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If Xu Zhao remembered correctly, this was the second time Xu Fan went to school. The first time was a year ago. He liked going to report to school with the other kids, but because he never had any money, he would be chased away by the teacher. Because of this, he had cried up a storm last time. Xu Zhao had a headache because of that matter, and today, he (XF) followed the little friends to school again. And this time, he even carried his piggy bank.
Just how much did he love studying?
In a flash, Xu Fan ran past Xu Zhao with his group of little friends. Xu Zhao looked at Cui Dingchen.
Cui Dingchen pushed the bicycle and breathed out a sigh. “Let’s also go take a look.”
Xu Zhao nodded.
The two followed the little friends to the back entrance of South Sun Village Elementary School. South Sun Village Elementary was located at the border of South Sun village and South Bay Village. The school took students from both villages. The reason why it was called South Sun Village and not South Bay Village was because before Zhaoyang Agricultural Ecology Limited was established, South Sun Village was always richer than South Bay Village. Therefore the higher-ups decided to call it South Sun village.
Xu Zhao and Cui Dingchen recently donated a sum of money to South Sun village. The principal wanted to change the school’s name, but Xu Zhao and Cui Dingchen refused, saying that South Sun Village Elementary was already good.
With Xu Zhao and Cui Dingchen’s support, South Sun village’s environment improved greatly. From preschool to first grade to fifth grade, the classes were all taught in tiled buildings, and they had enough tables and chairs. In the past, they would have to bring their own stools to school.
Xu Zhao and Cui Dingchen looked at the transformed South Sun Village Elementary and felt very accomplished. However, they fell into their thoughts and followed the children inside the school. They saw Xu Fan and Da Zhuang running into the preschool.
The other children were all brought by their parents to register. It was only Xu Fan and Da Zhuang, these two chubby babies that had come alone. They lined up behind all the other adults, then squeezed into the platform inside the preschool.
The teacher in charge was shocked. It wasn’t surprising to see Xu Fan. After all, there wasn’t a single person in South Bay Village and South Sun village who didn’t know Xu Zhao. However, Xu Fan wasn’t of preschool age yet, right? The teacher in charge very kindly asked, “Where are your guardians?”
Da Zhuang didn’t know what “guardian” meant, so he turned to Xu Fan. Xu Fan sounded very experienced as he said, “our guardians are at home.”
“Then why did you guys run here?”
Xu Fan was the first to answer, “W-we came to go to school. Da Zhuang and I want to go to class.”
The teacher in charge warmly asked, “Then do your guardians agree?”
Xu Fan nodded and said in a milky voice, “They agreed.”
“Then why didn’t your guardians accompany you?”
“Because I came by myself.” Xu Fan patted the small piggy bank in his arms and said, “I-I brought the tuition! Money I earned myself.”
H-he bought the tuition—and earned it himself—
The group of people laughed.
Xu Fan and Da Zhuang’s expressions were very serious.
The teacher in charge was helpless and said, “But you guys aren’t of age yet. How old are you two?”
Xu Fan replied, “I’m four.”
Da Zhuang added, “I’m also four.”
“Four isn’t old enough. You have to be six years old to attend school.”
Xu Fan didn’t understand and asked, “Why?”
“Because four year olds still don’t understand matters.”
“I understand. I can write one, two, and three. I can also repeat poems.”
He learned preschool education already? The teacher in charge curiously asked, “You can repeat poems?”
“Recite a poem for me.”
Xu Fan scratched his little head with his small meaty hands and said, “I can r-recite—Within one stretch of two or three miles, four or five hamlets peek through the mist. Six or seven pavilions lined with eight, nine, ten flowers. I can also recite—Lush plain of green grass, thrives to life once a year. Wildfire cannot burn it out, spring breeze blows back its life. Fragrance wafts through the ancient roads, emerald green binds each deserted city. Once more I sent off my noble friend, verdant growth fills the parting sorrows1.”
