Chapter 9: SARS arrives
The discussions on whether Xu Tingsheng had acted out of kindness or malice continued to rage on. However, the main characters themselves, the ‘Forced up Mount Liang Study Group’ trio of Xu Tingsheng, Huang Yaming and Fu Cheng, were themselves already in a frantic study mode.
The ears did not hear the happenings outside the window.
Old Zhou was very pleased with what he saw. From dawn to dusk, he hurried to and from the principal’s office, in effort to withdraw the disciplinary action planned against the three of them.
As the other students saw this as well, a sense of urgency emerged, that if even these lackadaisical guys are going all out, we cannot be left behind.
The learning atmosphere of the entire Grade 12 Class 10 had been driven up, caught along in the fervor, and as for the situation in Class 7, or any other class, Xu Tingsheng did not pay any attention to them.
Xu Tingsheng’s own study requirements were actually quite simple. For history, he just needed to spend a little time to review the difference between the old curriculum and the new ones which would come afterwards, after which it could be set aside. Geography had the smallest amount of content to be memorised out of the three Combined Humanities subjects, requiring not too much time. Out of the three, it was politics that required the most time. Xu Tingsheng memorised the content deep into the night. Fortunately, his memory had always been very good.
English-A couple of practice mock questions daily to get the feel of the language, and his basic intonations could very quickly be converted for use on the real battlefield.
Literature had limited examinable content to be regurgitated, so memorising during the daily morning classes would be sufficient, together with the sketching out of essay structures.
Mathematics-Xu Tingsheng had initially intended to completely give up on it, but in consideration of the feelings of Huang Yaming and Fu Cheng earlier, he had asked them for help in revising it. Now, this could no longer be retracted. Of course, he definitely did not intend to learn it systematically-that would simply be impossible. Instead, his strategy was to select certain chunks to bite off. For example, if the teacher said that geometry would definitely feature in a big way in the university entrance examinations, then geometry it was. Xu Tingsheng would personally get his book and digest the main foundational concepts of plane geometry and dimensional geometry. After that, Huang Yaming and Fu Cheng would each be responsible for one topic…mugging it till death.
Xu Tingsheng actually placed most of his efforts on Huang Yaming and Fu Cheng.
The two of them were already pretty decent at math. And now, by guiding Xu Tingsheng, they inevitably had to understand the topic in greater detail. Once a student takes a teacher’s perspective in organising the knowledge, identifying the conceptual laws and skills, his own skills will improve in tandem as well.
For the revision of the three subjects of Combined Humanities, Xu Tingsheng took the questions he recalled from the university entrance examinations and mixed them up with other essential knowledge. Hidden in every five to ten questions that he selected, was one question that would be coming up in the exams. All of them were tackled with the same focus, him helping to explain the concepts to the duo and also compelling them to learn it all by heart.
Both of them were basically very poor in their English. Xu Tingsheng pulled up some questions of choice, discovered that this method was not really feasible, and did not persist further. Instead, he got the two of them to familiarize themselves with some words daily. ‘Familiarize’-in that sense, it would suffice to basically recognise the meaning of the words. To be able to spell them was not needed.
In addition, during casual conversation, Xu Tingsheng would deliberately touch upon certain topics. For instance, while talking about Beckham and Batistuta, he would ‘conveniently’ bring up Maradona, mentioning how he almost won the World Cup in 1982, only to finally win it in 1986… This was one of the questions in the reading comprehension segment on Maradona, in the future university entrance examination.
And thus, yet another detail was added to the discussions the outside world was having about Xu Tingsheng’s trio: ‘They are really going all out’ and ‘They have really taken to going at it vigorously at this last moment’.
Huang Yaming and Fu Cheng were being tossed about and tested to their limits, with both harbouring this feeling, “Tingsheng, you… why do you seem so much like a teacher?”
Xu Tingsheng thought to himself in silence, “This old man was originally one, and not just that, was also the superstar asset of Jiannan City’s No. 2 senior high.”
Actually, with the exception of Xu Tingsheng – since his rebirth, this had not occurred to him, and he had not brought his attention to this matter till now – everyone else, through a variety of channels, had more or less already grown familiar with this term to some extent: SARS.
However, small town folk were always like that – if the news reported on ‘mad cow disease’, the people here would think ‘American cow meat won’t be exported all the way here’, and thus stop paying attention to the matter. The same thing was happening with ‘SARS’. Most initially, it had been said to have appeared in Guangdong, in Hong Kong, one person, three people. Other than being sympathetic to this news, the small town folk did not think that this issue would be of any slightest relevance to themselves.
However, this time, it really came.
Jianhai Province reported 11 cases, the number increasing with each day.
Jiannan City reported 3 cases, the number increasing with each day.
Libei County was clear for the moment, but…accompanied by the refugee-like return of countless Libei residents who had been away for work and business, panic eventually broke out, and that which had originally only appeared in the news, had finally materialized by their sides.
The school began requiring all students from all classes to take their temperature each day, to be recorded down on forms.
When this news was announced, there was a girl in class who was having a fever.
She sat in a daze for a moment, then began crying, saying as she wept, “It’s over, I may be about to die.”
Her boyfriend of the same class embraced her in a single go, kissing her, “I’d accompany you”.
Just like how Dong Cunrui sacrificing his life to bomb enemy fortifications ignited the hot blood of his fellow comrades in war, this event gave courage to many people.
