Edited by Isalee
Bai Xinyu walked over hesitantly. Xu Chuang leapt down from the podium, walking towards him with his hands clasped behind his back. As Xu Chuang paced around him once, his sharp gaze felt as though it was flaying Bai Xinyu’s skin off.
Xu Chuang finally spoke. He did not shout at the top of his voice, but his entire body was thrumming with his imposing tone. “Let me inform all of you first. This place is different from other troops. Why are we different? Number one, this is the highlands — you’ll need to exert yourselves twice as hard before you can get used to the climate here. Two, your instructors are different. Forget the fact that you even have parents once you’re in my hands. Don’t anticipate that you’ll be able to muddle your way through this bootcamp for three months and graduate from here. The soldiers that I teach must all act like soldiers. Three, this place is situated at the borders of our motherland. Although you’re not border guards, there is a possibility that each soldier here might have to pick up a rifle and shoot someone. If we come across the assholes who dare to come stir up trouble on our territory, every single one of you will need to rush forward and kill them all! Forget that you come from a time of peace once you’re here. After putting on this uniform, your heads can break, your bodies can bleed, but you cannot embarrass our army.”
Xu Chuang’s eyes fell upon Bai Xinyu after his speech. “I don’t care how you, this young master, got in here. Once you’re in the troop, you’ll be treated the same as everyone else. Today, you were 5 minutes and 38 seconds late. If I am to punish you, that would be unfair as I didn’t give you any prior warning. Therefore, I won’t punish you today, but you’ll have to arrive here 5 minutes and 38 seconds earlier than the stipulated time tomorrow.”
Bai Xinyu answered, quavering, “Oh, ok.”
Xu Chuang slapped him on the back. “Straighten up, say ‘yes’!”
“Return to your group.”
Bai Xinyu hurried back to his dorm mates.
Xu Chuang added, “In the next few days, you will mostly be learning about the camp’s regulations and housekeeping, as well as training in formation. However, I feel that each and every one of you new recruits look listless. You all lack the spirit of a soldier. Go run three kilometres for me now and wake yourselves up!”
Bai Xinyu was currently so hungry that he felt unsteady on his feet. Upon hearing that he had to run three kilometres, he thought that it did not sound like a great distance, and he would be able to endure it. At that moment, he had no concept of how far three kilometres was.
The squad leader of their little group of new recruits was a young man in his early twenties. His skin was fair, and he had a pair of glasses, looking rather refined and gentle. His posture while standing at attention was perfect. Originally standing at the front motionlessly, once he heard Xu Chuang’s command, he shouted as he looked steadily forward, “Stand at ease… Attention—”
Squad after squad started following their leaders, running towards the poplar forest beyond the drill ground. As for Xu Chuang and Wang Shunwei, they shadowed them on a motorbike.
Surrounding the entire camp was a poplar forest. Apparently, it was to block the wind and chill. In such a barren place like the borders, poplar trees, this sort of tenacious living thing, also represented an indomitable spirit.
However, only after running slightly more than three hundred metres, Bai Xinyu no longer had the mood to admire the straight and tall poplars anymore. He was already huffing and panting.
Quite a few out of this bunch of recruits came from the flatlands. The campground was situated three thousand metres above sea level, and it actually was not considered to be very high. If they did not do any strenuous exercises, these young people would at most need a couple of days to get used to it. However, once they started exercising, Bai Xinyu immediately understood what Xu Chuang meant by “needing to exert yourselves twice as hard”. Although he was severely devoid of exercising usually, he refused to believe that with his age, he would feel like he was on the brink of death after running less than five hundred metres, that his feet would start to feel weak, and his breathing would become difficult. He was not the only one who felt this way. The others also started to exhibit signs of altitude sickness. The more they ran, the more out of breath they felt. Running three kilometres in the flatlands was very different from doing so in the highlands.
The squad leader led them on a run around the poplar forest. After one kilometre, the originally neat formation started losing shape. The difference in physical fitness now became very apparent. There were people, like their squad leader and Yu Fengcheng, who were still leading the group without a change in expression. As for Bai Xinyu, Qian Liang, a few fat ones had fallen to the back of the group, huffing and puffing as they moved their feet.
At first, Yu Fengcheng was up ahead. Turning around to see that Bai Xinyu was lagging behind, he deliberately slowed his steps and ran next to him, deriding him, “How is it? Are you hungry?”
Bai Xinyu swore at Yu Fengcheng’s ancestors silently. He was really good at mentioning things he should not. Bai Xinyu was so hungry that his stomach felt as though it had shrunk. If he was given two mantous and no water, he would still be able to eat them all up.
Yu Fengcheng said, “You thought that there would be breakfast upon waking up? The training now is actually still considered easy. Later on, once we’re on track, the physical training every morning would be a compulsory session, and you’ll only be able to have breakfast after finishing it.”
Chuckling, he continued. “I’ve said it already. Someone like you actually dare join the troops?”
Bai Xinyu glared at him. “It wasn’t my choice.”
Qian Liang gasped for air. “Bro, how are you… so familiar with the troops?”
Yu Fengcheng responded, “My entire family has been in the army.”