Xu Fan’s voice was very tender and full of milkiness. Although his words weren’t clear, he didn’t say a single word incorrectly. Moreover, it carried a special flavor. It wasn’t just the teacher in charge that was surprised, even the surrounding parents were also surprised.
Xu Zhao and Cui Dingchen, who had just arrived, also witnessed this scene.
Cui Dingchen turned his head to look at Xu Zhao.
Xu Zhao smiled and said, “He can recite even more.”
Cui Dingchen asked, “Then let’s just let him go to school?”
Xu Zhao thought about it and said, “Let him do as he pleases. If he wants to attend school, then let him. If he doesn’t want to, then he doesn’t have to. In any case, when you attended school, didn’t you always skip grades?”
Cui Dingchen nodded.
When the teacher in charge looked very, Xu Zhao nodded at him. The teacher in charge gasped at the situation, took up his pen, and asked, “If you two are attending classes, what are your names?”
Da Zhuang replied first, “I’m Da Zhuang.”
The teacher in charge said, “That’s your nickname. What’s your formal name?”
Da Zhuang replied, “My formal name is Li Da Zhuang.”
The teacher in charge looked at Xu Fan and asked, “What about you?”
Formal name? Is the formal name the one with more character? Xu Fan immediately understood and said, “My formal name is Xu Sanwa!”
Xu Zhao couldn’t look at Xu Fan. Did he really think “Xu Sanwa” sounded better?
Cui Dingchen pressed the point between his eyebrows.
The teacher in charge unceremoniously wrote the words “Xu Sanwa” in the class book, then gave Xu Fan and Da Zhuang a big, red flower each. The two children happily ran out of the classroom. Seeing Xu Zhao and Cui Dingchen, they happily showed off their big, red flowers.
Cui Dingchen asked, “Xu Sanwa? Do you really want to attend school?”
Xu Fan nodded.
“But you don’t have a schoolbag.”
“Buy one,” Xu Fan said.
Cui Dingchen asked, “Do you have money?”
Xu Fan raised his little, meaty face and said, “You do. You can give it to me first. I’ll return to you when I grow up.”
Cui Dingchen laughed.
He immediately asked a villager from South Bay Village to send a message back to South Bay Village before taking Xu Zhao, Xu Fan, and Da Zhuang to the county town and bought them backpacks, notebooks, pencils, erasers, and red scarf before returning to South Bay Village.
As soon as they returned to Sanwa, Xu Fan wore the red scarf and wandered around the village. When he saw someone, he would very happily tell them that he was attending school. In the afternoon, he took his pencils and lay on the small table as he wrote his own name—Xu Sanwa.
“Big daddy, I’m not called Xu Sanwa anymore.” As he was writing, Xu Fan suddenly turned his head and spoke to Cui Dingchen.
Cui Dingchen asked, “Why not?”
“Because it’s too long to write.”
“Then what are you called?”
“I’m called Sanwa.”
“You don’t want your surname?”
“My surname is San.”
Cui Dingchen’s temples throbbed twice. He tried using Xu Zhao’s method of communicating with Xu Fan, which was, reasoning with the child and giving the child a multiple choice question by asking if he was Xu Sanwa or Cui Sanwa. As expected, Xu Fan decisively chose Xu Sanwa because “Cui” was harder to write and Cui Sanwa didn’t sound good.
“Doesn’t sound good?” Cui Dingchen asked.
Xu Fan replied, “Doesn’t sound good.”
“But your last name is Cui.”
“My last name isn’t Cui, it’s Xu.”
“Fine, whatever you want.”
Cui Dingchen didn’t care about Xu Fan anymore and went to find Xu Zhao instead.
The next day was Xu Fan’s first official day of work. Early in the morning, Xu Fan excitedly carried his small school bag. He didn’t need Xu Zhao and Cui Dingchen to send him there as he ran toward South Sun village Elementary.
