooling.
He wakes at 6:00 am and rides his bike four miles to arrive for his first class at 7:00. There is an hour break for lunch at noon, then class until 5:30. Dinner at school goes for half an hour, then he returns to class until 9:30 pm. Four more miles, back to his house where he studies until midnight and sleeps before repeating it all again. Monday-Friday, 275 days a year. The best part about all of this is that he has to pay to go to school… 3000 RMB per year, or one and a half months of his dads paycheck.
The story is nearly the same for the rest of the class. Some students come from a little more money, but not much. College is only in the cards if they perform in the top percentages, so you can imagine why they set themselves on such a rigorous schedule. If they test below a certain percentage, they won’t get the scholarships they desperately need to pay for college tuition. For James, it’s a full ride or he will have to enter the workforce and skip college all together.
I really wish I could explain James a little better. We gave him our phone number and he calls us once a week to schedule a lunch or to drop off a toy to Dee. When we meet with him, he always opens doors, stops traffic, offers to carry Dee and also tries to pay. In the cafeteria, one of his female classmates dropped her spoon. Like a reflex, he snatched it up and ran all the way across the hall to get her a new one. Before he returned, another of his friends mumbled to me, “he’s quite the ladies man”.
To see people doing so well with so little is worth its weight in gold. His performance is the exact opposite of mine while I was in high school. I did so poorly, that I had to spend my fifth year retaking courses I’d flunked out of. Maybe that’s why I’ve come to appreciate him so much. He’s not wasting any time going after what he wants even though there is a substantial monetary hurdle blocking the way.
After meeting with his class and eating dinner in the cafeteria with several dozen giggling teeny boppers, we said goodbye and promised to meet again later in the week. As I walked back home, I began to realize that our scooter “Black Lightning” won’t have a home to go to after we leave. I talked to Meghan about it and we both agreed to give it to James just before we go. His eight mile journey to school every day will now fly by at the flick of his wrist.
It’s the least we can do for someone who truly deserves more.
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