A shrill ring wrests me from my sleep. I feel around for the alarm’s reset button as my eyes digest the scene: a sparse dormitory room with two wooden beds, two compact nightstands and a door-sized window filling the room with unwanted early-morning sunlight. It’s 5:30 in the morning and I’m wondering if the pounding in my temples is due to sleep deprivation or the merciless July heat. Already, beads of sweat run down my arms and neck.
At 6 a.m., my roommate, Marie, and I stumble out into the courtyard. The 30-odd students of the school have already assembled on the steps outside. Some rub sand out of their eyes. Some stare stoically at the ground. Silence pervades. Suddenly, a whistle pierces the morning air. The formerly inanimate students spring to their feet and form five lines. Confused, I follow the girl in front of me, stand beside her and wait. The five “shifu,” or masters, emerge from the dormitory building and stand facing us. In one movement, the students bow. The masters return the gesture and point at the red-gated entrance. Instantly, the students turn and head toward the pond just outside the school’s perimeter.
“What are we doing?” I whisper to Stephanie, the girl who I’ve been following around like an abandoned puppy.
“It’s time to run,” she says.
“Then, why is everybody walking?”
“Because it’s 6 a.m. And we’re gonna do this three more times today.”
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