This is a series of my diary entries; whenever I feel a day is interesting enough (or when I have enough time), I'll type it up and post it on here. Expect random stuff from time to time; I'm writing this to express my distaste for the Taiwanese education system. A bit of background information: I'm in the ninth grade, which, over here, is the last year of junior high, and, as a result, all we're supposed to do is study all day long to get into a good high school (Basic Competence Test for Junior High School Students, known as BC, are what you might call 'High School entrance tests'. Our whole society is education-driven; if you haven't graduated from a good enough school, it would be next to impossible to get a halfway-decent job). Just wait and see, this is going to drive someone to bits.

Oh, and of course I've changed all the names of the people mentioned. Chinese names are awfully hard for foreigners to pronounce properly.

Constructive criticism and comments would be greatly appreciated.

P.S. Taiwan is a Chinese-Speaking country. So most dialogue, unless otherwise marked, should really be in Chinese. My English is ridiculously good (I got full 990 points on the TOEIC test, for example) for a Taiwanese because I lived in Singapore for five years, until Primary Four. I started Primary Five here. Oh, and I absolutely love reading in English. That alone makes me a bit of a weirdo in my class because, to them, the only place 'abroad' is the US. As in, whenever I tell people that I lived abroad, they automatically assume it to be America. They look down on Singaporeans' english (let's face it, people: even Singlish is much better than the thing you speak that you call english). Because of this, my english is better than my Chinese (which is actually all right), especially at writing. Okay, time to stop the gibberish; start the story!

November 20, Saturday

You will not believe what happened to me today. And, technically, tomorrow morning. I still don't know whether to laugh or to cry.

Why was I doing this again? Oh, yes. My dad had signed me on for the GEPT (General English Proficiency Test) Advanced test. As if that wasn't enough, this was the writing/oral test. The good thing was that my mom came along as well. She hates writing even more than I do, though her oral is quite good.

Well, as I was saying, I didn't particularly relish the thought of taking either of those tests. I've had a bad experience with the intermediate test before.

Even worse, the test took my whole afternoon. When I got home, my younger brother, Victor, informed me that two of my friends, Alice and Yvonne, had called me. I was surprised; they don't call me often (actually, not at all). I tried calling both of them in the evening, but no one answered. I put the matter out of my mind. If they really wanted to contact me, it stood to reason that I would get a phone call sooner or later.

Even though no one answered, I still tried calling Alice a few times. No one ever picked up the phone. Finally, at about half past nine, Yvonne called.

"Did Alice call you?" she asked. She sounded quite worried.

"Yes, but I wasn't home," I answered, intrigued. What happened? "My brother took the call. What happened?"

"She called me in the morning and said something about meeting her in front of our school at two a.m. tomorrow, and she said she was already prepared. She asked me if I wanted to go with her."

I think I let out some sort of strangled gasp. "What? God. What did you say?"

"I said I don't know. Oh, she also said that this world wasn't for her or something like that. She sounded quite serious. And when I called her back later, no one ever answered."

"God," I said again. How could this be happening? I knew Alice was unhappy at school, had been since the eighth grade, in fact, but I hadn't known it was this bad. "Did she mention anything about this recently? She seemed quite normal to me." Of course, I see her less, now that our classroom is on the second floor and hers is on the fifth floor. Yvonne's class is on the fifth floor, too, so she sees Alice much more often than I do these days.

"I think she's said this a few times this last few days," Yvonne said slowly. "She's also been calling me on my cell phone recently, but I've always been in cram school, so I couldn't answer."

"Okay, this is weird. Normally, she never calls you. Or me. Right?"

"Yes," she confirmed. "What do you think we should do? Knock on her door?"

"Aargh! I don't know. Well, I suppose we could go press her doorbell. I know where she lives."

"Do you think we should call Christopher? It would be better if we had a boy with us."

Christopher was in the same class as Yvonne, and as of late, has become quite friendly with Alice as well. I knew him, too, from taking harmonica lessons together when we were in elementary school (long story). Still, I was astonished that Yvonne had suggested him. I mean, did this have anything to do with him? "Probably. Do you have his number?"

"No. Do you?"

I suppressed the urge to groan. "Doesn't your class have a contact list?" I asked instead.

"We do, but I lost mine."

"You could ask someone else in your class to look it up for you," I suggested.

"I suppose so. What do we do in the meantime?"

"Keep calling her house," I decided. "I'll ask my mom what we should do. Call you back later."

"Okay. Bye."

Great. Now I was worried as anything, and I couldn't focus properly. I felt jittery all over. My mom said that I shouldn't be too worried, because Alice's relation to her family was all right, and her mom would surely notice something wrong, but I still had a nagging doubt. My stomach wasn't feeling too well, either.

Finally. Yvonne called back. She reported that no progress had been made toward contacting Alice, but she did call Christopher. She said he would call me later. In the meantime, we tried to dissect every strange word that we heard come out of Alice's mouth lately, and we were horrified. It turned out that she had mentioned not wanting to live anymore, when I thought about it. More than once. This was bad, very bad. I can't even begin to describe how bad I felt.

Right after I hung up with Yvonne, Christopher called.

"Hello, you just got off the phone with Yvonne, right?"

"Yes," I said miserably. "She's told me everything Alice said to her. What can we do?"

"I don't know, either," he replied. Too bad. "But she has told me about not belonging to this world before, as well. This is a definite sign of suicidal intent."

"Why didn't she tell me anything?" I know I haven't seen her that much lately, but this is ridiculous. "She seemed quite all right to me. Suicide?"

"Yes," Christopher said gravely. "And she mentioned going to our school at two in the morning, right?"

"What, we should go there and see?" I asked.

"Maybe. What if something really happened?"

