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What's it like to be a teen in China?

For kids: Find out what life is like for middle-schooler Gao Yilan.

By Donna Scaramastra Gorman / May 27, 2008

Life in China: Thirteen-year-old Gao Yilan lives in Hebei Province in China, just east of the capital, Beijing.

Donna Scaramastra Gorman

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Beijing

His alarm goes off at 6 a.m., and 13-year-old Gao Yilan hops out of bed for a quick breakfast of bread and milk.

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By 6:30 a.m., he is on his bike heading to school in China's Hebei Province, just east of Beijing.

Yilan is in eighth grade, and he has a long day filled with classes. He and his classmates study Chinese, English, math, physics, geography, biology, art, and music.

School starts at 7 a.m. and lasts until 5:15 p.m. every night of the week, although he does get to bike home for lunch with his grandmother in the middle of the day.

After lunch, he pedals back to school with his best friend, Jiao Jiu.

Yilan lives in an apartment with his mother, who is a language teacher; his father, a sales manager; his grandmother; and two small, yellow parrots. The whole family gathers together for dinner each night. Yilan's favorite meal is his mom's sweet-and-sour pork.

Yilan loves to read. He has read lots of books you may be familiar with, including "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," by Mark Twain, and Judy Blume's "Double Fudge." He also likes reading Chinese history books.

But he admits he doesn't have much time to read. He usually has at least an hour of homework every evening – and often more than that.

Most Chinese children also have an English name – such as "Henry" or "Jack" – that sounds close to their Chinese name. But Yilan's English name, which his parents chose, is "Seven Eleven" because "I was born on July 11 – 7/11," he explains.

When he grows up, Yilan wants to go to college in the United States and study to become a lawyer since "I'm good at talking," he says. He then plans to return to China to work.

He would like to live "in a quiet place, like Sanya," a beach town on Hainan Island, in southern China. His other grandmother, his mom's mom, lives on Hainan Island, and when he goes to visit her there, he likes to swim.

Yilan has big plans for his future. For now, though, he is enjoying being a kid: When he finishes his interview with me, he thanks me politely in English and returns his attention to a video game.

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