“Fuck, so impressive… huff… I really can’t do it anymore, how far have we ran already?”
“We’re probably about halfway.”
Bai Xinyu rolled his eyes. He felt that if he were to continue running, he would die. Why was it so exhausting?
Feng Dongyuan too slowed down, and ran next to them. He smiled, “You city recruits really can’t make it, you lack training. Your breathing isn’t right either. You should count as you breathe. 1, 2, 3, breathe. Right, regulate your breathing like this will make it a lot better.”
Bai Xinyu tried it. It did help, but only a little. Reaching the two kilometres mark, he really could no longer hold on, and thumped to the ground. “I can’t do it… I can’t run anymore…”
Feng Dongyuan wanted to pull him up. “Xinyu, hurry up and stand up. It’ll be troublesome if the commander sees you.”
Bai Xinyu waved him off. “I-I really can’t do it already… Don’t bother me… Let me sit for a bit.”
Yu Fengcheng was not as easy going as Feng Dongyuan. He yanked at Bai Xinyun’s collar, dragging him up. “Run!”
Bai Xinyu howled, “Damn it, I’m not running anymore! What madness is this, running even before the sun comes up. Whoever likes to run can just run, I’m not going to run anymore!”
Although he was not very loud, several people around him still heard, and they all turned to look at him.
Their fair-looking squad leader came running over, side-eyeing Bai Xinyu. “What’s going on?”
Bai Xinyu started acting shamelessly. “Squad Leader, I can’t run anymore, I need to rest.”
The squad leader narrowed his eyes. “How do you want to rest?”
Bai Xinyu paused. “I’ll sit down and rest?”
“Sure, take your seat.”
Bai Xinyu swallowed, feeling that this person’s aura was a little strange.
Bai Xinyu did not care anymore. He plonked his ass onto the ground, spreading his legs apart.
The squad leader then sat on his back, pressing his upper body downwards. Bai Xinyu shrieked, momentarily feeling that the muscles of his thighs had been torn apart violently. It was so painful that tears swam in his eyes. “Ahhhhhh it hurts ah—”
The squad leader adjusted his glasses. That fair face was expressionless, and he pointed ahead. “You guys continue running. Whoever who wants to rest, just sit down and stretch your muscles.”
Qian Liang’s eyes widened, and scooted away with the wind. Suppressing his laughter, Yu Fengcheng too continued running. Only Feng Dongyuan shot Bai Xinyu a sympathetic glance before running ahead as well. Bai Xinyu’s cry had stimulated everyone’s morale, and no one in the three squads dared to drag their feet, all running spiritedly.
Bai Xinyu howled, “Leader, leader, I’ll run! I’ll run!”
The squad leader crossed his ankle across his knee, sitting comfortably on Bai Xinyu’s back. “It’s better that you rest a bit more, if not you’ll be exhausted.”
“No no no, I’m not tired anymore. I’ll run ah— Leader, quick, let me go!”
The squad leader clearly looked quite thin, but when he sat down, he felt as though he weighed a ton. Bai Xinyu could not even lift his head. As a man, his body was already not flexible. For his muscles to be stretched so suddenly, both his legs ached painfully.
“You’re really not tired anymore?”
“No, I’m not tired anymore!”
Only then did the squad leader move away, pulling Bai Xinyu up from the ground. He patted away the dirt on Bai Xinyu’s pants, adjusting his Sam Browne belt, and even patted Bai Xinyu on his head. Kindly, he said, “Let’s go.”
Bai Xinyu took to his heels. Despite his thigh muscles still aching, he did not dare to even pause for a bit. Running would at most tire him out, but muscle stretching was really too fucking painful.
He only found out later that the squad leader was called Chen Jing, and he had a special nickname, “Poker-faced Scholar”.
A short distance of three kilometres, in the high altitude and without a bite of food, was like torture for some of the more physically weak recruits.
By the time they made one round around the poplar forest and back to the drill ground, Bai Xinyu felt that he was basically dragged back by his two legs, and he did not even have the energy to take a full breath.
Xu Chuang and Wang Shunwei leisurely returned on their motorbike. Xu Chuang leapt off it, narrowing his eyes at the recruits for quite some time before roaring, “Attention!”
Everyone straightened up immediately.
Xu Chuang sneered, “Look at the weaklings you are. Only running three kilometres and you’re so tired. You children have been too pampered.”
He slowly took out a cucumber from his bag, snapping it in two. Handing one half to Wang Shunwei, he took a bite out of the other half. As he chewed, he continued, “Let me warn you first. From now on, you’ll be running five kilometres every morning, and that’ll be your appetizer for breakfast.”
Bai Xinyu felt like weeping, but could not shed a tear. He wondered, who would actually like torturing themselves this much?
“Are you all awake yet?”
The crowd answered feebly, “We’re awake.”
“Louder! Are you a bunch of girls?!”
Xu Chuang nodded, and abruptly tossed what was left of his cucumber towards Bai Xinyu with great force. “You! Stand up straight!”
