A: Living conditions were difficult, but even worse, my father told me years later that I didn’t begin speaking until 3 years old and that people in the village told him that I must have a defect. But my father said to them, "Look at his eyes, they are very clear. He’s smart, look at his eyes!"
Q: Life proved your father to be right, but what was your early childhood education like in a rural school system?
A: School was organized by village. The teachers were not professionally trained, so I really had to learn on my own. I can still vividly remember my first day at school. I was 4 years old, and could not write my name. This infuriated my teacher, who burned my books in front of the entire class. He told the class that I had no ability to learn and should go home.
Q: That must have been very embarrassing for you, particularly at such a young age. How did you react to the teacher's words and the book burning?
A: My goal was to prove the teacher wrong, and I did, because I soon began to prove my abilities in math and was consistently scoring 100%. I would arrive at school early in morning and wait for the doors to open. I enjoyed school, so was always there first. Because I would be expected to work with my father in the rice fields, I also disciplined myself to study at night. We had no electricity, but I learned to use an oil lamp or candle between me and my book to read. In the wintertime it was particularly difficult to study, because much of the time we had no heat, but I was determined to persevere through the cold and life's challenges to succeed.