Had to take the morning off school last Thursday to sort the receipts for apartment so that I could get a rebate from the school. The whole receipt thing is amusing in itself, as I have to spend nearly 300quid each year to get the receipts, also, this a legitimate process that is done in a scruffy little seemingly illegitimate office ran by 3 causally attired people near were I live. I arrive at 9:00am when they opened up, only to find there was already a queue of 7 people. It turned out their card machine (for some reason they don’t except other payment methods) had ceased to function the day before and so the unprocessed residual customers spilled over to the next day.

So.. Ended up waiting for 2 hours. The old chap managing the door frequently coming outside to smoke on the doorstep with no consideration for small crowd queuing to get their receipts. Plenty of time to chat with my landlady (she needs to bring along the apartment documents and her ID) about this and that in Beijing: very insightful! Her son is 7 years old and attends junior school on the east side of the city. As well as extra after-school classes in Maths, English, Piano and Lego.. (nothing is to be merely played with, that would be a waste of time!) amongst others, I was told he’s recently been going to coordination classes (his mum was worried that his movements were too clumsy) and concentration classes (perhaps all too aptly named.. apparently one of the main activities is searching for particular strings of digits from an A4 sheet of small print numbers). The real shocker was when we were talking about his performance at school: in one Chinese literature test he got 93 out of 100 and came 3rd bottom in the class, the average mark being 98. My landlady found out later on, from an innocent thoughtless utterance from one of her son’s classmates, that of course they all did so well, because they’d gone through the questions the night before with their mum.. Apparently the solutions to test are up for sale and available on the internet! (I was told that this also wasn’t just a test for this one school, but for use across many schools in the district). Bonkers. Such a sense out here that everyone is trying to game the system in whatever way they can to get one up. I think back to when I was at school and parental involvement seemed negligible; one’s performance was based on some blend of natural ability & intrinsic motivation (unless I was was too naive at the time to notice otherwise?). Even the piano classes, my landlady tells me candidly, are for cultural capital for her son to show off with in the future. I admire her frankness, but any suggestions I made of another way to try doing things or pushing back were all met with with a sigh and “no other way, everyone’s doing it” (meibanfa,douzhemezuo). This has been reflected in the boom of the usage of “involution” in mainstream news outlets and social media in the last couple of years in portraying the fierce levels of domestic competitiveness (it was even was of the words of the year in one of my favourite periodicals).

Plenty to reflect on regarding Arthur’s future education! I’ve thus far been quite positive about primary school here, I think the mathematical foundation provided is superlative, but obvious apprehensions regarding political/social nurturing at school, and the potential for my personality being the way it is to create issues for Arthur should (when?) friction arise. Still got a couple of years to worry about that! Still got to get him signed up for Lego classes in meanwhile :p

Chicks being sold just across the road from the school. Everyone clearly cares about hygiene because they’ve got their masks on…

Trip to Dalian was off as the competition was cancelled last minute due to a couple of Covid cases in the same province (still hundreds of km away mind!).

Living in Beijing. Everyday trivialities, trivial thoughts.