Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Cutest Army

I'm taking an early-morning intensive Chinese course at a college in Shanghai. Originally I thought it would be fun to be part of a college atmosphere. But, the students studying Chinese are pretty much confined to a little corner on the sprawling campus, so I don't get much of the "Saved by the Bell" lifestyle. From what I have seen, though, Chinese university involves a lot of marching!

Yes, that's right, right outside my window are a bunch of 18 year olds, mostly girls, marching around in military uniforms. I'm very curious so I asked around about it. China doesn't have mandatory military service, but it does have military training. Freshman at junior high, high school, and university, will be given military training - usually three days for junior high students, a week for High Schoolers, and two weeks for college students. Outside of Shanghai or Beijing, a fair amount of people don't go to High School, and the large majority don't attend college - those people don't get the military training.

I like this girl with the pigtails - she reminds me of Cultural-Revolution era movies! Anyway at this college the military training is at the college for two weeks, but it's not standardized. Other people I talked to said they went to a special camp to train for a month, or that their college didn't have any military training, or that they only trained for a week. They told me that there was one college where you had to train in the military for a year! Although most of the people told me men and women were treated the same, one woman told me that at her college the men practiced firing a rifle for all of 8 shots apiece, at the very end of the training period, but the women didn't. Half the sky, half the sky...

While to me a very brief military training sounds kind of interesting, almost everybody I talked to about it said it was a waste of time. They marched around in heavy clothes, it was really hot, and sometimes they had practice emergency drills, really early in the morning. I mentioned the idea that the freshmen should band together and attack, say, Vietnam, but they didn't seem too keen on the idea. "It's not real military training," they told me. Which I guess is good, because what kind of genuine boot camp features parousels?

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