Mother and Father Xu were very reluctant. They thought that Xu Fan could attend school in two more years. Cui Dingchen heard these words and pursued the two elders by saying that Xu Fan was greedy for fun. He would come back after playing for a couple days, and in two days at most, Xu Fan wouldn’t want to go to school anymore.
However, Cui Dingchen was slapped in the face. South Bay Village Elementary didn’t have class when it rained, was windy, or snowed. There were only four classes a day, and each of those classes were nothing but play. However, Xu Fan seemed to have found his path and would happily go to school everyday.
Even after three full days, he still went to school full of excitement.
Xu Zhao couldn’t help but ask Cui Dingchen, “Didn’t you say that he would stop after two days?”
Cui Dingchen was speechless.
Xu Zhao continued, “He’s very similar to you.”
Cui Dingchen stayed speechless.
Xu Zhao laughed, tilted his head toward the sky, then said to Cui Dingchen, “Let’s head to the county town, okay?”
Cui Dingchen nodded.
Cui Dingchen rode the bicycle and drove Xu Zhao to the county town. He couldn’t help but turn the corner to pass by South Sun village Elementary. The two didn’t enter the school, but went around the back to the preschool classroom. They looked inside the classroom window and saw the class teacher patiently teach the pinyin alphabet on the podium.
Of the children in the classroom, some listened carefully, some talked quietly, and some played with folding planes. Xu Zhao and Cui Dingchen’s eyes swept through the classroom but they didn’t see Xu Fan. They looked around again before finding Xu Fan.
Xu Fan sat at a desk in the front. His little head was almost buried into his desk, lowering little by little. Xu Zhao and Cui Dingchen were confused at what Xu Fan was doing. They looked down and saw that he—he was nibbling on a corn cob!
Nibbling on a corn cob!
Xu Zhao suddenly remembered how Xu Fan was anxious to head to school this morning, but the corn had just finished cooking. Mother Xu was afraid that Xu Fan would go hungry, so she stuffed a corn cob in Xu Fan’s hand and told Xu Fan to eat it on the road. They never thought that…
“Xu Sanwa!” The teacher in charge called Xu Fan at this moment.
Xu Fan lifted his small head. His meaty little face was stained with corn kernels. He stood up dumbly as his small, meaty hand wiped at his small mouth, wiping away half the corn kernels.
The teacher in charge asked, “Do you know that I’m teaching class right now?”
Xu Fan replied, “I know.”
The teacher in charge asked in a serious tone, “Do you know what class I’m teaching?”
Xu Fan earnestly replied, “The pinyin alphabet.”
“Then from what I taught in the last class, what is three plus two?”
“…” Correct. He was the youngest but also learned the quickest. The teacher in charge didn’t know what to say, but if he didn’t teach Xu Fan a lesson, then he would feel like he wouldn’t be able to handle the students. Corporal punishment wasn’t banned yet in this era, so the teacher in charge punished Xu Fan to stand outside the classroom.
Xu Zhao and Cui Dingchen thought that Xu Fan would cry. They quickly passed the preschool classroom and headed to the school gate. In the distance, they saw Xu Fan standing at the door of the preschool classroom. His small, meaty hand plucked the corn kernels from his face and stuffed it into his mouth. One by one, he picked one up and stuffed it into his mouth before munching on it. He ate with a lot of gusto.
Cui Dingchen looked at Xu Zhao speechlessly.
Xu Zhao was dazed as he said, “This isn’t my son, definitely isn’t my son. I never had such a shameless son.”
Cui Dingchen: “…”
The author has something to say:
Author: Sanwa, did you come to school to nibble on a corn on the cob?
Xu Fan: No.
Author: Then why are you nibbling on it?
Xu Fan: Because I’m hungry. I have to eat when I’m hungry. How will I listen to class if I’m hungry?
- The poems he recited are Ode to the Countryside by Shao Yong and Farewell on the Ancient Grassland by Bai Juyi. Don’t come at me if the translation is off >.< ↩︎