Huang Yaming leaned close to Tan Qingling, asking if she had a fever. Yao Jing subconsciously looked towards Xu Tingsheng, her expression becoming very unnatural.
Xu Tingsheng sat in his seat.
“2003, March and April, I actually forgot about SARS.”
From his memories, during the time before the university entrance examinations, classes each day would begin with temperature taking, with the form filled and handed up. Those returning from other places were quarantined, as well as those with a fever. Even on those few days of the university entrance examinations themselves, whoever had a high body temperature would be allocated a separate individual examination room, with two examiners keeping watch over him or her alone.
Xu Tingsheng knew that Libei County had ultimately had no cases of SARS, but another issue now occurred to him-Fu Cheng’s examinations.
The original examination venue arrangements had been for Fu Cheng to sit on Xu Tingsheng’s right, just beside him. But on the day itself, Fu Cheng’s body temperature had been slightly high, and he had been arranged to the individual examination room. All alone in the examination room, to not be able to ‘take reference’ from others was still alright. However, to also be unwaveringly fixated upon by two people and their four pairs of eyes, with additionally the worry of whether he really was afflicted with SARS, Fu Cheng’s state of mind had almost completely crumbled. It had resulted in a serious abnormal impact on his performance. In the end, he had not even managed to achieve the cut-off point for a regular undergraduate education, and had had to repeat senior high school for one more year.
Following the same train of thought, Xu Tingsheng thought of Huang Yaming’s own unexpected examination circumstances. For his Language multiple choice questions, with the exception of the first answer which he had filled in correctly, the rest had all been filled up in the wrong order, eventually resulting in him missing the undergraduate cut-off point by a mere few marks, also having to repeat his year.
Actually, during the month before the university entrance examinations in Xu Tingsheng’s previous life, the two of them had similarly accompanied Xu Tingsheng in working hard on their studies, and their abilities had improved quite substantially. If not for those kinds of unexpected scenarios having occurred, the duo’s results would likely have been much better, their subsequent fate possibly shifting in consequence.
In this life, their period of hard work had been brought forward, plus unbeknownst to them, they were benefitting from ‘top secret information’ guidance, so their results could certainly be “*” now.
Then, would those unexpected scenarios happen again this time round?
No matter what, there was nothing to lose from planning ahead for a desirable outcome.
Xu Tingsheng thought for a moment and had an idea, one which, under the precondition of foresight, would not be too difficult to execute.
Xu Tingsheng turned his attention back to SARS itself.
‘SARS, indigowoad root, white vinegar’. As these three things connected within his mind, Xu Tingsheng suddenly had a brainwave.
With the 2003 SARS period had come a crazed wave of frenetic buying which Xu Tingsheng had experienced. The ‘legend’ of the indigowoad root ‘divine medicine’ hence sprung forth. In the drugstores of the entire nation, indigowoad root had within a short time become a rare and precious medicine for which the demand far outstripped the supply. Its value rose more than 5 to 10 times; in the black market, a box of indigowoad root could be exchanged for a soft pack of premium ‘Chunghwa’ cigarettes.
Even more lucrative than indigowoad root had been white vinegar. A bottle of white vinegar which cost about 1 yuan, had rocketed to a price of 50 to even 100 yuan a bottle during the SARS period.
This kind of panic buying was always criticized and ridiculed in hindsight. Yet, on every fresh emergence of a large-scale epidemic, such waves of frenetic buying would rise again as before. Whether the people really believed in the ‘Indigowoad Root Legend’, or simply sought psychological comfort, they would always be unable to simply watch from the sidelines, always succumbing to the fear of missing out.
In reality, in the face of such frightening epidemics, even mere psychological comfort was of tremendous importance to the people.
Xu Tingsheng considered for a moment, and noted with a tinge of regret that this had been the first major ‘pot of gold’ opportunity since his rebirth. Now, however, it was too late.
Having read some post-event analysis reports in his previous life, Xu Tingsheng was roughly familiar with the background of this wave of frenetic buying. Around the time of the Spring Festival [February], this wave of frantic buying had already emerged around Guangdong, and now was already the end of March now, close to April. Whether it was indigowoad root or white vinegar, the channels for them were already held firmly in control by the interested parties, already suppressing the supply of the goods and calmly awaiting the fermentation of the epidemic situation.
Not to mention that Xu Tingsheng lacked capital, even if he didn’t, it would also be impossible for him to acquire a sufficient supply of the goods now.
Filled with regret, in the afternoon after-school hours, Xu Tingsheng nevertheless still sought out Huang Yaming and Fu Cheng, the three of them scaling the school wall and scraping together 3000 yuan. Of course, most of this money came from Fu Cheng, the offspring of an official.
The trio swept through all the pharmacies and provision shops in Libei County, purchasing boxes of indigowoad root and white vinegar at prices slightly higher than the current market rate, then storing them securely in the firewood storage shed of Fu Cheng’s old house.
The 3000 dollars had not been completely spent, as quite a number of shopkeepers had already received the news, they themselves stockpiling the goods. Naturally, they would not sell it to Xu Tingsheng’s trio.
These few stacks of large boxes filled up a good half of the firewood storage shed. Xu Tingsheng primarily intended them for the families, relatives, and friends of Huang Yaming, Fu Cheng and himself, to help them tide through the upcoming calamity.
Of course, if there turned out to be a surplus then, he wouldn’t mind making a little money off it.