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China Kid

by Clark Zhang

Your childhood experiences are the ones to mold your perspective on the world and your views on spirituality.

In my case, these early experiences would eventually lead to my practice of using kungfu.

I lived in China for 15 years; strictly speaking, my family only consisted of my mother and myself. I was the only child. When I was 5 years old, my parents split up, so my image of my father is blurred based on a few snapshots displayed on black and white photos. He has been away to study and work in England ever since. Because I was the only hope, my mother never allowed me to go swimming or ride the bicycle. Any risky activity -- any kind of exercise that was even slightly dangerous -- was off-limits. At the age of 6, was the first day I began to attend a school. On the day I was awakened at 6 o'clock and rushed into the first classroom in my life minutes before the bell went on. I thought, what's wrong, why so early today? No one had told me, that it was only the start of the 10 year long compulsory education imposed on the Chinese kids. The second day, I was given at least 13 books to carry all the way home; they were heavier than I would like to remember. My primary school life hadn't been so easy for me, because other kids noted I never had a father come to pick me up after school. When they asked me why, I would say my dad was chosen to study abroad and he will come back one day... My mom didn't mention their divorce until I was 9. So gradually those kids at primary school felt superior to me. I often got beaten by some biggie guys, frequently my nose went bleeding. Once it was so bad that I nearly fainted. My mom went to school and reported my disadvantageous situation on occasion, but invisible discrimination on me from many aspects had never been eliminated. Facilities at the school playground were naturally set for naughty guys, I enjoyed playing monkey poles with other boys and fell from a 2 meter high bar at least 3 times a day. But I always climbed back up and continued my alleged gymnastically training.

When the secondary school started, I was forced to start to study hard. I arrived at school at 7, and lessons finally ended at 6 in the afternoon, however, after-school tuition usually lasted until 10pm so I had to go home in darkness. I hate winters, because my hands and feet always suffered from the cold so that they became very itchy when I was in a warm room. Pieces of my ear skin dropped off after the season. It was tough. We had about 50 students in each classroom, and each classroom was supervised by a senior teacher. We were given the strictest one. Punishment for being late in the morning was always to either stand on back of the class for a week during day-time study period or to copy down a 5 page long article from a particular subject, often the Chinese language, 50 times during the night which we had to hand in the next day or otherwise you would be "awarded" with a longer article. Homework was the object most students hated, our schedules were preoccupied by it all the time. You could hardly complete a piece of homework within 1 hour for a subject, and we usually had 3 main courses to deal with on a daily basis. At the time, China was very poor. Electricity blackouts were not only common -- they were mandated. There wasn't enough power to keep the entire city lit; every night of the week, a different district would go without electricity. It was particularly bad in summers and winters. I remember I often had to complete the homework under the mere light generated by a candle. After all, I couldn't fall asleep, because of the bad conditions. In hot days obnoxious mosquitos keep your hand busy throughout the night. In cold days I would rather sleep with my clothes on in a kitchen, because the temperature in the bedroom was as low as 5 degrees Celsius. We didn't have any means to generate heat.

At the age of 14 was my final year at secondary school. In China your chances in life heavily depend upon your exam results. Thus I worked head-drop hard months before the final tests, and I knew very well that only a third of the kids would have chances to further their careers at high school. I had to be one of them.

July 2000, I was accepted by the top 3rd high school in my city.

By the same time, I faced a dramatic change in my life which was prompted by a mutual agreement between my mother and my father. They decided to give me a better standard of living and perhaps a brighter future by attempting to drag me to the West. I was shocked first and then delighted. I didn't know what my mother's feeling was at the time; I just couldn't wait to see these, big-nose green-eyes, world famous British ladies and gentlemen...

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