Trials and travails of a Taiwanese-American kid in Taiwan

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

全線預備! Ready down the line! - Part 1

You can repair almost anything with blousing rubbers (綁腿).

In Taiwan military parlance, certain individuals are referred to as "heavenly soldiers" (天兵, pronounced: tien bing), as in "Good heavens, where did this idiot come from?" This is often used as an adjective: "When did the head of 1st squad get so heavenly?" (「一班的班頭什麼時候變那麼天啊?」)

And they say that Asians don't get sarcasm...

By our fourth day of real training, the heavenly soldiers (technically we were all airmen, but the Chinese term doesn't distinguish between service branches) in our company were fairly well known to everyone. Like Dwa Koh (大軀, Taiwanese for Fatty) over in 1st squad who managed to break 3 folding stools by sitting on them: real heavenly. Or that small vegetarian kid who tried whistling at a female sergeant major in the mess hall the other day: if he were any more heavenly they'd be paying him with ghost money.

We weren't entirely convinced that they really were that dense. It was widely suspected that many knew full well what they were doing, but choose to act idiotically either out of personal amusement, or as a practical way of escaping extra duties after the drill sergeants classified them as unreliable idiots. They also provided the very useful function of deflecting the unwanted attention of our superiors from the rest of us.

It is always useful to have a few heavenly soldiers in your company to act as decoys for the ire of your superiors.

Our first day of live fire target practice came within a week of the start of our training. Up till then, we had endured countless drills on basic targeting, T65-K2 rifle maintenance, and the target practice SOP. The previous night, our CO had warned us that we would depart for the 25 meter calibration range first thing in the morning. "I strongly suggest that you sleep in your BDUs, and have everything ready to go once you wake up in the morning", he said.

The wake up call came as usual at 0530, though most of us had been up by 0510, folding our blankets and mosquito nets, arranging our bunks, and doing everything we could to prepare short of stepping onto the barracks floor (strictly forbidden before 0530). At the moment the wake up call sounded, I hit the floor, slipped into my boots, bloused my pant legs, and began the process of donning all the gear that we'd been issued since induction, mentally checking off the items as I strapped them on ...

M-1 helmet... check.

Gas mask in carrying pouch strapped to shoulder and waist... check.

Utility belt (now containing my canteen, two ammo pouches with four empty magazines, bayonet in scabbard, and a pouch with a copy of the ROC Army Basic Infantry Manual)... check.

ID badge with colored dot denoting the proper day of week... check.

Shovel jammed into the space between my belt and back... check.

Rain poncho stuffed behind the shovel... check. 

Folding chair hooked onto my belt over the canteen and infantry manual... check.

There was a loud crash, followed by cursing as the recruit we would dub Brother Elevator (電梯哥) fell out of his second level bunk, while folding his blanket. I moved on to the list of things to check before leaving the barracks...

Locker properly arranged in order of BDUs and workout uniform, with arms neatly tied behind... check.

Everything else thrown into the bottom of the locker and neatly covered with a towel draped from blousing rubbers hooked exactly 20 notches from the bottom... check.

No easily visible trash on the floor... check.

I joined the cascade of recruits dashing out of the barracks to muster on the company assembly grounds outside before the deadline at 0540.

"Hey, you did remember to shut the upper windows right?"

"What? I thought you did that!"

"No, I thought you did."

"幹!" (F__K!)

I dashed back inside the barracks past the last of the recruits charging in the opposite direction, clambered onto the top bunks, and slammed the upper windows closed in our squad's section. I then attempted to leap down gracefully onto the floor.

Unfortunately, the handle of my shovel caught on the top bunk, and I ended up landing on my side and rolling like a paratrooper hitting the ground, eventually coming to a stop at the feet of my squad leader.

"Get off the floor and get outside with everyone else!"

I dashed out the door just as the officer of the day started to take roll. One recruit from 1st squad was standing in front of the company with three fingers pointed in front of his face on one hand, and two on the other - he had apparently been shifting his weight from one leg to another, colloquially known as a 3/7-ths stance (三七步).

Swallowing a deep breath, I ran in front of the officer of the day, did an about right, and pulled off the snappiest salute I could manage...

"Reporting sir, New Recruit ___ requests to join formation." (「報告值星官,新兵___請示入列!」)

"Why are you late?"

"Reporting sir, I was closing the windows in the barracks."

He glared at me for what looked like an eternity, as the rest of the company stared on in silence. I prayed that he was in a good mood.

"Join ranks. And don't forget to close the windows in the future."

Relieved at having dodged this bullet, I joined formation. Our rifles were issued after a quick breakfast of stewed pork in steamed buns (割包). Slinging the guns over our shoulders, we marched off base towards the range.

Continued on Part 2.

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