Meng Xiangjun, 19, is a junior at Zha Shui County Sr. High School. His first year he was ranked #31 out of the 60 students in his class. Now in the second year, he is ranked #12 for juniors in the high school overall. His favorite subjects are in science and he is particularly good at math. He hopes to pursue a major that relates to these areas.
Meng's academic standing has risen despite much hardship along the way. Of his 6 family members, 2 uncles have mental problems and his father suffers from cerebral thrombosis. Further, the family owns only 3 mu of land (1/2 acre) and works other lands where they grow potatoes and wheat. As a young boy Meng helped with farm work. His older brother completed high school, but only scored well enough for a level 3 university, so he decided to take a job pumping water at a mine.
Bedroom in Meng's family house (left), staple foods cooking and kitchen items (right).
During Meng's last year of junior high school, his father was hit in the leg by a car. By the second year of Meng's junior year in high school, 2006, the family's economic situation had become severe. The family needed more resources coming in and the associated costs of high school were simply too high. Meng stopped his studies for one year to earn some money for the family. He was able to find two jobs, the first as a delivery boy for a bar. The boss gave him room and food, plus 500Y ($65) monthly, but rarely paid him on time. After 4 months, the job simply became too much physically. Through a friend he found another job working in a restaurant. The boss paid him room and board and only 400Y ($50) per month, but at least paid him on time.
Meng returned to high school with the encouragement of friends and the school officials, who were able to give him first a half, then a full tuition waiver. He used all his work savings to pay the outstanding tuition charges and expenses, like books. Yet other costs remain relatively high. For one, as Meng's home is 35km from school, he must pay to live in the school dorm. As his brother must support the entire family, he is unable to provide much help to Meng. As a result, everyday he eats meals consisting of a steamed bun and soymilk for breakfast, rice noodles and bean sprouts for lunch and rice or rice noodles for dinner, keeping his food costs to 5Y ($0.66) per day. He has never purchased new clothes. All of his clothes were donated and he has no winter coat, so all winter long he must wear his only two sweaters to stay warm.
A dormitory at Meng's school.
A favorite grandchild, Meng explains that his grandfather provided him much encouragement. Meng says he tries to live by the many principles of life that his grandfather taught him. This semester he is studying even harder than before because he does not want to fall behind in his courses, including using a tape recorder a relative gave him, to try to improve his English.