| Global Times | 2012-6-14 22:35:02
By Zhang Zhilong
Most Chinese students see the national college entrance exam, or gaokao, as a sleepless nightmare never to be revisited. For 45-year-old Liang Shi, however, it is a reoccurring one; 16 times to be exact.
"I didn't do well this time and I won't fill in my preference of major and university," Liang told the Global Times in a telephone interview.
Last year, Liang experienced something new; he sat the exam the same year as his teenage son. Unfortunately this father and son will not be attending college together, as Liang only scored 350 out of 750, not enough even for a junior college.
Although he assumes he scored about the same this year, Liang is undeterred and already talking about passing next year's test in order to achieve his lifelong dream of attending college.
"Sichuan University would be my first choice, and I want to study mathematics," said Liang. But when asked what his back-up majors are, Liang hesitated.
"I'll think about that after I finally receive an acceptance letter," he said.
Class over tea
Liang has studied around six hours a day since January this year in one of the authentic teahouses that dot the streets in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, making time before and after heading to work at his building supply store.
He explains that his grades have steadily declined since taking his first exam in the 1980s, the closest he came to achieving his dream.
"If I had scored 10 more points, I would have been admitted," Liang lamented.
After taking the gaokao annually from 1983 to 1992, he was forced to stop due to an official regulation that made him ineligible; the gaokao is only open to those under 25 and unmarried. This policy changed in 2001.
If anything, Liang is hardworking, sometimes spending two days on a practice test that would take a high school student about three hours.
When asked whether he had tried different methods to prepare, Liang said "only once."
"I went to a training class last year, but quit after 20 days because I couldn't get used to sitting in the classroom all day like the other students did," said Liang, explaining that sitting in a teahouse for even 20 hours is easy in comparison.
Lack of a high school education made it impossible for Liang to finish the exam within the allotted time. He admits that sometimes he does not understand what the question is asking.
Making the grade
After failing the exam 10 times, Liang made a "compromise." In 1992, he accepted an offer from Nanjing Forestry University in Jiangsu Province to participate in their adult education program. However, he quit after one month.
"When I went to the cafeteria, I just felt I was inferior to other college students," he said, adding that from then on, he was determined to earn his way into college like the rest of his schoolmates.
"To be frank, I worship intellectuals, especially scientists, and I cannot help but admire those studying airplanes and missiles," said Liang cheerfully.
He is confident in his ability to attend university, believing he is equally as intelligent as his high school classmates that successfully entered college.
"No matter how old I get, I will regret it if I cannot experience campus life during my lifetime," said Liang, adding that since he is older he has a more realistic view of college.
Many of Liang's friends can't understand why he wastes his time and money on studying, but there are those that support him.
"It depends on their level of education," he said, adding most have little to no schooling.
However, Liang does care about what his wife thinks. Married in 1991 and now operating a small business, his wife is supportive of Liang because preparing for the exam keeps him from playing mahjong.
"I was always losing money," said Liang, a fact that often made his wife angry.
Liang has seen media coverage for his perseverance since 2006, which he explains put stress on his marriage because his wife didn't like the attention.
"It's OK to take the exam, but you don't have to be so high profile," Liang said, quoting his wife. "If you enjoy being watched so much, please just show me high grades."
Balancing work and study
Liang is the fourth of five children in his family, none of whom have ever attended college. Because his father was labeled a counter-revolutionary during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), Liang and his family were forced to move from his home in Renshou county, Sichuan Province, and live in the countryside until 1979.
He then worked in a lumber mill for several years, managing to earn the title of "registered worker" in 1991. Unfortunately, the factory closed down a year later, and he went into business for himself.
In 1993, he went to Chengdu to open his building materials business, which eventually led to landing a contract with a factory and a sizeable income.
"I thought it was easy to make money then," said Liang. However, his success was short lived; within two years he lost 3 million yuan, claiming he couldn't keep up with "new business strategies" such as marketing.
He explains that ever since he has led an ordinary life, still selling building supplies. "Most of my friends are doing much better than me, but I don't complain," he said.
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