Bai Xinyu was originally slumping over, his body sagging down towards the ground. The small chunk of cucumber hit his body accurately, and although it did not hurt, it still gave him a shock. He hurriedly straightened his body, looking at Xu Chuang anxiously as he blinked.
Xu Chuang spoke, “This afternoon, you won’t be doing any physical training. Your squad leader will take you back to your dormitory, and you’ll learn the housekeeping standards we require here, then you’ll eat after that. Before dinner, there’s another three kilometres to run, and after dinner, there will be lectures by various instructors. This will be the schedule for today.”
He looked at Wang Shunwei. “Lao-Wang, did I forget anything?”
Wang Shunwei responded, “Your words are too coarse.”
“You’re the one in charge of speeches, and disciplining them is my business. Fine, there’ll be ample time for you to speak tonight. We’ll end it here then, I’m quite hungry. Let’s go and have breakfast.” Xu Chuang pointed at the recruits. “Squad leaders, take your squads back to their dormitories.”
He then threw an arm around Wang Shunwei’s shoulders and headed for the canteen.
Bai Xinyu looked down at that little chunk of cucumber on the ground. He recalled the mantous and the braised pork they discussed last night, and saliva pooled in his mouth. He felt as though his saliva could fill an entire pool. Thinking back, he now considered even that mess of a meal served on the train might have tasted pretty good.
Chen Jing shouted a signal, and led them back to their dormitory. He then got everyone to stand in two lines, and to start introducing themselves. They were to say their name, which year they were born, where they came from, how many people were there in their family, their interests and hobbies, and anything that came to mind for the purpose of allowing everyone to get to know each other.
There were twenty odd people in their squad, and they covered about 8 or 9 provinces in the country. Most of them came from Beijing, Shandong, Shaanxi, and Xinjiang.
Qian Liang was from Shandong, and he had a simple and honest character, as well as a little playfulness to him. He liked chatting and joking, and when he introduced himself, he even gloatingly mentioned that he had a girlfriend back home that he would marry once he returned. This made those fellows who had yet to even hold the hand of a girl before extremely envious.
Feng Dongyuan was from Shaanxi. He came from a poor family, and did not have money for university, so he joined the army. However, he emphasised that once he earned enough money, he still wanted to get a degree, as this was his dream. While saying this, a trace of determination could be seen on his usually warm and smiling face.
Yu Fengcheng was originally from Hebei, and moved to Shanghai with his family in his teens. Although he never mentioned a word about his family, Bai Xinyu could still guess that the move was due to his family being transferred to Shanghai. His self-introduction was very short, as though he deliberately did not want to reveal too much of himself. However, Bai Xinyu had a very deep impression of his age, as this bastard was actually three years younger than him.
Bai Xinyu could not help but glare at Yu Fengcheng. When Yu Fengcheng felt his eyes boring into him, he turned his head around. Giving an ambiguous smile, Yu Fengcheng suddenly stuck his tongue out and licked the corner of his lips. That wicked charm was enough to cause one to fall into a reverie, and Bai Xinyu was so furious that he nearly vomited blood.
The last one to introduce himself was the youngest one in the squad. He was only sixteen, and of the Uighur ethnicity. His name was Batur, and out of all of them, his home was the closest to the camp. Bai Xinyu had never noticed him previously as the boy was a little short, always standing at the back. When he opened his mouth, his Mandarin was very awkward sounding. It made people laugh, and Bai Xinyu and the rest all turned to look at him. In the end, the boy got very shy, lowering his head. All they could see were his thick and curled eyelashes fluttering, which seemed rather eye-catching. Only after Chen Jing asked him to lift his head did he then look up. Although his skin was a little tanned, his face was just like a doll. He was extremely good-looking, and when embarrassment suffused his face due to everyone’s attention, it made them want to pinch his cheeks. Stammering, he said that he wanted to be a soldier to catch the bad guys.
Chen Jing asked him what bad guys he wanted to catch. After all, catching bad guys was the police’s job.
Batur replied with blushing cheeks, “There are bad guys who steal sheep and bad guys who kill people.”
Chen Jing’s brows creased, falling silent. Although Bai Xinyu was a good for nothing, there were often reports of such incidents in the news as well, so he knew a little. The borderland was not very peaceful, and many such incidents were not a direct cause of foreigners. The news reports that he saw before he left was enough to send chills down his spine.
Everyone was done introducing themselves, then Qian Liang exclaimed, “Squad Leader, you haven’t introduced yourself yet.”
Chen Jing adjusted his glasses. “Right, I have yet to introduce myself. I’m Chen Jing, 21 this year. I’m a sergeant from the artillery reconnaissance company, and I was assigned to train you all. When this basic military training is done, a part of you may become my comrade-in-arms, or you may be assigned to another company, which will make it hard for us to see each other again. Therefore, I hope that everyone can treasure these three months and train well.”
Bai Xinyu thought that this person was basically the epitome of how “dogs who bite never bark”. Chen Jing looked very scholarly and refined, but his methods were truly harsh, and it was best to avoid offending him in the future.
Chen Jing clapped his hands together. “Now that everyone has introduced themselves, let’s all get along together and cherish this camaraderie. Now, let me tell you about the housekeeping here.”