Oh, darn it. What an unholy mess. "How about we go press her doorbell? I know where she lives," I suggested again.

We talked for a while more, but reached no conclusions.

I consulted my mom. She said that Christopher was reading too much into things. I'll admit he worries too much sometimes, but still…

After that, she got on the phone with the mother of someone in Victor's class, and I tried to take my mind off the whole situation by reading a book.

When I managed to wrestle the phone away from my mom, I called Yvonne again to report on current status. In between, she got a call from Alice's old tutor, whom Yvonne knows because they play chess together, or something. Anyway, we decided to really show up at Alice's doorstep to press the doorbell, silly as it may seem.

I called Christopher with the news again. (Wow, I've used the phone more times today that I did the whole of last year!) We agreed to meet in front of the elementary school in ten minutes. By now it was 11:35 p.m. Even though I knew that something was terribly wrong, I couldn't help feeling a bit like I was going on an adventure. I mean, it's not every day that I get to go to someone's apartment in the dead of the night, is it? No, it isn't.

My mom and brother were going with me. I made an effort to call Yvonne, but no one answered. Strange.

Me, Victor, and my mom arrived at the elementary school first. A short while later, Christopher and his dad showed up. We went from there to Alice's house in a flash; she lives really close to both the elementary school and our current one.

Hmm, now that we were really on her doorstep, no one seemed to want to press the doorbell. I sighed and pushed the little button, and the sound of an electronic version of the Cuckoo Waltz rang through the night air.

No one answered. Just then, a man came running up. "Are you here to find Alice?"

Ah yes. Alice's dad. Although it does seem rather coincidental for him to run into us at this hour in the night. Or is it the other way round? Whatever. At least he ran into the right people.

"Yes, we are," I said. At least, I'm pretty sure it was me.

In the meantime, Victor was messing about with the doorbell (which had been answered), by blowing in the speaker. Someone, probably Alice's younger brother Edward, was knocking on it as well, judging from the strange sounds it emitted.

Alice's dad went up to the speaker and managed to get Alice's mom to come down. When she did, Christopher and I launched into an explanation of why we were there and just what Alice had done.

It turned out that Christopher had called his and Yvonne's form teacher (who just happened to teach our class as well) about the situation, who went on to inform the school. No one had told me about that. Meanwhile, Alice's dad went upstairs to check up on her.

Finally, Alice's mom asked us to come in, and we kids trooped into the elevator. The adults stayed out talking at first. Victor said he wanted to play with Edward (he's already in the seventh grade. Go figure). I think he hadn't filled his daily exercise quota yet.

Anyway, we found Alice sitting on her bed with red-rimmed eyes and nose, looking like death warmed over. Christopher and I sat beside her on the bed and tried to get her to open up.

After we tried to reassure her and get her to cry (which didn't work), Christopher declared: "You are so stupid."

I stifled a snort. He then proceeded to explain what she had put us through tonight. For a while, Alice's only reaction was nodding, shaking her head, or monosyllabic answers.

"Did you really mean to run away?" I asked.

"Yes," Alice said slowly. "I had it all planned out. I would set out at one forty-five, take fifteen minutes to walk to school, then say goodbye to everything with my eyes for half an hour."

My mind rang with disbelief. She was actually planning to do that? Leave all of us? Leave me? I forced my voice to sound calm as I asked the logical next question, even though I was itching to shake her. "Then what?"

"I don't know. I decided not to bring any money."

I could tell that Christopher was running through a list of all the bad things that could happen to her in his head when he asked, "Did you even think of what could have happened?"

Alice shook her head. Christopher then started listing what could happen, with me chipping in now and then. To make it short, nothing good.

I think that we talked for at least an hour and a half, although we never did get her to say what induced her to plan this madness. Periodically, there would be scuffling noises outside, or the sound of things flying through the air and hitting the door.

By the time Alice's dad asked us to get ready to leave, it was practically two in the morning. Alice finally looked much better.

Victor and Edward were having a good time chasing each other around (okay, I'm not sure, but they sure looked like they were enjoying it). After talking to Edward for a bit more, Christopher and I finally went downstairs. All the parents were sitting on the sofa, talking as well, but I wasn't sure about what.

"You're finished?" asked my mom.

"Yes," I said. "We were right. Ariel was planning to run away from here. Same as this guy did when he was in primary four." I pointed to Christopher. His dad grinned. It was among the many things that got talked about just now.

Apparently, after a blow-up with his mom, he ran away in a huff. Being the middle of the night, there were no public transports available, so he walked all the way to Taipei Main Station, getting lost and asking for directions on the way. And, when he finally got there, he bought a train ticket to Taichung. He safely arrived at his grandparents' house there. What's more, when his parents set out to fetch him back to Taipei, he took the train back up to avoid them. Eventually, of course, he had to return home.

You have to take your hat off to him. Fancy a ten-year old traveling a hundred kilometers on his own twice. I would never be able to pluck up the courage to do that. Besides, all my grandparents live either in the same house as me or within a five-kilometer radius.

I got home at a bit after two in the morning. Thank heavens I'd bathed already, so I collapsed into bed right after brushing my teeth. At least I don't have anything to do tomorrow, unlike Yvonne and Christopher, who both have tuition all day. Poor things.

[UPDATED AUTHOR'S NOTE: It's been more than a year since I first started this, and as you can surmise, I am finally done with the hellish year that is called ninth grade. To read about my further adventures in high school (and, of course, where the heck I ended up attending), I strongly recommend you skip to 'Chapter 84: Random Rant' as soon as you get enough of the Alice-Christopher-Yvonne saga. Personally, I love high school much, much, more, and though it's lacking in most of the angst of my early days, the encounters I have after graduation are far more complicated and fun. June 2012]