Chapter 7: Ascending the Stage – the inaugural experience
Bao Ming’s gang were not called habitual offenders for nothing. Xu Tingsheng was not sure how they did it, but when the students affairs office staff searched one, the two knives were hidden on another, and when the search reached that person, the knives had returned to the one who had just been searched, and so the people of the student affairs office, having searched for a long time, never found them.
As for the circumstances of the brawl, both sides gave the same account of it, firmly sticking to the story Xu Tingsheng had offered earlier, the statements being completely in line. Huang Yaming and Fu Cheng had wanted to shoulder some of the blame with Xu Tingsheng, but had been fiercely stared down, sticking to the view that anything increasing the number of casualties was pointless.
The boys had separate questioning, then a group interrogation, followed by separate interviews once again. The old timers of the student’s affairs office had exhausted all means of investigation, and the statements given by everyone were still identical. In the end, the situation became simply a brawl that had started over an argument. Xu Tingsheng had started the fight, moving first to knock down three people, only subsequently involving his two friends and the rest of their group.
By the time of the second period in the morning, everyone else besides Xu Tingsheng had been sent back to their classes. Punishment was inevitable. Bao Ming’s gang’s pre-existing punishment level would be ‘upgraded’. They would basically be put on ‘detention’; any further issues and they would be on ‘recommended expulsion’. Huang Yaming and Fu Cheng’s lesser roles had been distinguished, so in accordance with the experience and judgement of Xu Tingsheng as a former form teacher, they should at most be given a “warning”, and minimally a “notification of criticism”.
“And you, Xu Tingsheng?” the staff of the student’s affairs office gathered around Xu Tingsheng, who was now the only one left there.
“Good grief, it can’t be-is Libei Junior High School taking severe measures against this?” Xu Tingsheng cursed inwardly, as according to his own predictions, this kind of brawl should only have landed him with a ‘demerit’ at the very most.
He was about to inquire further, but the chairman of the student affairs office was the first to speak, “This hasn’t been the only issue with you. Prepare to go up the stage shortly.”
Xu Tingsheng furrowed his brows, miserably thinking hard, “Could I have done something else before this? I can’t recall a thing.”
As usual, after Monday’s second period came the flag raising ceremony, following which selected teachers or outstanding student representatives would do a motivational ‘under-the-national-flag speech’. Finally, school leaders would make statements, give a conclusion of the week, or announce any matters.
Sometimes, students who had committed great wrongdoings would also go on stage during this mass assembly, to have their negative example publicly criticised before all and also for their own self-reflection.
In his previous life, Xu Tingsheng had never ascended the stage of Libei Senior High during this kind of mass assembly before, be it for something positive or negative.
Ascending the stage, the student affairs chairman fiddled with the microphone before clearing his throat, “In the previous week, the performance of the students was largely decent…other than a certain individual, who just had to be that one grain of rat dung…I shall not speak of the good things today. Introducing to everyone, Grade 12 Class 10, Xu Tingsheng.”
Xu Tingsheng bowed his head as walked up the stage, obediently standing in position.
“What ‘good things’ have this Xu Tingsheng done? Student Xu, how about you tell your schoolmates yourself?” the student affairs chairman prompted in ridicule.
Xu Tingsheng said nothing..
“Too embarrassed to say? Then I will help you to say. The first event. Two weeks ago, in the middle of the night, someone drank alcohol at the roof of the boy’s hostel, got drunk, sang songs on the rooftop, and then even flung the glass bottle down from the roof, almost…almost flinging it through the window of the girl’s hostel opposite. What kind of behaviour is this? This is hooliganism, this is… harassment. Who did this? This very person standing in front of you. Student Xu, is there anything you wish to say?” The student affairs chairman spoke with gusto and pace, nearly saying that word that frequently came before harassment (sexual). A roar of laughter came from beneath the stage.
Xu Tingsheng’s entire face had turned bitter, and also as red as a melon.
“I actually did this too? This is too disgraceful; it can’t be that I have been falsely accused, right? How is this possible…there is absolutely no recollection of this from the memories of my previous life at all.”
No matter whether this accusation was true, he was powerless to defend himself in this situation.
“If it was really me who did this, although calling it hooliganism isn’t too far fetched… harassment though, now this is quite excessive,” Xu Tingsheng thought in shame.
