Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The People's Liberation Summer Camp

Last night, without much enthusiasm, I changed into shorts and a t-shirt and trudged down the stairs to hit the track. I don’t really enjoy exercise (shocker, I know), but I’m making yet another go of it this semester. Slow and steady, right? I’ve just been a bit heavy on the slow and a bit light on the steady.

Our track, like most, I imagine, is usually pretty sparsely attended in the evenings. There are a few students who run, more who stroll, and a generous smattering who lurk in dark corners making out with their girlfriends. From time to time I think of purchasing one of those battery-powered emergency floodlights and bringing it and a megaphone to the track at about 8:30 PM. You can get pretty close to those making-out couples before they notice you, and the comedic possibilities are endless. But I digress.

When I got to the track last night, it was completely overrun with students in groups of twenty, each girl wearing a full uniform and clutching a water bottle. At the head of each group was a young man in an army uniform – our students were still in the throes of freshmen military training.

It isn’t compulsory military service; at least, not in any recognizable sense. As far as I can tell, it seems to exist mostly to instill a vague sense of patriotism and discipline in the students. It only lasts for a week, and it consists primarily of three things: wearing bright blue camouflage uniforms, standing or sitting in ranks, and listening to speeches from real soldiers. There’s also a bit of marching and running, although the marching is a little shabby looking, since they only have a week to perfect their technique. In my mind, any productive military training would have to involve weapons of some kind, but I concede that the officers in charge might have a better idea of what constitutes ‘productive’ than I do.

Last night, the students were sitting in groups, watching their commanding officers make speeches, sing songs, and tell jokes. Two of the officers appeared to be putting on a skit of some kind, and another officer on the other side of the field was conducting vigorously while his group belted out what I took to be some martial chorus. Other officers (I say officers, but they were wearing camo and it was dark, so I’m not sure) practiced martial arts forms. It was intimidating at first, walking across a track full of soldiers, but a rigorous lack of discipline became apparent pretty quickly. One of the students waved me down.

“Hi, Dave!” she called. “I am Snoopy! Do you remember me?” She was attempting to master an advanced technique that involved marching in lockstep, turning her head ninety degrees, and saluting (presumably at a flag), but she and her allies kept getting about three goose-steps into the march and dissolve into giggles.

Other students broke ranks to wave or laugh. “Hello, I love you!” one girl shouted every time we passed her, to the laughter of her squadmates. Others were clapping and singing, and one girl was trudging across the field in her camo jacket and cap, neon green gym shorts, and flip-flops. Even the soldiers were less imposing than they had first appeared – one was away from the others, putting the moves on an older student, and another waved and said “Hi, hi! Hello!” as we crossed behind his group.

What looked rather ominous from a distance turned out, on closer inspection, to be rather benign. In fact, it was a lot like the Wilds, with more camouflage and communism. The only question I have now is this: where in the world are you supposed to hide if you’re wearing bright blue camo?


P.S. Forgive my lack of pictures ... something's not coming up on the site. I have a picture, and I'll post it as soon as I can, I promise!

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