Temperatures have soared into the 90s. We’ve had a hot three days with the sun covered in haze, but not even cloud cover has stopped the steamy heat from surrounding all of us.
Despite the heavy air, LF managed to trot herself all the way to the sports field around 5:30 p.m. Sunday.
As I followed behind her, slowly crawling up the steep steps leading to the field, I could hear the semi-boisterous voices of the Qing Hai freshmen students.
These students are enrolled in Qing Hai University, a second tier 4-year college that has a branch school here on our campus. They study in Luzhou for 2 years and then go to Qing Hai University (Xining city, Qing Hai Province) to complete another 2 years for their BA degrees.
Qing Hai freshmen arrive earlier than those at our vocational college. They’ve already been here for over a week, but, as I mentioned before for first year students, their first order of business before attending classes is their military training period. Our vocational freshmen will likewise have military training beginning on Sept. 22 when they arrive.
“Yi, er, san! Yi, er, san! (One, Two, Three! One, two, three!)” I heard young students shout in unison while emerging onto the sports field.
The continuing drills and marching for the freshmen’s 8 days of military training is a tough one, especially in this sultry weather.
Military training is not mandatory in the top 4-year universities, it seems, but only in smaller colleges such as this one. It sounds quite daunting and aggressive but in actuality, it’s more of a freshmen boot-camp bonding time for classmates.
Students in two or three-year Chinese colleges don’t choose their own courses but only their course of study. After that, they are placed in a class with about 50 others in the same major. Everyone stays together for the 3 years they are enrolled in school, having the same classrooms, subjects, instructors and even dormitory rooms. At this time, they are given a prescribed course of study which will eventually give them their certificate. (No degrees are given at 3-year colleges, only completion certificates.)
Because they are new students, and many have never been away from home before, the 8 days of training become a special time to bond and adjust. Everyone stays together as a class, becoming a little platoon. Their instructors are soldiers from the nearby army college, just down the road from us. The students learn how to march together, clean and take care of their dorm rooms, do some martial arts (no shooting), live together as a unit, take care of one another and support one another through a very exhausting time. They start at 7:30 a.m. and don’t usually finish until 8 p.m.
There are also evening sessions where their military instructors talk to them about being disciplined in every aspect of their lives, both school and other. I also recall there is at least one late-night evening when every platoon (class) sits on the sports field at night, lights a little bonfire in their circle’s center and sings songs. Their instructors likewise participate which makes the experience especially memorable.
I remember several years ago, when Little Flower and I walked the track at the sports’ field, we happened upon such a military training night out. We were invited to join one of the classes, the English language majors. They were so excited to have their soon-to-be foreign teacher join them, and Little Flower as well, that they made sure to sing at least 2 English songs in our honor. When their macho, serious instructor joined in on one of these (Celine Dion’s “Our Love Will Go On” from Titanic), his overzealous gusto, not to mention his horribly bad English pronunciation, sent his “soldiers” into fits of uncontrollable laughter.
Before that experience, I had always pooh-poohed the Chinese military training period. Waste of time and energy, I thought. These kids should be in class, starting their college life and emerging themselves in their studies.
But sitting together with these young people, many so far from home and desperately missing their parents, I suddenly realized the importance of this mandatory 8-day session. The students had become a close-knit family due to all their hard work throughout the week. They concentrated on march steps and unity rather than being alone in a strange new environment. They learned the discipline necessary to live on their own, without mom to do laundry, the grandparents to pick up after them or dad to wake them up in the morning for school. And they had something in common to share with their new classmates: how hot they were, how strict their instructor was, how their muscles ached, how hungry all this exercise made them.
Watching them laughing and joking with one another, military training didn’t seem like such a silly idea after all.
The end of military training brings all the freshmen to the sports’ field in the early morning to perform before the leaders. After completing this basic training, they march by the platform and salute. They stand in neat rows at attention. They listen to the leaders welcome them as first year students and praise them on their 8 days of training. It’s a time of pride for both the students and their instructors, who have worked so diligently to shape up their small bands into hardy young people.
Yesterday, the Qing Hai students finished their military training with classes beginning immediately after their big show. I missed their final performance as I was teaching but maybe I can catch our Luzhou college freshmen when it’s their turn to shine before the administrators.
If so, I’ll be sure to post their finale pictures for all to see.
From Luzhou, wishing you Ping An (Peace), as always.