Onlookers can be forgiven for thinking that the whiskered middle-aged man walking into the exam room is a father of one of the test takers there.
Liang Shi, 44, attends a class for pre-exam training in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, last week to prepare for the national college entrance examination. [Provided by Huaxi Metropolis Daily]
But rather than coming to support a child, he will be taking an exam himself. Tuesday will bring his 15th sitting for the gaokao, the national college entrance exam, in the past 28 years. This time he will take the exam together with his teenage son.
"I only want to realize a dream," Liang Shi, a 44-year-old native of Chengdu, capital of Southwest China's Sichuan province, told China Daily on Monday.
"It's as if I wanted to drink, but the water hasn't boiled even though I've added a lot of firewood. I believe now it will finally boil."
Liang first took the gaokao in 1983, when he was 16. The dreaded exam was then deemed as a ticket to changing one's fortune - but he was not admitted to a single school in the exam.
Finally, in 1985, an offer came from a local technical school. Liang accepted it but soon dropped out, believing he deserved to go to a better college. He prepared to re-sit the exam the following year, when he was working part-time. His efforts again did not produce the desired result.
During those years, he moved about the province, trying his hand at various jobs. He fixed machines, chopped wood and sold clothes and TV sets. All the while, he continued to study and sign up for the exam each year.
Liang began to sell building materials in 1995. He now owns a store and employs nearly 200 people.
He cultivated his career and a marriage. All the while he refused to give up his dream of succeeding on the gaokao, despite his age.
"My friends found my pursuit to be a bit baffling, since I was spending my time and energy on things that seem to be irrelevant to my life now," Liang said.
His bookcase overflows with the reference books he has used during the years that he has been taking the exam. He does not indulge in hobbies that are common among middle-aged Chinese man - playing mahjong, drinking and smoking.
He likes tea. So he prepares for the exam in a teahouse every day.
Commenting on his son's plan to also take the exam, Liang said he is not interested in competing with the next generation but only in fulfilling his dream.
"Teenagers nowadays cannot know how much we yearned to go to college 30 years ago," he said. "University students were branded as privileged people."
Although he has taken the exam more than a dozen times, he still feels nervous every time he is confronted with it. His aspiration is to study mathematics in Sichuan University. To be admitted there, he must score at least 500 points on the exam; in recent years, his highest has been a 400.
Liang said he will think twice about taking the exam next year if his score this time falls far below his expectations.
"No matter if it's a good or bad result for the exam, I will try my best and eliminate a large regret in my life if I succeed in becoming a university student," Liang said.