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Soldier girls march straight to World Expo
2010. 5 March
by Yang Jian and Jia Feishang
(shanghaidaily.com) Around 2,000 young women have traded their fashionable civvies for combat fatigues, hand bags for duffle bags. They chopped off their long locks and hung up their cell phones and iPods.
Now they spend their days drilling and training in preparation for some missions at the upcoming World Expo 2010 Shanghai.
"Welcome to Shanghai." "China Pavilion is on your right side." They repeat these lines in perfect English - and also in Shanghai dialect and in international sign language for the hearing-impaired.
The women in baggy green battle fatigues with red epaulets and identical boy-haircuts are the females recruited for the Shanghai Armed Police.
After long hours in the sun, their faces and hands are tanned and they look strong and fit - quite unlike most young women who shun the sun, constantly strive for a white complexion and seldom break a sweat.
They are now in basic training, a three-month boot camp (but not too rigorous) for females, before deployment at the Expo opening on May 1. Officials decline to specify their assignments or where they will be posted around the site.
The young women have higher academic qualifications than most recruits, and many already have studied English. More than half are university seniors or fresh graduates from 60 colleges and universities around China.
They will serve for two years and then be able to resume their studies if they wish. They will receive preferential treatment, including tuition reimbursement and help in finding jobs.
"Attention," shouts a female squad leader at the armed police garrison. The women stand in formation, all serious.
"Three months in military camp are very different from campus life," says Chen Juhong, a 20-year-old freshman from the Medical School of Shanghai Jiao Tong University. She is flushed and perspiring a bit from exercise.
"Describe your life in camp to the reporter," says a male officer.
"Yes, sir," Chen says.
Her day, and that of all recruits, begins with 6am bugle wake-up - if she were still in college, she would be asleep at that hour. Then she washes up in 15 minutes and runs to the field for morning assembly.
The first exercise is to run 500 meters on the track, a big change for young women who seldom exercised or broke a sweat before.
"We hated running at the beginning," says Chen. Some recruits gulp down a popular energy drink before the run.
After building their muscles and endurance, a 3,000-meter run is a piece of cake.
Hard training brings a hearty appetite and the recruits wolf down their breakfast, some eating as many as 10 steamed buns.
"Almost all of us have gained several kilograms since entering the camp," says Chen.
Morning training - fitness and armed police skills - begins at 8:45am. They get breaks every few hours.
One of their exercises, to strengthen the lower back, involves bending from the waist with straight legs to pick peanuts up from the ground. This is repeated dozens of times, rapidly and at a steady pace. Each recruit is expected to pick up around 3,000 peanuts by the time the Expo begins.
Lunch begins at 11:30am, they can nap at noon and begin afternoon training at 1:15pm. At 4pm there's more physical training, including long-distance running, walking races and "four people racing with five feet."
At 7pm they watch CCTV news, especially like the channel's military affairs report.
After dinner, the evening is free. The recruits eat snacks, play games, chat with instructors or read in their dormitories.
Six recruits live in each dorm room in neat, military fashion. Clothes are hung in an orderly way, beds are made military-style, quilts are folded in perfect, regulation cubes. In the bathrooms, all the towels, toothbrushes and cups are neatly lined up, as if measured by a ruler.
Each room has a long desk, air-conditioner and a 20-inch LCD TV on the wall.