The student affairs chairman, seeing Xu Tingsheng’s pained and regretful expression, did not continue pressing on this matter, instead continuing, “The second incident. The school has a strict system for requesting a leave of absence. Students cannot violate this, and teachers…all the more so, must not cover such things up. However, our student here, Xu Tingsheng, simply chucked a strip of paper into the staffroom and considered it as having applied leave, next vanishing for a week. Do you know what his reason for taking a leave of absence was?… Come here, Xu Tingsheng, you tell everyone about it yourself.”
Regarding this, the majority of people below the stage had already heard of it, and those still unaware were already asking their classmates as well. With the microphone pushed to his mouth, Xu Tingsheng pursed his lips in silence, reflecting on the fact that he was in truth already already a man in his thirties. What kind of absurd situation was this!
“If I want you to speak, you have to speak,” the student affairs office chairman raised his tone.
Xu Tingsheng could only say in a low tone, “This world is so vast, I wish to experience it.”
“A little louder; speak clearly.”
“This world is so vast, I wish to experience it,” Xu Tingsheng loudly uttered the phrase once more.
In actual fact, he had wanted to say, the world is so vast, I ‘came back’ to experience it. Upon speaking, Xu Tingsheng wished to find a crack in the ground to vanish into, but what was disharmonious with this was that cheers had startlingly emerged from below the stage, an overwhelming majority of them female voices. He had almost forgotten that this era was one in which possessing some artistic ability was still rather appreciated.
“Very well spoken; this world is so vast, only having graduated and gotten into a good university will I go and experience it. Without focusing on your studies now, you still wish to experience the world? Go home and lie facing the yellow soil back to the sky as you look at sweet potatoes…Student Xu, it will be recorded that you skipped class for five days,” The student affairs office chairman thus concluded the second matter.
“The last matter. Just this morning, fighting, gang bashing…I believe many students saw it, that the person who raised his fists and stirred up the commotion was this Student Xu once more. Yes, Student Xu is very brave, a single person charging towards eight people. How many opponents do you want? Do you take this place to be a school or a boxing ring?”
With the microphone brought to his mouth once more, an inappropriate voice popped up in Xu Tingsheng’s mind, that of Donnie Yen saying ‘I want to fight 10!’ Naturally, he did not say it out loud. He could not bear to let this go on much longer; to stand on the stage for one more minute was already arduous torture.
Afraid that the student affairs office chairman might drone on about this and not let him go, he automatically began his self-reflection, “I was wrong. I was unruly, and became rebellious amidst my own laughable ignorance. I have let down the school, let down my parents, let down my schoolmates, and betrayed my teacher’s expectations…I will definitely change for the better and work hard in my studies, striving to get good results for the next monthly tests, the university entrance examinations, to achieve even better results so as repay the school and my teachers who’ve taught me…especially Mr Zhou.”
Xu Tingsheng had witnessed quite a number of self-reflections by students in his previous life, and thus was able to self-reflect as well. He had specially mentioned Mr Zhou at the end because the student affairs office chairman’s earlier remark that ‘teachers should not cover for students’ was obviously targeted at him, and he felt that he had let Mr Zhou down.
As much time had gone by and Xu Tingsheng’s reflection had been very sincere, the student affairs office chairman felt that there was nothing more to add on, and so immediately announced the verdict. As an overall punishment for Xu Tingsheng’s numerous misdeeds, the disciplinary action taken against him would be ‘school detention’. Also announced were the disciplinary actions taken against the others involved in the brawl, and the hope that the other students would learn from this example.
Huang Yaming and Fu Cheng both received a warning.
The assembly was finally dismissed.
Xu Tingsheng bowed his head, miserably returning to his classroom under countless watchful eyes and sounds of discussion.
As he walked past the staffroom, Old Zhou patted him on the shoulder, “Study hard, I will settle the punishment for you.”
Xu Tingsheng had the notion of apologising to all those troublemakers whom he had personally hauled up on stage in his previous life.
Too disgraceful, this was really too disgraceful. Especially the first matter; that was really just too much. Xu Tingsheng lay sprawled over his desk, not daring to raise his head. Regarding this sort of thing, his mental age of 31 years old would not make him more composed. On the contrary, it only made him feel even more embarrassed.
The response of the other students were, however, a little different from what Xu Tingsheng would have thought.
Upon the end of the third period, several boys even came over to pat his shoulders, “Tingsheng, that was way too crowd-drawing.”
