Drawing on ethnographic research in northern Laos, this article analyses articulations of a good life in primary school textbook imagery and how this resonates with everyday life in rural upland communities. This is contrasted with children’s sketches of a good life found in the classrooms and ethnographic accounts of moments of ‘good time’ in the context of rural schooling. It is argued that these latter moments constitute brief instances of a good life in the present. Given the deeply hierarchical power relations in which rural education is embedded, not all of these good times stay good for very long. This is reflective of the condition of late socialism in rural areas.