‘Crowd-drawing’-this phrase had already long since faded away from Xu Tingsheng’s mind. In his eyes, being ‘crowd-drawing’ was suicidal, the kind of uncalled for show-offness which only fools would attempt. In opposition to this, being low-key while also freaking cool was the true, godly way.
In this era, however, this was different. To say that you were ‘crowd-drawing’ now really had no malice to it.
From the perspective of all the bystanders, Xu Tingsheng was really too ‘crowd-drawing’, especially so in the eyes of all the girls.
Girls at this age were split into two kinds, one being more romantic, liking boys who sang songs, played football and participated in fights.
Singing songs went without saying, this being a very effective babe magnet in any era. And now, even though the girls could not know how good Xu Tingsheng’s singing was, him singing drunkenly at the rooftop in the middle of the night was itself already iconic.
“I heard that he can also play the guitar, that the school managed to catch him due to the guitar he left behind on the rooftop.”
“Hee, I want to hear him playing the guitar and singing on the roof, singing for me alone.”
All this gossiping went on unbeknownst to Xu Tingsheng. If he had known that the school had accused him based on a guitar, he would definitely cry out in injustice, because very certainly, very assuredly, he definitely could not play the guitar at all, much less sing while playing one.
Regarding football, in the 2002 FIFA World Cup hosted by Korea-Japan, China’s football team had qualified for the World Cup finals for the first time, igniting a wave of football fever. Although China’s football team ended up not scoring a single goal in all their three matches, in schools, football was currently even more popular than basketball. Xu Tingsheng had regularly featured as the midfield playmaker of the school’s football team, wearing the Number 10 shirt. Girls who had seen him on the ball were plenty, and based on the little football understanding they had from joining in the sheer frenzy, the Number 10 was simply the best.
Fighting. This was the period when Hong Kong’s famous gangster film series were hot in the movie theatres of every small town, the burgeoning improvement of the internet with each passing day also helping to spread this phenomenon. Hence, within the fantasies of girls, men should drink the blood of horses for sustenance amidst grave hardship, be quick to repay debts of gratitude and exact vengeance for all enmities. They should be as handsome and as vicious as Chen Haonan, and should be like Andy Lau, smashing the display cabinet of the bridal boutique to get the most beautiful wedding gown for Wu Qianlian, carrying a nosebleed as he took her street racing.
Consequently, in the eyes of the girls, bad boys like that were cute. Boys were certainly allowed to fight, just that they had to belong to the “scoundrel with a good heart” theme. You couldn’t be a crow or a mangled wolf, you had to be Chen Haonan, the ‘positive, upright kind of villain’. Did Xu Tingsheng fit this?
Yes, without doubt, for Bao Ming’s gang carried a criminal, malicious image, an impression that was already deeply imprinted in many people’s hearts, and by taking a stand against them, Xu Tingsheng was clearly the upright one. Even the immensely well-behaved Tan Qingling had remarked to Huang Yaming, “Well fought.”
Xu Tingsheng having been ‘pressed to the ground and beaten up’ was naturally overlooked by everyone, because how had the student affairs office chairman said it? That he had single-handedly charged towards eight people by himself.
“From my sources, he instantly took down three people all by himself.”
“From my sources, there was a girl who was standing behind him pulling his sleeve. Although it is not clear who she was, she was definitely very pretty. This fight was probably over that girl, a clash of fury over a young beauty.”
“How romantic, but the female main character should plainly have been me!”
Then, there was the other kind of girl who themselves were diligent and studious, fancying boys who were good at their studies, who thought it unacceptable if you could were not proficient in the arts to some degree, or unable to do some bit of writing at the very least.
“That Xu Tingsheng was only in 10th grade when he already had an article published in the Jianhai Youth Daily.”
“I feel that more captivating is still the ‘this world is so vast, I wish to experience it.”
“Going off for a vacation when he just felt like it; I wonder if he is lacking a travel companion?”
“Yearning for love already.”
“I heard that he promised in the staffroom to rank in the top 20 of the entire year for the next monthly tests. I’m really looking forward to him being able to achieve this-now that would just be perfect.”
“Maybe it’s like what Mrs Hong said that time. They say that his academics aren’t that good, and many are waiting for this to end up as a huge joke.”
“Now that he is in the limelight like this, there will inevitably be people like that. Actually, not being able to achieve that goal wouldn’t be much either, right; as long as there’s improvement, it should be good enough.”
“I bet that he will be able to do it, and infuriate all those people when the time comes.”